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Flurry of school board elections heading to ballots in Georgia, New York
By Daniel Anderson and Nick Katers
On May 20, 2014, 15 of the largest school districts by enrollment in New York and 38 in Georgia will hold school board elections for 47 and 121 seats, respectively. There are 125 incumbents and 182 challengers running for the combined total of 168 seats.
In New York, spring school board elections take place on the same date as each district's annual budget vote. Residents will vote on both the school board candidates and on the school district budgets proposed by the existing school boards.
In Georgia, a mixture of partisan and nonpartisan school board elections are being held. The nonpartisan elections will function as general elections, although if no candidate in a single race receives a simple majority of the vote, a runoff election will be held between the top two candidates on July 22, 2014. There are 21 Georgia school districts holding nonpartisan general elections: Bibb, Bulloch, Camden, Carroll, Catoosa, Clarke, Colquitt, Columbia, Coweta, DeKalb, Effingham, Fulton, Griffin-Spalding, Henry, Houston, Liberty, Lowndes, Muscogee, Rockdale, Savannah-Chatham and Troup.
In contrast, the partisan races will function as primary elections. If more than one candidate from a single political party filed for a seat, then the top candidate on Tuesday will proceed to a general election on November 4, 2014. However, if no candidate in the primary election receives a simple majority of the vote, then a runoff election will be held between the top two candidates on July 22, 2014, similar to the nonpartisan system. There are 17 Georgia school districts holding partisan primary elections: Barrow, Bartow, Cherokee, Clayton, Dougherty, Douglas, Fayette, Floyd, Forsyth, Glynn, Gwinnett, Hall, Newton, Paulding, Walker, Walton and Whitfield.
The nonpartisan election for board president in Savannah-Chatham County Public School System has attracted plenty of campaign contributions and attention. Sadie C. Brown, Jolene Byrne, Chester A. Ellis, George Seaborough and David Simons are running to replace Joe Buck, who cannot run again due to the seat's two-term limit. Simons, the owner of a local consulting firm, has been a prolific fundraiser this spring, raising $50,616 out of the $68,071 in reported contributions among the five candidates. He has also drawn an ethics complaint and a civil lawsuit for his lobbying efforts on behalf of a local construction firm contracted to build a new school. Brown, Byrne and Ellis have taught at district schools while Seaborough is a former organizer for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Spotlight: DeKalb County School District
DeKalb County School District is the third-largest school district in Georgia, educating 98,088 students during the 2011-2012 school year. After the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) audited the school district and discovered issues with board governance, unethical practices and fiscal mismanagement, the organization placed DeKalb County School District on "accredited probation" status. An investigation by the Georgia Department of Education led to the state board of education recommending significant alterations to the district leadership and administration.
In February 2013, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal removed six members of the DeKalb Board of Education from office. One month later, Governor Deal appointed John Coleman to District 1, Michael A. Erwin to District 3, David Campbell to District 5, Joyce Morley to District 7, Karen Carter to District 8 and Thad Mayfield to District 9. On January 21, 2014, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced that the district was no longer under probation and moved it up to "accreditation warned" status. The "accreditation warned" label means that SACS will continue to monitor the district and conduct a review of district progress in May 2014.
The general election on May 20, 2014, will result in several significant changes to the board. The number of seats will shrink from nine to seven, leading to the District 4 race between District 4 incumbent Jim McMahan and District 8 incumbent Karen Carter, whose seat will no longer exist following the election. District 9 incumbent Thad Mayfield is campaigning for the District 5 seat for the same reason. Jesse Cunningham, who served as the District 5 representative from 2006 to 2013, is running to win his seat back after he was removed from office by Governor Deal.
Newcomer Stan Jester in District 1 is the only candidate running unopposed. The District 2 race featuring incumbent Marshall Orson and challenger Don McChesney is the third contest in 12 years between the two men over the seat. McChesney defeated Orson and fellow newcomer Ella Smith for the seat in 2008, but Orson won the rematch in 2012. Michael A. Erwin, Melvin Johnson and Joyce Morley are running to retain their Districts 3, 6 and 7 seats, respectively. Two of the six appointees, John Coleman and David Campbell, decided not to run for re-election. The elections in Districts 2, 4 and 6 are for full four-year terms, but the elections in Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 are for two-year terms.
Note: An (i) next to a candidate's name indicates incumbent status.
- School board elections, 2014
- Georgia school board elections, 2014
- Georgia elections, 2014
- New York school board elections, 2014
- New York elections, 2014
- New York School Boards Association, "Timeline — 2014 Annual Budget Vote & School Board Election," accessed May 15, 2014
- Savannah Morning News, "Editorial: Next school board president must continue the progress," May 15, 2014
- National Center for Education Statistics, "ELSI Table Generator," accessed May 15, 2014
- CBS Atlanta, "Governor Deal Suspends DeKalb School Board Members," February 25, 2013
- Governor Nathan Deal - Office of the Governor, "Deal names new members of DeKalb County school board," March 13, 2013
- The Augusta Chronicle, "Deal praises DeKalb County schools, no longer on probation," January 21, 2014
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "DeKalb now on "warned" status with SACS. It's off probation, but still under agency watch," January 21, 2014
- Re-Elect Jesse "Jay" Cunningham, "About Jay Cunningham," accessed May 15, 2014
- DeKalb County, "Judges, State Court & Board of Education; Sheriff Special Election; Soil & Water Commission; Nonpartisan Qualified Candidates," accessed May 8, 2014
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Big slate of candidates for crucial school board election," March 7, 2014