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Smith pursues school board seat after frustrations

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Enough was enough.

After reading many recent stories where the Dougherty County Board of Education made questionable or controversial decisions, Donnie Ellen Smith knew she had to run for Milton Griffin's District 2 seat, a position he's held since being elected in 2000.

Smith, 73, said she had been contemplating running for the school board seat for the past four years, but made her decision after she found the board was "totally out of control" and believes that "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." Other factors that prompted her candidacy to run for her first political office are:

-- "(School) Board refuses to adhere to rules and regulations";

-- "No one assumes power over the School Board to end the shameful reign of lawlessness";

-- "School system demands 51 percent of all property tax revenues without giving the citizens a voice in how it is spent";

-- "No common sense or judgment is displayed";

-- "Open arrogance, will not have open discussions with public";

-- "The pitiful percent of students that are able to graduate";

-- "Our schools rank at the very bottom."

"I wouldn't have run this time, but I couldn't take it anymore," said Smith, whose husband Lonnie is running for the District 2 seat held by Dougherty County Commissioner John Hayes. "I believe with all my being, if the present School Board, with the exception of (Chairman David) Maschke, are not replaced completely, we might as well walk out of our homes and community and not look back."

Donnie Smith said she wasn't happy about not being given an opportunity to meet named Superintendent Joshua Murfree after Griffin first suggested scrapping a community public forum.

"We weren't given a public hearing where we could meet the man, so we could feel like we were a part of the school system," a 1955 graduate of Frayser High School in Memphis, Tenn. "If we were given an opportunity to participate in the school system maybe there would be citizens in the community that could come up with ideas to improve our school system. We need the opportunity.

"I can't call him a superintendent," she said of Murfree. "He's not a superintendent now because he hasn't been certified. He needed a K-12 background and he needs management because he's over the whole school system and the money and how its used. I wish him well and hope he develops into the superintendent we need."

Smith is the only Republican candidate running against Griffin. Lynda Weaver and Sherrell Byrd are also running against Griffin, but on the Democratic ticket.

"We (Smith and her husband) were told from people that are involved in politics they wanted us to run under the Democratic ticket and we refused because that would be dishonest," she explained. "My (motivation) in this is truth and honesty, and you can't find truth and honesty around here."

Although she has several frustrations with the Dougherty County School System and its School Board, Smith said the school system does boast some high-achieving students.

"There are very bright children in Dougherty County using their education to move on and make a good life for themselves and their families," she said. "The opportunities are there if they take advantage of them. ... We have so many children without two parents in the house to help these children to form a good, true family so they can get a good education."

Smith has been married to Lonnie for 55 years. They have three grown children, Curtis, Theresa and Pamela. The Smiths, who have lived in Albany for 20 years, have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Through Lonnie Smith's work as a design aircraft engineer, they have lived all over the United States, Indonesia, Asia and Europe. Donnie Smith worked with her husband and retired in 2000.