Four vie for three Lee BOE seats in Democratic primary

Apr. 17, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Four members of the local Democratic Party are campaigning for a seat on the Lee County Board of Education. But in the board's first-ever partisan election, there are only three open seats.

The May 6 primary election will decide which candidate won't make it to the ballot in November. Whichever three of the four Democratic challengers — Mark Akinosho, Richard Hayes, Shawn Williams and Ophelia Livingston — survive the primary will go on to face three Republican challengers — Sandra Bowen, Christine Curkendall and David Schau — in the November general election. There will not be a Republican primary.

Early voting begins April 24.

Akinosho, the board's vice chairman, is the only incumbent running for reelection after John Bonardi and Linda Smith decided not to seek another four-year term. But Akinosho, who leads the school board's finance committee in addition to serving as vice chairman, said there's still more for him to do.

"The graduation rate right now is moving up, but it's not where I want it to be," he said. "I want 100 percent graduation."

He said he believes he's delivered on the promises he made in his last campaign, including an better graduation rate — which rose from 71.4 percent for the class of '08 to 86.4 percent for the class of '13 — as well as better communication and getting more middle school students to take advanced, high school level courses.

Akinosho, 59, owns M & C Laundromat and Cleaners on Tramway Road and is the pastor at TrueBread Fellowship Church.

Hayes and Williams aren't incumbents, but both have previously been on the school board.

Hayes served from 2000-04 and later joined the Lee County Board of Commissioners, eventually becoming that group's chairman. But he didn't pursue re-election in 2012 and is now seeking to rejoin the school board. He said the school system isn't perfect but can improve, especially with higher teacher pay and better facilities.

Hayes, 75, had careers in advertising and marketing, as well as university fundraising and consulting. A Sanford native, he retired in 1998 and returned home to become involved in public service and civic groups, such as the Railroad House Historical Society.

He said the thing he's most proud of from his previous tenure on the school board was helping get Southern Lee High School built — and with that experience, plus his professional background and previous work with the school board and county commissioners, he'll be equipped to contribute immediately.

"Number one, I think I'm well prepared through my work career, for almost 40 years, doing important work, making decisions, running operations and working with a lot of important people," Hayes said. "I learned how to create and plan things. ... I'm not a person to sit around. I think, 'Here's another opportunity to contribute here again."

Williams is a former chairman of the school board who was appointed to the board originally and then won reelection in 2008 before losing in 2012, when newcomers Tamara Brogan and Wendy Carlyle joined the board.

Now, he said he wants another chance and is willing to go through another contested campaign because of his passion for education.

"I'm convinced that education is the key to changing our society, and for me it starts in the public school arena," he said.

Williams, 51, is a former Marine and law enforcement officer who serves as pastor at God’s Promise non-denominational Christian church. He's working on a doctorate degree in theology.

He said if elected, he'd work to craft policies to help at-risk students by focusing on technical education and ways to lower the dropout rate.

Livingston, 55, is the only one of the four to have never served on the school board.

She founded a printing business, Triple J Publishing, downtown in 2012. Before that she worked a consultant, mainly with churches, and also taught at Lee Christian School. And even though she's now in the business world, Livingston said, she has remained passionate about education.

A good school system, Livingston said, "is one of the ways you build a nation. Once kids are educated you can inspire them to be an engineer or a dancer, a mathematician or a graphic designer. But you have to expose them to education to get them there."

She said that if elected, she would continue the board's support of programs like academy-style courses in tourism and finance, a college-readiness program call AVID, and a possible new elementary level initiative called The Leader In Me.

She said she also would work to ensure the schools are doing all they can to assist in economic development — especially by improving technical training so that any manufacturer considering Sanford would have a ready-to-hire base of talent locally.