District 5 seat on Pearl River County school board up for election on Tuesday

Published 3:16 am Sunday, November 1, 2009

Incumbent Pearl River County District 5 school board member Margie Creel will face off with challenger Twila Crabtree in a Pearl River County school board election on Tuesday.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. It is the only election on the ballot.

Creel is a one-term board member, having run six years ago when she won against three opponents.

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She replaced Darris Moeller, who chose not to run for re-election.

Terms on the board are for six years and elections to each seat is rotated.

District 5 is the most southern district in the Pearl River County school district, which covers most of the central portion of Pearl River County.

District 5 is made up mostly of Caesar, Sycamore and Salem communities. There are about 2,100 registered voters living inside the school system’s district 5. Election officials said that if there is any mix-ups at the precincts, a prospective voter can request to vote on an affidavit ballot.

Candidate Twila Crabtree said that during her canvassing she ran into parents on Oak Alley who were confused concerning what district they were in.

There was a large turnout six years ago when a lot of local candidates were on the ballot, but with only the one seat up for election and no other races on the ballot, officials are not expecting a very big turnout.

However, both candidates have been working the district hard, after work and on weekend.

The position of a school board member pays $200 a month.

Creel, 38, a stay-at-home mother, says if you are motivated by anything else other than a love for the kids, you won’t last.

“I have two kids already in the school system and two more getting ready to enter, so I have a lot of motivation. I became interested in the school’s future working as a volunteer, and later decided to run for the office in order to help bring about change,” she said.

“But if anyone thinks they are going to change things quickly, they are in for a rude awakening. It is not an easy job,” she said. She chose to run for re-election because she believes “my work is not done.”

Creel, who served a year on the board of trustees of the Mississippi School Board Association, said that the biggest issue facing the board is the budget, wrestling with necessary budget cuts, and also problems of overcrowding, or space problems.

The school board recently absorbed a half-million-dollar cut in state revenues, and during the last regular meeting at least one board member voted against teacher supplemental pay, citing the reason as dwindling cash reserves.

“Definitely, the budget cuts we have faced and will probably face in the future is the biggest problem we are facing, and a close second would be overcrowding problems,” she said.

She said she understands financial reports, having a degree in accounting from USM and working as a branch operations officer for a bank before going home to raise her children.

There are three precincts in the district where voters will cast ballots. They are: in Salem the volunteer fire department, 300 Salem Road; in Sycamore, the volunteer fire department at 438 Sycamore Road; and in Caesar, 705 Bouie Road, at the concession stand on the ball field across from Unity Baptist Church.

There is one other school board election being held in the county, and that is for a seat on the Lumberton line district in far northern Pearl River County. Lumberton is in Lamar County but part of its school district extends into a portion of northern Pearl River.

There incumbent Craig Ledet faces off with challenger Kevin Dufrene. Voting will be at Gumpond in the volunteer fire department at 462 Hillsdale-Gumpond Road. Polls there open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. also.

The Pearl River County school board entirely of elected board members. The superintendent, also is elected.

In Picayune three of the five members are appointed by the city council and two run for election in districts outside the city limits. In Poplarville all five board members are appointed. In both Picayune and Poplarville, the school boards hire, and can fire, the superintendent. The Pearl River County board has no authority to fire the superintendent since he is an elected official.

Twila Crabtree is challenging Creel, and she said in her political announcement that she thinks “accountability” is the issue.

She said she had pretty much covered the district on her evening and weekend canvassing. Crabtree estimates she has seen about 1,500 voters in the district.

She says that she estimates about 90 percent told her that they are dissatisfied with the way things are in the schools.

Crabtree, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., moved here about 12 years ago. She has one child in school and two have graduated from PRC high. She and her family live in the Caesar community. She said that she works as a bookkeeper and grant writer and worked seven years for PRCC as a grant administrator.

She said that running for the seat is not a “spur of the moment thing.” She said she began contemplating getting more involved in the school when her son entered high school a number of years ago.

She said she has decided now is the time to run.

“There are some positive points about our schools that I want to enhance, but there are a lot of areas that we have to face and make some major improvements,” she said.

She pointed to material shortages an the overcrowding, as did Creel. She also said that she would like the board to have a policy that would allow teachers and administrators to be able to address the board with their concerns and ideas without pressure.

“The people are saying to me they are ready for a new type of board. They are disgruntled with what has been going on,” Crabtree said.

She said she believes citizens in the school district are disgruntled enough to turn out in higher numbers than expected. However, she said that she ran into a lot of people who didn’t even know there was a school board election being held.

“I contacted the radio station and began trying to spread the word,” she said.

She said she found a situation while canvassing the district that might cause a problem, that is Oak Alley. She said on the left side of the road, residents are in the PRC district and on the right side in the Picayune district. However, her information showed that some of the people were in her district but their kids were going to Picayune schools.

She said two parents on the right side said they tried to enroll their kids at PRC but couldn’t and had to send them to Picayune. However, Crabtree said their names were shown on her list as being in the PRC district. “You need to check where you are paying taxes,” she said she told them.

She added, “When I moved here 12 years ago, I saw that we had a lot of problems, but I also saw a lot of the problems solved. But we have fallen back again, very fast. Yes, budget cuts will come, but you make adjustments for that.”

“My number 1 concern is the quality of education. We have some phenomenal teachers and administrators. But people need to learn to stand up. I believe teachers and administrators should be given the right to communicate directly with the board,” Crabtree said.

“I want to know about the problems. I don’t want to just be given a pack of documents every time I show up for a board meeting and not know what is really going on,” she said.

The Pearl River County school board oversees and manages the Pearl River Central schools at Carriere and McNeill.