Clayton voters prepare to fill out school board

Clayton County voters will head to the polls next week to pick the final two school board members to round out a board that faces several critical decisions next year, including the selection of a new superintendent.

Tuesday’s runoff pits incumbents in Districts 2 and 7 against newcomers who say they offer new ideas and a chance to create greater harmony on a board that has gained renewed scrutiny from an accreditation agency because of its infighting and micromanaging. The outcome of Tuesday’s races could reshape governance issues and decisions made by the nine-member board, which has tended to vote along a geographical north-south split.

It will be the second time in a month that Clayton voters have been asked to cast ballots. Voters have been on an anti-incumbent tear this year, electing several new county commissioners, a new County Commission chairman and a new sheriff.

Only voters in Districts 2 and 7 can vote Tuesday.

The initial school board race had five seats up for grabs. Incumbents Ophelia Burroughs and Mary Baker managed to keep their seats while a third — Jessie Goree — ran unopposed. Incumbent Wanda Smith faces Mark Christmas, a minister, for District 2 while incumbent Trinia Garrett is up against church secretary Judy Johnson for District 7. District 2 covers the western part of the county bordering Fayette County and includes Riverdale High School. District 7 covers mostly Morrow and includes Forest Park and Mount Zion high schools.

The incumbents have cited extensive training from the Georgia School Board Association on governance matters along with their focus on rebuilding the public’s trust as reasons for their re-election bid.

“I believe in the servant leadership role, and I serve on behalf of the students and constituents,” Smith said. “I have not been or will be influenced by individuals or special-interest groups. I do not have a hidden agenda.”

Garrett said her re-election “would bring stability to a team that has grown in the area of governance and has a priority to improve student achievement.”

But the challengers say new board members would be a better course of action for the school system.

“I am running to give the voters the opportunity to elect someone able to restore respect, responsibility and integrity back to the position,” Johnson said. “We need positive influences in our children’s lives. Each child deserves the very best education. Clayton County must be able to provide a system that will produce graduates ready to enter adulthood with a foundation in learning that will allow them to be productive in the workforce and effective as parents of the next generation.”

Christmas says his business management degree and work in the Clayton school system in various capacities gives him unique insight into the district’s needs.