District 2 Bibb BOE race features political veteran, newcomers

An education consultant, a medical assistant and an attorney are all vying for the Bibb County Board of Education District 2 seat, which school board member Tommy Barnes is vacating at the end of the year because of term limits.

Thelma Dillard, 67, Angel Davis-Hopper, 40, and Alan Patrick Taylor, 44, are all Democrats. Dillard was the only candidate to qualify for the seat in May. After a legal challenge to the school board districts, the new maps moved Davis-Hopper from District 5 to District 2. The court challenge also re-opened qualifying, allowing Taylor to sign up.

Voters will go to the polls Aug. 21 to choose candidates in the primary, with a runoff Sept. 18 if needed.

In her bid for the seat, Dillard, a longtime Macon city councilwoman and Bibb County teacher, said she hopes to continue the role her family members played in desegregating the Bibb County public school system, helping make education better for all students.

Taylor and Davis-Hopper would bring a parental perspective to the board, as both have children who attend Bibb County schools.

“I want to be accessible to the people. That is going to be my No. 1 goal, particularly the parents,” Davis-Hopper said.

Parental involvement ties in closely with classroom discipline, another issue important to Davis-Hopper. She said that’s been a major reason that teachers have left the system.

Problems with student discipline -- which Dillard said is a long-standing issue in Bibb County schools -- play a role in keeping highly qualified teachers in the classroom.

“We’ve got to offer discipline, high-scale discipline,” she said. And “we’re going to have to do morale building.”

The “wraparound” services outlined in the Macon Miracle school improvement plan, such as mental health counseling, along with early interventions, are a needed “proactive” approach, Dillard said. She also would like to see a more structured environment for the in-school suspension program, a matter she has studied in the past.

Taylor, an attorney, has served on Alexander II’s school council for three years and as its chairman for one year. He said his line of work requires him to be judicious and open-minded, and he is willing to work together with other board members to move the system forward.

If elected, Taylor said he will study carefully the decisions brought before the board, including implementation of the Macon Miracle plan. He also said now that the plan is in place, it is time for people to take ownership of it.

“I’m a devil-is-in-the-details kind of person,” he said. “I want to look at each and every part of the plan.”

Davis-Hopper said she is concerned that the current board has not asked tough questions about the system’s finances, nor held Superintendent Romain Dallemand accountable for many of his decisions.

“I guarantee you I’m going to hold him accountable,” Davis-Hopper said. “I’m going to read and look at everything out there.”

When it comes to finances, the Bibb school system is not unique among other governing agencies across the state in tapping reserves to balance its fiscal 2013 budget -- about $8 million in Bibb County’s case, Dillard said.

While she hasn’t seen detailed budget numbers, Dillard said there should be a priority on funding classroom instruction directly.

“I want us to have every resource we need, every financial resource we need to teach our students and train our teachers,” she said.

Taylor gives credit to the school system for producing a “revenue neutral” budget, given the decrease in state dollars and increased employee expenses.

At the same time, Bibb school leaders will need to take action quickly, as the system’s reserves are projected to dwindle in the coming years.

“It’s important to think about the fiscal prudence and stability,” he said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.