Baldwin County Board of Education candidate Chris Francis said contrary to what he expected when he announced his run for the board’s contested District 7 seat, there has been very little mudslinging in the race so far.
Francis is challenging incumbent Shannon Cauley for the seat, which represents Spanish Fort, Loxley, Silverhill, part of Daphne, Malbis and some unincorporated areas in between.
“I think it has been a clean campaign so far,” Francis said. “There hasn’t been a whole lot of action or mudslinging so that’s been good.”
In his January monthly campaign finance filing, Francis reported a campaign fund balance of $604.37. In the first month of 2016, Francis received $500 in cash donations from three sources. Gary Taylor donated $250, W. Allen Cox donated $200 and John Lake donated $50 to the campaign.
In the previous month, December 2015, Francis reported $270 in contributions including $100 from Donnis K. Scruggs and $50 each from Dr. Jeanne Carney, Philip H. Spier and Harlan Bolton. He also received an $85 in-kind donation from David Peterson, chairman of the Citizens for Government Accountability PAC.
Francis’ largest donation came in November, when Baldwin County businessman Kevin Spriggs contributed $1,000 to the campaign. That month, Francis also reported a $200 contribution from Sunbelt Petroleum Company and $100 donations from Dale Phillips, Michael Hovey, Willard R. Richerson and Jacob D. Dyas.
On the campaign trail, Francis said, he has spoken with teachers concerned about the direction the school system is taking under current leadership. Some teachers have told him morale is low and they believe they always feel the brunt of cuts made inside the system.
“Teachers see that when there are cuts, they always feel them first,” Francis said. “Every cut is made against them, but they don’t seem to be made in administration. When funds get low, teachers are asked to pay for their own supplies. They do it because they love what they do and they love the kids they teach, but they shouldn’t be asked to do that. The teachers I’ve talked to want things to change.”
If elected, Francis has pledged not to vote to raise taxes at any point.
“We think of Baldwin County as this rich place, and there are certainly people here who have money,” Francis said. “But there are also people who are struggling because they are poor, or they can’t work because of a disability, or they are retired and on a fixed income. Every bit of change in taxes hits those people the hardest.”
Cauley was appointed to the board in January 2013 to fill the vacancy left when Tracy Roberts won a seat on the state board of education. She had little expectation of what actually running a campaign would entail, but said she has been pleased with the polite tone so far.
“I’m glad my opponent is out there advocating for our school children, but I know I am the right person for the job,” she said.
Cauley, the board’s current president, reported a $3,525 fund balance in her January campaign finance report. She received a $1,000 donation from Marion Nass and $200 donations from Real Estate by the Bay Inc., Charles and Kimberly Surles and Keith and Crysti Varden. She reported $100 contributions from Joseph and Sharon LeBLanc and Trent and Amy VanHulzen.
During the previous month, Cauley received $500 donations from Charles and Kimberly Surles and Thompson Engineering. She reported $100 contributions from Seawell McKee, Walter McKee, McKee & Associates Architecture & Design, John Graves and Anna Cook McKee, and Michael S. and Elizabeth L. Pierce. Cauley also received a $50 contribution from education blogger Larry Lee. In December, Cauley spent $1,787 on signs at ABC Signs in Theodore and paid Joseph Brown & Associates $150 for a campaign logo design.
Cauley’s biggest campaign contribution haul came in November, when she received 14 individual contributions for a total of $1,820. Cauley reported a $500 donation from Preble-Rish LLC, $250 from Joshua S. Boykin and $200 from Marjorie G. Moore. Seven $100 contributions came from Amy Armstrong, Tana and Steve Hegan, Keith and Crysti Varden, Cheramie and Jeff Jordan, Michael McMillan, Joseph and Sharon LeBlanc and Brent Pinkston.
Cauley said people she has met on the campaign trail are concerned about managing the growth in one of the state’s fastest-growing counties.
“Growth and overcrowding in this district’s schools seem to be the top issues I’ve heard from voters,” she said. “We need to focus on making sure we respond to that growth in a good way and provide the best education we can for students in Baldwin County.”
Part of handling the growth is making sure the system is funded at an appropriate level, Cauley said. The system is asking voters to approve the renewal of four mills of property taxes on the March 1 presidential primary ballot. Contrary to what renewal opponents have said, Cauley maintains the millage levels are not new taxes, but rather the same taxes that have been on the books for years.
“There is some misinformation out there, but these are definitely not new taxes,” Cauley said. “These taxes have been levied for a long time and they are necessary for keeping us at the current operational funding level.”
District 4 candidate Janay Dawson is running unopposed and reported a $1,110 campaign fund balance in her January finance report. She received a $500 donation from G.J. Stiffler, $250 from Lorena and Robert Holk, $200 from Marjorie Moore, $150 from James Shoots and $50 from Kathleen Parker.
Dawson will replace the retiring Norm Moore in the district, which represents the Foley High School feeder pattern.