No matter who wins Tuesday's race for the Bartow County School Board Post 2 seat, the man who will begin his term in January may be familiar to those who have kept up with the school system in past years.
While the incumbent, Roger Maier, is finishing his fourth year on the board as he seeks four more, his opponent, Davis Nelson, sat on the board several years ago but in a different capacity -- as superintendent. Nelson in 1992 was Bartow County Schools' last elected superintendent, and in 1997 became its first appointed superintendent, serving until nearly the turn of the century.
Maier said his journey to the school board began as he helped in the classrooms, but eventually moved up to the local school council, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax committee and then the school board, winning his first term in 2006. His reason for investing his time at each level -- the students.
"I enjoy helping the kids, being involved and being able to make a difference in their lives. It's a big sacrifice at times, but it can come with some great rewards," Maier said. "I've just kind of 'raised the bar' at every opportunity that presents itself to be able to do more to help the kids."
His term on the board, he said, has included highlights such as the district receiving the highest system accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement and the school board being named a Board of Excellence.
Under the board's leadership during his term, Maier added, the district has weathered the tough economy that has led to harsh job and program cuts in systems across the state. He said that while the district had to suffer a reduction in force, many of those affected employees have been hired back.
"Even though the budget crunch hit us, we planned ahead enough to save jobs and certain programs. Lots of times when budget crunches hit, the first thing people look at are sports and fine arts programs, and we feel like that's such a major part of education that that was no option for us."
Budget issues will continue to be a top topic for whomever sits in the Post 2 seat next year, Maier said, adding that he feels his career training has prepared him to help handle the issue.
"We're going to have to really get inventive, look outside the box for ways to improve our budget and work within the budget we've got without impacting our kids' education," he said. "In my industry, we have what's called an 'LM21.' LM21 is a continuous improvement program, and you get trained and you go through different levels of training to lead continuous improvement in the industry. I have a certificate from the University of Tennessee in cost-reduction, cost improvement, process improvement called 'Lean Enterprise.' It's leaning out your processes and looking for ways to cut costs and reduce expenses."
"In my current job, we're currently on a $12 million program, and it's the government's money. We're challenged on a daily basis to make best use of that. It's ingrained in me on how to look for ways to reduce costs. I share that with other board members, I share that with [Superintendent John] Harper in my knowledge and suggestions, and I impart a lot of my lean training into those ideas," Maier said.
Even though the budget will be a challenge, the district's goal lies not within it, but rather in providing the best education and opportunities for students, he said.
In addition to his service on the board, Maier has volunteered 3,500 hours in the community. He has mentored through the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, tutored and read to students in the classroom, as well as involvement with the band booster programs at South Central Middle and Woodland High. He has received the President's Volunteer Service Award for Education and the Governor's Citations for Junior Achievement.
Nelson's resume has been focused on education for decades. Retired from the governor's office after 37 years in public education, he works with Berry College's educational leadership training program, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and ACT testing organization.
In addition to his time as superintendent, Nelson worked in Bartow County Schools as a first-grade teacher, assistant principal, principal and curriculum director. His state-level experience includes his service as deputy state school superintendent.
Nelson said his extensive experience at almost every level of education should come in handy should he be selected to the board and have to examine the district's budget amid tough financial times. Like Maier, he said district finances should be the biggest challenge the board will face during the next school board term.
"I handled it as a school superintendent -- I actually developed the budgets. I actually had to go through a reduction in force as superintendent. And then when I went to the state Department of Education, the majority of the departments at the state level were under my supervision," Nelson said. "I know how to operate within a budget, I know what school people should be spending money for and what they should not. I know from experience what's appropriate and what's not.
"I think my contacts at the state and national level will be of help. I've been real fortunate through the years to secure funding from outside sources to help the school system and at the state level, so I'd continue to offer that expertise. I love education, I love Bartow County Schools, I essentially gave my work life to the Bartow County Schools, and I want to see it continue to grow and do well."
Nelson said he is running for the board in the hopes of giving back to a community that has supported him.
"If you look at what I've done in my life here, I've been very active in the community, but this community's been real good to me through the years," he said. "I'm healthy and I still want to give back, and because of all that experience, I believe I can be a help to the superintendent and the school system as we move forward, especially during these troubled times that they're dealing with."
If elected, Nelson said he would hope to receive input from the public on various issues, adding that he would be receptive to such comments.
"I'd certainly be available for suggestions. When it comes to, 'I've got an issue about my child,' I think you ought to follow protocol -- I think you ought to go to the teacher first, then to your building principal and then to the superintendent's office, so I encourage people to do that," he said. "But do you listen? Yes, you listen, because many times, that's what people want you to do -- just to sit down and listen to their concern. But on other issues, I think board members need to be listening, need to be out in the community listening to what people think about things."
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 the other board races, incumbent Lamar Grizzle is being challenged by John Howard in the Post 1 race, while Post 3's ballot lists Angie Cornett and David Palmer as contenders vying for the seat that Matt Shultz will leave in December.