Clayton voters boot two school board members

Clayton County is on its way to getting two new school board members next month.

Despite low turnout, voters who showed up at the polls sent a message of change Tuesday to the county’s fractured school board, turning two incumbents out of office.

With 15 of the 16 precincts reported, District 2 challenger Mark Christmas appeared to have handily defeated incumbent Wanda Smith, while voters in District 7 appeared to have selected Judy Johnson over incumbent Trinia Garrett.

The two districts have a combined 30,000 registered voters. But fewer than 600 residents cast votes Tuesday. The school board race was Clayton’s only election Tuesday. The vote continues a movement of change that began this summer when the county ousted its sheriff and two longtime commissioners.

“It’s a great day for Clayton County,” said Christmas, a Jonesboro resident who is senior pastor at St. John AME Church in Atlanta. He spent some 12 hours Tuesday visiting barber shops and other local businesses urging people to vote. “I’d like to thank the voters who came out.”

Smith could not be reached for comment.

Johnson, a secretary at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, vowed to “do the very best job” she can for the community.

“I’m not influenced by any outside agency. I’m not a puppet for anyone,” Johnson said, referring to concerns expressed by a school-accrediting agency over the way the school board operates. “Everything I do will be in the best interest of the students, teachers, county and everyone involved.”

Garrett, a community advocate, said Tuesday, “I will continue to help the children like I was doing before I became a board member.”

Tuesday’s runoff results come one day after the head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) visited Clayton to try to ease community fears about the school district’s accreditation status, which the county lost in 2008 and just got restored two years ago. SACS President Mark Elgart warned school officials in a recent letter that the district’s fate could be compromised if the current nine school board members didn’t fix their internal strife. Community residents have rallied around the board to offer support to make sure it adheres to expectations set forth by SACS.

The two newly elected board members round out a school board that is set to tackle several critical tasks in the new year. Chief among them: finding a new superintendent for the 51,000-student school system.

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