Candidate surge -- 16 running for School Board viewed as plus

January 04, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD and SCOTT BUTKI

The large field for the Washington County Board of Education election spells good news for the community, current and former educators and board members said this week.

"The more candidates, the better," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

She said current School Board members' efforts to get the word out that more candidates are needed may have helped to prompt a large group of people to file.

The last time 16 people filed for a school board primary was in 1998, Doris James, a clerk with the county Board of Elections, has said.


"I was floored when I picked up the paper and saw 16 people listed," said School Board member Jacqueline Fischer, who took office in 2002 in a race that yielded only three candidates to run for three open seats.

Because Fischer was unopposed when she took office in 2002, she hopes to see more debate among this group of competitors.

School Board Member Russell Williams said he's pleased to see so much community interest in the School Board.

"Until just a few days before the cutoff for filing, there were only a few candidates. The sudden surge in candidates occurred after our well-respected and community-involved newspaper issued a plea for more candidates," Williams said. "So, it seems to me, that the credit for the large number of candidates must be given to The Herald-Mail's staff."

School Board Member Paul W. Bailey, who was re-elected last year on the same unopposed ticket, said he's "delighted to see the interest."

Bailey said calls made in The Herald-Mail for more candidates may have struck a cord with people who are interested in community service.

He's particularly pleased to see that the candidates come from a range of towns in the county.

For the last election, former School Board members Mary Wilfong and Herb Hardin placed some of the blame for the low number of candidates on The Herald-Mail's coverage.

Hardin could not be reached for comment Friday because he was out of town.

On Friday, Wilfong said she thinks people are less afraid now of running for the School Board because the media coverage has been more kind.

"The newspaper has been more positive and supportive of education and the people who serve on the Board of Education," she said.

She said she thinks it is great that there are so many people running in this election.

Fischer said, "I'm hoping that these are not single issue candidates."

She said she's not sure what sparked such an interest in this year's race, but offered that perhaps the mandates set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act have ruffled enough of the public's feathers to prompt more to get involved.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

Fischer hopes prospective School Board members are willing to advocate for funding from the county and state so the system's schools can be renovated.

Morgan said, "I would hope the candidates school themselves on the issues and understand the complexity of the issues."

Before taking office, Williams said, he attended 65 School Board meetings and gave commentaries on what he had seen while there. He encourages prospective School Board candidates to do the same, because he said he benefited from the education he received at the meetings.

Bailey said, "I think the interest is good and it will be an interesting race."

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