ALBANY — A six-way race for a Dougherty County School Board seat has been narrowed to two finalists who will be on the ballot for a July 13 runoff election in District 2.
Both Norma Gaines-Heath and Alma Noble have decades in education and a heavy lift to get more bodies into voting booths for the summer special election to fill the unexpired term of Milton “June Bug” Griffin.
Turnout on Tuesday was 9.11 percent, as only 892 of nearly 9,800 registered voters cast ballots in the race to fill the seat left vacant with the death of Griffin in February.
“I don’t know how much more it’s going to take to stress to voters the importance of voting,” said Heath, who finished at the top of the group with 282 votes. “This was a special election (but) it still needs to be considered as important as any other elections that are held.”
Heath, a long-time teacher in the Dougherty County School System who currently teaches GED courses at Autry State Prison in Pelham, said she looks forward to the opportunity to take on Noble in the runoff.
“The first thing I think is because of my sincerity and love for education, in that I am a veteran teacher,” she said of why voters should give her the nod in the July contest. “I have the familiarity with the Dougherty County School System and the time and attention I put into it, and just being approachable with the voters in my district.”
Accountability is an issue that Heath said she feels is important for the position.
Heath said she put in a lot of time going door-to-door and plans to do more as she tries to reach and encourage voters in the final round.
“I spent a lot of time listening to some of their concerns — not just the parents, but employees of the Dougherty County School System,” she said.
The candidate stressed that education is not just important for preparing today’s students for the jobs of tomorrow but attracting companies to locate in the area.
“In order for our city to improve, there has to be a strong school system,” Heath said.
Noble, who said she also made a lot of in-person visits to voters’ homes, echoed that sentiment.
“What happens in the Dougherty County School System will affect Albany,” said Noble, who finished with 253 votes on Tuesday. “The future growth in Dougherty County is directly tied to our school system.
“We need to empower our students so they can have a home, transportation, decent jobs so they will be contributors to our community rather than a distraction.”
She pointed out her five decades in the education field and long track record in business as qualifications that make her a good fit for the board.
“I still feel experience matters,” said Noble, who worked three decades in the Dougherty County School System and operates two day care/education centers in the city. “My background in business has prepared me to deal with the types of issues that are handled by the school board.”
Since her retirement from the school system, where her career included time as a teacher, social worker and school psychologist, Noble said she has prepared students at the day care centers.
“I have prepared thousands of students with the basic skills to enter the Dougherty County School System,” she said. “I have collaborated with the school system. I am eager to work with the current school board members to implement policies to bring about real change to the Dougherty County School System.”
With runoff elections traditionally attracting less voters than elections preceding them, the candidates have their work cut out for them.