Eric Cummings vs. Ed Wilson
If campaign financing is a gauge in a political race, then the two candidates vying to fill the seat of retiring School Board member Bobby James are running neck and neck.
Ed Wilson, 59, a general contractor and education advocate, is battling Eric Cummings, a Florida Department of Corrections officer and local pastor, for the District 3 seat.
In the August primary, Wilson secured 43 percent of the vote to Cummings’ 33 percent. Local school behavioral tech Donnie Prophet notched 23 percent and was eliminated from the general election.
Wilson has raised $16,574 in cash and in-kind donations, while Cummings, 49, has raised $15,176. And their individual tallies, which run through Sept. 28, are from mostly donors, not from their personal account. That is an indication that they both have grassroots community support.
Cummings raised $14,009 in cash donations from 242 residents and businesses, an average of $57.89 per donation. Reports state that 99 percent of his cash donations came from donors and not his personal account.
Among his many donors, Cummings is backed by the Marion Education Association (the local teachers’ union,) which has made two $1,000 donations to his campaign, reports state.
Wilson raised $15,125 from 67 residents and businesses, an average of $225.75 per donation. Reports state that 98 percent of his cash donations came from donors and not his personal account.
Among his many donors, Wilson is supported by Stan Hanson ($500), Whitfield Palmer (two totaling $1,500), Charles Hudson ($1,000), Legacy Team Sales ($500) and It’s Your Tea Party ($200), just to name a few.
The Star-Banner conducted 30-minute in-person interviews and several telephone interviews since July.
The latest interview focused on boosting community involvement after there was a woeful parent turnout for two important meetings about the fate of Oakcrest Elementary School. The candidates also gave their views about the appointed superintendent referendum.
Here are their views on those issues and a recap of their stances on other key issues, all gleaned from interviews conducted in recent months.
Cummings has worked for the Florida Department of Corrections since 1994 and is the current pastor of New Zion Missionary Baptist. He is a 1987 graduate of Forest High School.
Cummings believes the district must do more to promote parent involvement, especially when it comes to meetings at schools that are facing state sanctions.
“I think the school administration is only doing only what is required,” said Cummings, adding that there must be some type of concerted effort to get parents involved at all schools.
In order to get parents to become more involved, Cummings said, the district must analyze each school’s demographics and decide how to attract parents to the school.
He said when there is a big event, like at Oakcrest, the district should go as far as to call recreation leagues to ask them to cancel practices on critical meeting nights so that parents will have an opportunity to attend.
“Education is more important than football,” he noted. “Educating our children should be a team effort."
When it comes to the superintendent debate, Cummings said: “For either the elected or appointed superintendent to work, you have to have a good board.”
He added that “most people want an elected superintendent because they do not want to give up the right” to vote. He said he will work with an elected or appointed superintendent, whichever system the voters choose.
Cummings’ top priorities if elected are to address falling school performance, security concerns and discipline.
“I don’t like what I am seeing,” Cummings said when asked why he filed to run for office. “The school system is constantly failing. We had a drop in the ranking from 57th to 61st. I think our school system is in a crisis situation.”
Cummings said he will also be budget-minded and believes it's the board’s responsibility to look at every line item to make sure the district is spending its $500 million budget wisely.
Cummings said a great education system is a must.
“It affects us economically; it impacts who moves here and what businesses come here,” Cummings said. “It is extremely imperative, from an economic point of view, that we have the best school system in the state of Florida.”
Wilson, who ran against James in 2014 and lost, has spent 30 years as a general contractor in Marion County, as well as many years volunteering in sports and Scouts. He said his love has always been education.
Wilson said he believes the district needs to analyze what programs are working at schools to promote parent involvement. He believes that socioeconomic status of families can influence turnout.
“I think if we do schedule a play (at a school event) that parents will come out to see their children perform,” he noted. “We need to make sure that all parents feel welcome.”
When it comes to superintendent, Wilson believes it is time for voters to approve the appointed superintendent referendum.
“We have an elected superintendent now and she has continuously usurped the board’s authority,” he said. “The bottom line is that either way, the board and the superintendent must work together.”
As a member of the Florida Citizens Alliance, Wilson has traveled to Tallahassee for the past 14 years to advocate for better education. He has fought to improve textbook accuracy.
“During my work with Florida Citizen Alliance, we have found some really atrocious material in some textbooks,” he said during an interview. He promotes removing “questionable books out of the library.”
Wilson’s top priorities are making sure families have school choice, safe schools and accurate, age-appropriate textbooks and reading material. Wilson also believes in less micromanaging: “Let teachers teach.”
Wilson also said the year-long battle between some School Board members and Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier has been unfortunate.
“There is definitely a better way to handle it,” he noted, adding that all involved need to respect the other side. He also said that the superintendent and board cannot build long-term lasting relationships by being disrespectful to each other.
He said honest, respectful and open discussions are key.
“We have to be able to have frank, open, honest discussions about the issues,” Wilson said in July. “That doesn’t mean we will always agree. It is about the children and improving our education system.”
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.