Early voting begins today in the local school elections and runs until Monday, Sept. 18, at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Election day voting will take place Tuesday, Sept. 19, at voters’ polling places.

Pine Bluff School Board candidates recently discussed their qualifications at a forum hosted by Arkansas Community Organizations. About 25 people attended the forum held last Thursday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The Rev. Kevin Crumpton served as the moderator and read questions to candidates, who were given the same amount of time to answer. The time-keeper was Ray Williams. The Zone 3 candidates are incumbent Herman Horace and challenger Alisa K. O’Neal. The Zone 6 candidates are Marinda P. Williams [who is not related to Ray Williams] and Donna Barnes.

Incumbent board member Henry Dabner of Zone 4 is running unopposed. Crumpton asked Williams why she wants to run for this office and what she plans to accomplish. She described herself as bringing new ideas.

“I want to run for this office because I feel the district needs a new face, a new idea, a younger face,” Williams said. I also feel that we need to renew, revive and refresh our district. We have a lot of issues that are in our district. And I feel that I can bring new ideas and a fresh idea to the district.”

Williams said she wants to increase enrollment.

“We are losing our students, so I feel that we need to increase enrollment and we need to make sure that we communicate and work with our parents and our community as one so that we can revive our district again,” she said.

Crumpton asked O’Neal how she can be instrumental in improving the quality of life in the Pine Bluff School District.

“To me being instrumental starts with being present,” O’Neal said. “I feel that a stronger presence within the school system, letting not only the teachers and the administrators know but the students know as well: that you’re there watching them. Also conveying a level of concern, whether they see it as being nosy or whether they see it as you’re there to help protect them or you’re there to make sure they’re getting what they need. At least they know that you are there for some reason, so you are concerned in some way. I believe that the mere presence would be very instrumental in helping to improve the situation with the schools.”

Crumpton told Horace that Pine Bluff schools have not been under state control yet there are still Pine Bluff schools that are not doing very well. Crumpton asked Horace how he would be instrumental in helping with this situation.

Horace responded that other district schools are in trouble with the state.

“As a board member, I feel that first you’ve got to have leadership with our board,” Horace said. “You’ve got to be able to go in and work things out- see what’s the problem. There’s not anything any one board member can do. It takes the whole board to act as one. One vote is not going to get anything solved. With leadership and a vision, I can see that the Pine Bluff School District could be up on the rise if we all work together and work with the superintendent.”

Barnes was a previous board member. Crumpton told her that test scores play a big role in what is going on in the school district. He asked her how she would be instrumental in helping with this situation.

Barnes called herself qualified, certified, experienced and ready to work.

“I have a passion for education,” Barnes said. “I understand school law. I understand scores. I understand a lot about testing that a lot of people are disadvantaged. I am always a part of the research- and research my students know is Miss Barnes’ favorite word. Data does not lie. Once we go in and you look at the data, you work cohesive as a board with the superintendent. The only employee that the board has is the superintendent. And everything must be presented by the superintendent. When it comes to test scores, we want to be transparent, we want to be fair, we want to make sure we have parental involvement.”

“There must be a marriage between the school and the home,” Barnes said. “We must listen to parents, we must listen to students, we must supply the teachers with everything they need in order to be effective.”

Crumpton asked Dabner why he wants to run for this office and what he plans to accomplish.

“Since I don’t have an opponent, my accomplishments are and will always be to make sure that the students get the best education possible,” Dabner said. “My second thing is to get our budget back in line so we can give our employees some type of bonus. It’s a lot of work managing. They have students that they manage and our teachers do a good job. Our main accomplishment is always going to be based on the students, on the teachers, to make sure that they are getting a quality education, that we work hand in hand with the community. We want to be as transparent as possible with the community so we can work together to make sure these kids are getting everything they need.”

“I like the HYPE [Helping Young People Excel] Center that New St. Hurricane [Church] just did their ribbon-cutting on,” Dabner said. “We’ve got to do more things like that in the community to make sure our kids are not just out getting into trouble. We’ve got to give them something to do and I think it’s our responsibility, my responsibility. … We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to make sure our kids advance. We could be looking at the next president or the next governor.”