Last week marked the first of multiple candidate forums, giving prospective voters an up close view — with websites and yard signs as supplementary visibility tools — of those running to represent their interests and their respective platforms in advance of the July 31 election. The event, presented by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, was held at Westwood College in Atlanta.
As expected, DeKalb School System’s much publicized budget woes, the resultant cutbacks, perceived acrimony between some board members in their dealings and quality of education have been the hot-button issues at present and going forward.
The District 2 contest pits incumbent Don McChesney against newcomer Marshall Orson.
Orson, a co-founder and partner in consulting firm Melbourne Partners, said the DeKalb board has suffered from poor leadership.
“All of our children deserve great schools, with wise leadership, and committed and effective teachers,” Orson said.
McChesney cited his own experience as a mark of distinction.
“I ask everyone to consider what is at stake here,” said McChesney. “I was a teacher in the classroom for 34 years; I know how schools work from the inside.”
The District 4 race has sitting board member H. Paul Womack squaring off against challengers, Jim Kinney, Tom Gilbert and Jim McMahan.
Womack, who recently made news by calling for a criminal investigation into the system’s finance and human resources departments, is running on his record.
Kinney, a former college professor, called for community input to be part of the school board decision-making process.
“We know we have a problem,” Kinney said. “There’s been a disconnect … if it continues, it’s going to be an even worse problem.”
Gilbert, a longtime Home Depot pro account sales employee, called on a “good dose of common sense”
“My biggest pet peeve is that every child in DeKalb County doesn’t get the same [quality] of education,” Gilbert said.
McMahan, a broker, also called on his “practical, common sense” business skills as a strength of his candidacy.
“What I bring to the table is a way to engage the community to support our local neighborhood schools,” McMahan said.
Meanwhile, District 8 incumbent Pamela Speaks is being challenged by businesswoman and 11th-hour candidate, Michelle Jenkins-Clark. The challenger did not attend last week’s forum due to a family sickness.
The next candidate forum is scheduled for Thursday at Arabia Mountain High School, from 6:45 to 8:30 p.m.