Ealum, Phinazee vie for Board seat

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Following his defeat in the 2006 Democratic primary to Michael Windom, Dean Phinazee had heard from members in his community that some people didn't know he was running for the Dougherty Board of Education's District 6 seat.

To ensure that the same wouldn't happen in 2010, Phinazee announced his candidacy to challenge Windom again last year on Oct. 27, well in advance of this year's primary.

Windom, however, announced his retirement from the board after serving since 1995 in late March. In late April, Darrel Ealum filed paperwork to run against Phinazee in Tuesday's primary. Ealum said he decided to run because Windom wasn't.

Publicly, Windom is maintaining neutrality in the race. Asked recently by The Albany Herald which candidate he was supporting, Windom said, "I'm not endorsing anyone, but I'm telling people to take a look at both candidates."

Both Phinazee and Ealum are retired educators. Phinazee, 60, retired after 35 years as an educator, including 23 in the Dougherty County School System. Ealum, 61, taught for three years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an associate professor.

Asked the biggest difference between him and Ealum, Phinazee said, "I would say our educational background. I've been in education for 35 years, but it's actually more because I taught two years as a teacher corps intern at Albany State (University). That was on-the-job training where we trained under a master teacher."

Phinazee also wanted to note that he holds an L-6 (education

specialist) in administration and supervision, "which certifies me to be superintendent," he said.

Ealum said his main reason for running for the School Board was because of the importance of education and what it has meant to him and his family. While growing up in south Alabama, Ealum remembered his mother earning an education degree at age 43 and his family's life transforming overnight. The family moved from a farmhouse with no indoor bathroom to a small home with two bathrooms. His mother went on to teach school for 28 years.

"Education is the most important investment in time and money that we can make in our children and our community, and I bring to the table a strong leadership background, sound business experience and a tenacious desire to make a difference for education in Dougherty County," said Ealum, who served 20 years in the Marines. "(My wife) Linda and I raised five children, and their education was our most important investment."

All of Ealum's children were educated at Albany's Deerfield-Windsor School and have since either graduated or are attending college. His daughters, Jo and Susie, are Marine lieutenants and son, Adam, was commissioned a Marine lieutenant after he graduated from Albany State University this month.

Phinazee also has grown children. Both David and Natosha were products of the Dougherty County School System. Phinazee said his daughter's a nurse and his son works at Lowe's Home Improvement.

Education, specifically improving the graduation rate, is also one of the strongest reasons for his candidacy, Phinazee said. The DCSS's graduation rate has improved from 50.1 percent in 2002 to 75.4 percent in 2009 after summer school.

"Without education, crime rates do increase, the community spends much needed money to incarcerate rather than educate," he said at the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce's Candidates' Forum recently. "Research has shown that 70 percent of black male students that enter the ninth grade will not graduate, also, 25 percent of students who do not graduate will ended up incarcerated."

Both candidates also realize that today's students need to be more engaged in what they're learning.

"Our children must be taught the basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, but they also must be cultured, nurtured, motivated and inspired," Phinazee said at the forum. "Each child must be allowed to learn at his or her own pace, but all children must be challenged in order to become high achievers."

In addition to trying to "excite" students more, Ealum said he seeks to pay more attention to special needs children.

"I will search for incentives to excite our children to learn through automation and computerization of our classrooms," he said. "With the tremendous leap forward in digital technology in recent years, we must transition those new found innovations into helping our children to learn. (And), I will focus my personal attention on the special needs children in District 6."

To indicate his passion for the position, Ealum has gone door-to-door to approximately 3,700 of the 4,000 registered voters in District 6.

"I have less than 300 left," said Ealum, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress in 1996 and state House District 137 in 2002. "And I am confident I will get very close to knocking on every registered voters' door by election day and asking for their vote or, if they are not home, leaving them an information card. It has been fun."

Phinazee said he has also gone door-to-door since the last week in May, but said, "I didn't count them."

One difference that Ealum appears to have with Phinazee is his business background. He has successfully run a family business from his Honeysuckle Drive home with his wife, Linda, for 20 years.

"Pay cuts and furloughs have hurt our employees and our teachers," he said. "As a family businessman, I will ensure tax dollars are being effectively spent, ensure our school system employees receive a fair wage and ensure our teachers receive a fair salary. ... With declining tax dollars and shrinking budgets, we truly need a business mind on the board to protect our taxpayers, our employees and yes our teachers."

Although both candidates have been careful about answering questions regarding the recent superintendent selection process that ended with Joshua Murfree being selected, Phinazee made a point to state that he supported the "office of the superintendent."

"It doesn't matter who's there, the board members need to support who's in that office," said Phinazee, a former vice president and president of the Dougherty Comprehensive High PTO.

"As I understand the circumstances, he has been given a three-year contract," Ealum said. "I am asking the voters for a 'four-year contract.' Therefore, we must work to do what's best for the children."

Because of the difficulty media outlets had in obtaining comments from four Dougherty County School Board members -- Anita Williams-Brown, Milton "June Bug" Griffin, Velvet Riggins and James Bush, who voted for Murfree -- both Ealum and Phinazee agreed at the Candidates' Forum that communicating with the media was important and a part of the job.

"I am accountable and I will return your call," said Ealum.

"The people elect us to this position and we should be available," Phinazee said. "We need to be available as much as possible for the people. We need to be transparent. If the media asks me a question, I don't see me running from the media."