Photo by Corinne Nicholson
LAWRENCEVILLE -- A veteran school board member is being challenged for his seat on the Gwinnett County Board of Education by a political newcomer.
Bob McClure, who has served on the school board for four terms, said his experience will serve the school system well as it faces "possibly the most challenging (years) since I've been on the board."
His opponent, Mark A. Williams, said he has the background and knowledge to do the job effectively, and he'll work to bring transparency to his district.
The two are vying to represent District 4, which encompasses much of the southern portion of Gwinnett. The area spans through Lilburn, Snellville and Loganville and includes parts of the Berkmar, Brookwood, Grayson, Parkview, Shiloh and South Gwinnett clusters.
McClure, a Lilburn resident, said he first ran for the school board 16 years ago because he was concerned about the state of public education in Gwinnett.
"There was a great amount of public concern about the direction the school system was heading," he said. "We were able to change the direction and have successfully (maintained) the direction we've gone."
Developing a successful school system that has received state and national acclaim -- most recently the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education -- hasn't been easy, McClure said. During his years on the board, the school system has faced the staggering challenge of a rapid increase in student population.
"We've met rising expectations with a student body that's less wealthy and more diverse than it's ever been," McClure said. "For us to continue to be successful is quite an accomplishment."
McClure said he's proud of the fact that the school system has "developed a true performance culture." Part of the district's success stems from its stability in leadership, and the board's consistency has enabled it to create a vision for a school system that has flourished, McClure said.
"What I bring is proven experience," he said, "(and) that proven experience has shown success."
Ultimately, McClure said, an inexperienced board member is not what the school system needs as it prepares to face further financial challenges.
"We can't continue to do more with less," he said.
McClure said he doesn't want to raise property taxes; he doesn't think the homeowners can afford it. He would, however, support legislation that would allow the school system to use the existing education sales tax to support operations. Currently, the 1 percent tax can only be used for capital projects.
Williams, a Snellville resident who works as a high school counselor in DeKalb County, said he decided to run for the seat to practice what he preaches: If you don't like something, get involved and change it.
"I saw some things I didn't like (on the school board), like the way some of the board meetings are conducted," Williams said. "I think there's a lack of transparency and a lack of respect for the community."
If elected, Williams said he wants to bring more transparency to his district. He also said he wants to be more involved with the community.
Williams said he doesn't think his political inexperience would be a problem if he was elected. As an educator, he said he knows how things work within a school.
When it comes to the budget, Williams said it's not the school board's job to create one. The board members serve as overseers, approving the budget that is created by district staff. He noted that he'll be able to make sense of the budget, since he has a bachelor's degree in accounting.
"It's tough economic times," he said, "I'll see what the staff brings before me and make decisions. ... There are many different things we can do better and do differently."
One thing Williams said he would not have done is "throw a lawsuit at Ivy Prep."
"Everyone has a right to a top-notch education," he said. "Everyone has a right to decide what is a top-notch education for their child. ... Gwinnett just likes to control the education dollars."
If elected, Williams said he knows he'll have to make tough decisions, but he said he would approach every decision by thinking about what is best for the students and what is the right thing to do for the community.
Another school board member, Daniel Seckinger, is also up for re-election, but he's running unopposed. He represents District 2 in the northern portion of the county, including parts of the Berkmar, Collins Hill, Dacula, Lanier, Mill Creek, Mountain View, North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge clusters.
The general election is Nov. 2.