Thoughts on Fayette school board candidates


Last week I mentioned that we have come upon testing season in our schools. However, it’s also election season, which is always an interesting time in Fayette County. This month, the Republican and Democrat parties will hold primary elections to select their candidates to compete in the November general election.

While there are three school board positions up for consideration this November, only one sitting school board member, Chairman Scott Hollowell, has primary opposition in the coming Republican primary. The winner of that race as well as board members Brian Anderson and Randy Hough will face opponents in the general election.

The school board does not explicitly run the schools, but rather selects the superintendent and provides advice and counsel on behalf of the public.

In these fifteen years I have been writing about our schools, I have encountered a few different boards. First, to be clear, being on the school board is a no-win job and I appreciate all who have served. While we all can disagree on positions and decisions, I respect all those who have sat on that dais.

I ran against Mr. Hollowell in the Republican primary of 2020 and lost, for which I am grateful every day.

The first boards in the late 2000s I encountered, faced financial trouble like this current board, but they had two factions on the board of two members each with the fifth member serving as a deciding member. While I could dredge the past disputes, that is not the point today.

After Dr. John Decotis retired as superintendent, the fractured board hired Dr. Jeff Bearden whose tenure resulted in letters to this paper from two board members (one faction) and then Superintendent Bearden. This all resulted in Dr. Bearden’s resignation.

Ultimately, he became the Superintended of one of the top schools systems in Georgia, Forsyth County, and was a finalist for Georgia Superintendent of the Year in 2020. Our board’s disfunction harmed our system.

After we hired an interim Superintendent, I understand we had few applicants apply for what should be a coveted position in a community that strongly supports public education. While we all seek accountability, we need to make sure we treat those who step up with respect and decency.

This current board maybe goes too far the other way as we do not see a public disagreement or even discussion of options to keep our schools great.

Instead we see our schools reduced by 70 school-based positions, without a discussion of other options, or seeking input. For the record, while I appreciate private messages, I believe everyone deserves to be informed.

We should seek to build a board that finds a balance of fully supporting our excellent and quality schools while representing a full spectrum of the public’s concerns and ideas. I agree with those who say that we can all disagree … agreeably. But it is important that we all come together in the daylight to find the best solutions.

When considering candidates, consider their proposals and arguments at least as much as their political affiliation. To paraphrase Ted Lasso, I submit that we should be curious about anyone who offers their service to our community before we decide who to vote for.

We all hope that our school board can reverse the current trend where other governmental entities have sought to limit information for the public’s examination and discussion.

As someone who advocated for a new tax and then its subsequent renewal, I understand how difficult it can be to deliver unpopular news. However, we need people willing to deliver the inconvenient truths if we want our schools to stay great.

[Neil Sullivan is a finance/accounting executive and CPA. He has lived in Peachtree City over 20 years with his wife Jennifer, a Fayette County History teacher and son Jackson, a student at Erskine College. He has been active in public school related issues in Fayette County, leading three E-SPLOST initiatives as chairman of Fayette Citizens for Children. He has appeared previously on these pages in letters to the editor.]