B.J. Walker might be new to the Peach County school board, but he isn’t completely fresh on the education scene.
While Walker’s professional background is in real estate development, he recently put that expertise to work on the board for the proposed Byron Peach Charter Academy. Through both of those capacities, he felt a tug to run for a board seat.
“I just saw a need in the Peach County education system,” he said. “I want our school system to compete with surrounding counties.”
That competitive viewpoint stems from his work in the real estate world. When he would converse with companies about buying land for housing developments in Peach County, Walker said he would hear comparisons with nearby Houston County.
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Developers often viewed Houston County as a place people were more likely to move because of a higher-quality education.
“Whether that’s true or not, that’s the perception there,” he said.
Fellow new board member Ben Hoots has heard similar talk. Hoots owns BCI Insulation in Byron, and he said Peach County should be a prime spot for builders to buy land for new homes, but that isn’t always the case.
“The builders that I deal with, that I get feedback from, have been reluctant to buy lots in Peach County because of the perceived school system” issues, Hoots said.
Walker’s real estate experience led him to work with the charter school’s board to assist with facilities decisions. He said he’s resigned from his post with the charter school since beating Robert Hammack in the November school board election, but there’s no ill will.
“Having success in both those schools is good for the county,” he said.
The Peach County school board voted not to approve the charter school as a locally funded entity. While Walker said that isn’t the route he would have gone, he has no intentions of pushing that issue back into the board’s agenda.
“That’s come and gone, and we’re moving on from that,” he said.
That association with the charter school could be seen as a potentially divisive area for Walker and his new board mates, but board member Jamie Johnson doesn’t see it that way.
For Johnson, the chairman of the most recent board, Walker’s work with the charter school is just part of the “wealth of knowledge” Walker brings to the table.
“I think his involvement with the charter school will bring a lot of new ideas that we can collaborate on,” he said.
One topic Walker and his colleagues on the board will be moving toward is the referendum the board approved in December for a new education sales tax initiative. The 1-cent tax, if passed by county voters in March, would begin in 2016 and fund a new Peach County High School.
For several reasons, Walker supports the new school, which will be centrally located between Byron and Fort Valley. In addition, the school would obviously have a more “modern campus,” which could be more easily secured.
“I think it’s good for the county,” he said.
That proposal directly affects Walker and his wife, Mandy, who have three children in the school system. Lily is an eighth-grader at Byron Middle, while Ava (fifth grade) and Ellas (third grade) are students at Byron Elementary.
“It’s obviously one of the reasons I decided to run,” he said. “I’m vested.”
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.