Contenders for Houston school board seat have varied backgrounds

Three men -- a former school district employee, a community service-oriented veteran and a previous board member -- are vying for the District 7 at-large Houston County school board seat being vacated by Toby Hill, who has held the post since 2005.

Griff Clements is vying for a second term in the July 31 election. The city of Warner Robins land surveyor previously served on the school board from 2002 to 2010, when he was defeated in a run-off by current at-large and District 6 representative Jim Maddox.

Clements said he is concerned with the way the board has handled some things since his departure.

“Basically I’ve been watching, and it seems like everyone pretty much rubber stamps the agenda every month on the board meetings,” Clements said. “I know when I was there, there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with. I believe in free speaking and voicing my opinion. It doesn’t appear that anybody’s really doing that at this point.”

Clements said his construction background could benefit the district as it continues to grow. He has taken issue with the bidding process for district construction projects and the board’s decision to build a new elementary school on the old C.B. Watson building grounds, which is near Warner Robins High School.

Additionally, Clements wants to make sure money is spent wisely, he said.

With the recently passed fiscal 2013 budget, the district will spend more money than it brings in, using more than $27.5 million from its fund balance.

“I don’t think that’s the correct way to proceed,” Clements said. “I worked very hard with some of the previous boards to build a reserve fund. ... That’s an operating thing you have to use in emergencies. If you don’t have that, you are going to be in trouble if something happens.”

Dave McMahan has spent the majority of his life within the Houston County school system. Since 1967, he’s progressed from a student in the district to an educator and now a parent, whose son will be a senior at Houston County High School this fall.

The system has “been good to me, so it’s time to give back,” McMahan said.

McMahan worked for Houston schools for 30 years. He taught construction and woodworking at the high school level, served as director of maintenance and retired as director of facilities in January 2011.

He said his experience working with the board and system make him the best candidate.

“Plus I’m retired,” he said. “I have the time. I want to see the good things continue.”

McMahan said he doesn’t have an agenda or any issues with the current board but is ready to join the team.

“It’s a team effort,” he said. “Any one board member is 14 percent or one-seventh.”

Something different he might add is asking questions like “why” to give the public a better understanding of board decisions.

McMahan said he would take a keen interest in vocational education and the construction of new schools and renovations outlined in the education special purpose local option sales tax plan.

Andy Rodriguez, a retired Air Force veteran, calls himself the consummate volunteer.

“I moved from one service to another form of service -- serving the community and serving our schools,” he said.

Rodriguez said his lack of a background in education or politics shouldn’t be a deterrent. Instead, he brings outside experiences inside with a global, national and structured perspective.

A trained master gardener, Rodriguez has organized summer and after-school programs to teach children and teachers about agriculture and horticulture.

The program, which recently completed its 10th school year of operation, is geared toward Georgia Performance Standards linking lessons to what students learn in the classroom.

He also has helped various schools improve their exterior appearance through landscaping projects and was deeply involved in advocating for the recent E-SPLOST.

Rodriguez said he wants to continue growing a culture of health and well-being at all levels within the school system. Healthy, happy employees can provide a better learning environment for students, he said.

“I’m already involved,” he said. “Let’s keep it involved but at a higher level. The details are in the weeds and seeds -- pun intended -- so maybe it’s time to get a macroview and provide more oversight than I’m able to do right now.”

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.