Several local elections will be decided this month in the primaries -- nearly four months before the November general election.
Three Bartow County school board seats -- Posts 1, 2 and 3 -- will be up for election in the July 20 primary. All six candidates are running as Republicans; no Democrats qualified to be placed on the primary ballot.
In Post 1, Lamar Grizzle is being challenged by John Howard. In Post 2, Roger Maier is being challenged by Davis Nelson, while Post 3's race has Angie Cornett and David Palmer seeking the seat that Matt Shultz will leave in December.
Grizzle is the longest-reigning incumbent, as he is finishing his second four-year term compared to Maier's first. Grizzle said he is seeking another term for the same reason he ran the previous two times.
"Basically, to continue improving our school system -- I'm very proud of our school system, and I want to see it succeed and I want to see us continue making improvement and becoming first in the state hopefully," he said. "I'm doing it for the students, and the school system and employees."
Grizzle has been teaching in Polk County the last few years as a second career following a 35-year career in manufacturing. He holds an Education Specialist degree in Administration and Leadership and a teaching certificate. He also previously coached youth basketball, softball and baseball.
The lifelong Bartow County resident has three grandchildren in the school system now and one that graduated from it.
Grizzle said his time on the board has seen some financial success, even amid the current downturn in the economy.
"When I started with the school board in 2003, we were about $650,000 in the deficit, in the red. It's not just me, but the other board members as a team have been very financially conscious of what we were doing, and we're in a much better shape than some of the other school systems around us," he said. "I know they were talking about cutting the local supplement in [several districts], which means the teachers will only make the state salary schedule. We haven't had to do that in Bartow County because we've really watched our finances and built a fund balance for hard times. I feel like that's one of the successes that I've been part of on the board."
Budget cuts and revenue reductions, Grizzle said, are likely to remain a challenge to whomever sits in the Post 1 seat come January. He said his background in both his past and current career makes him a good fit to help tackle those issues.
"I think we're still going to have to look at being more efficient in the school system, and I think we're just going to have to be innovative in ways that we [still] get the best education for our children," he said. "It's going to be tough -- you're going to need some experienced board members to do that; you need somebody that's been there and been on the board for a while.
"I believe my business experience as being a manufacturing manager and director of manufacturing, and then going into education and teaching -- I've worked with regular ed. kids, at-risk kids, and I purposely did that to get a feel for special ed. kids, regular ed. kids and to really understand the process of education," Grizzle added.
Outside of his work, Howard has been involved in several education-related roles, ranging from service as an Autism Speaks area representative, Autism in Bartow vice president, and a school council member and PTO adviser at White Elementary. He and his wife, Kerry, are the parents of a 7-year-old daughter, Ainsley, who attends White in the Exceptional Education Department.
Howard says his decision to run stems from wanting to help his daughter and her fellow students.
"Everybody loves her, and she really enjoys school, and we just want to be involved for her," he said. "She's got a lot of friends that we enjoy spending time with and having over, and I just feel I'm doing it for all those kids who don't necessarily have parents to help take care of them."
Howard also cited budget issues as the major challenge likely to face the board when the selected candidates take office next year. The owner of Industrial Construction Services in Rydal, who holds a bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the Southern College of Technology, Howard said his experience with budgets would help him if he is elected.
"I run a successful business, and we make money. All of our work is quoted based on budgets. I work up a budget, the customer agrees to that budget, and then I make sure I get the job done on time, correctly and within budget," Howard said. "I can use that experience, really for the last 15 years I've been doing that.
"Sometimes budgets are tight, but you find ways to make sure the jobs can still get done, do a little value engineering where you may have wanted this product, but this product's just as good, except it may cost a little less from a different manufacturer, and you sit down with the engineers and say, 'Well, we can do this, this is what you spec'ed, or we can do this, which is the same, but it's just a different manufacturer.'"
His skill set, Howard added, would be helpful as the district looks to do perform that "value engineering" to get its work done amid rough economic times.
"I believe that I have people skills. My engineering background requires me to be very detail-oriented. I gather all the information and then make a decision," he said. "I don't fly off the handle with decision making, I don't necessarily take the recommendation of a so-called expert; I will look at all the facts.
"We have to provide an education for the children, not necessarily at all costs, but once we get down to where we can't do it with the money we're provided by the state and the economy doesn't recover, then we're going to have to seriously look at changing the millage rate to make sure the children have all the resources they need to get their education, and that's what we're here for."