Shelia Arnett vs. Kelly King

First-term incumbent School Board member Kelly King knows she has tough battle looming on Nov. 6, the day she faces off in the general election with nonprofit volunteer Shelia Arnett for the District 5 seat.

It was a close race during the August primary. King received 38 percent of the vote to Arnett’s 37 percent. Retired teacher Pete Anderson notched only 25 percent and was eliminated from the general election.

Arnett has raised $20,612 in cash and in-kind donations, while King has raised $13,955. Those tallies run through Sept. 28.

Arnett has raised $20,452 in cash from 43 residents and businesses, an average of $475.63 per donation. Reports state that 98 percent of her cash donations came from donors, not from her personal account.

Arnett’s primary donors are: Marion Education Association (the teacher’s union) at $2,000; Reliance Petroleum Holdings ($2,000), Stan and Martha Hanson ($2,000); Whitfield Palmer ($1,500); and Harvey Vandeven ($1,000).

King has raised $12,405 in cash from 36 residents and businesses, an average of $344.58 per donation. Reports state that 52 percent of her cash donations came from donors. King has used $6,000 of her own money to bolster her campaign account.

Among her many donors, King is supported by BM-INV, LCC ($500) and Doug Cone Revocable Jr. Trust ($500).

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 over the last several months of interviews.

Shelia Arnett

Arnett, the wife of former County Commissioner Earl Arnett and a nonprofit community volunteer board member, said experience is not a valid reason to re-elect an incumbent.

She serves on the board of the Marion County Homeless Council. Arnett has also worked in the healthcare industry as a recruiter since 2000, has owned a small business and worked in magazine publishing.

Arnett supports the elected superintendent process and will vote against the appointed superintendent referendum on Nov. 6.

“I do not want to give away my right to vote,” Arnett noted, adding that appointing a superintendent does not always mean the district will get the best candidate in the nation.

“I have worked as a healthcare recruiter and I can tell you first hand that recruiting nationwide does not always guarantee a top candidate,” she said.

Arnett also believes that more incentives are needed to get parents involved in their children’s schools. Arnett believes that, as a board member, she will examine schools with excellent parent involvement to see if that can be duplicated elsewhere.

Arnett has lived in the county for 27 years. She has said her community ties will help build relationships. She says those contacts will aid her in helping to improve the School District.

Arnett says it is time for new blood on the School Board, which has done little to stave off a steady decline in test scores.

Marion County now ranks 61st out of 67 Florida school districts based on Florida Standard Assessments results. In 2006, Marion County’s ranking was 33rd.

Arnett said her top three priorities are: visit every school in her first year of office; lobby Tallahassee for more funding; and be a student advocate.

During the summer it was revealed that Arnett’s site-built residence is not in District 5. The law requires candidates to live in the district they will represent at the time of qualifying, which was in June.

Before qualifying ended, Arnett parked a RV in an Anthony mobile home park and listed that as her new residence. The move led to much discussion on social media, including suggestions that Arnett was breaking election laws.

Wesley Wilcox, the county’s supervisor of elections, declined to comment on specific residency issues. He noted that Florida election law does not define “residence.” It does not specify how long a person must live at a specific address, how many times per week they must sleep there, or list any other qualifiers.

Kelly King

King defeated four-term incumbent Ron Crawford, who died a few years ago, handily back in 2014. King touts her 12-plus years of teaching experience, her education background and her experience as the main reasons voters should re-elect her to a second term.

“I have supported appointed superintendent (method) since I was running the first time in 2014,” said King, who believes the appointed process gives the district the best chance to improve.

Though there is no “perfect solution,” she believes an appointed superintendent model will mean less politics. Her belief is that an elected superintendent spends much of their last two years of his or her term politicking to get re-elected.

“There may always be politics in either option, but we can eliminate some of it by having an appointed superintendent,” King said.

King believes there must be more community input, especially when it comes to critical meetings about possible school closures. At the very least, the district should hold school meetings later in the evening so working parents can attend. Two recent meetings at Oakcrest were held at 5:30 p.m.

King’s three main priorities if re-elected are school security, focus on struggling schools and touting the district’s stellar vocational programs.

She says her budget experience will be valuable in the next few years, especially since veteran member Bobby James, 71, is retiring after serving 11 years on the board, she said.

“I have over 12 years of classroom experience, a master’s degree in education leadership, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and I have been on School Board since 2014,” King said.

She hopes voters don’t look at her as a longtime veteran.

“I am not an incumbent that has been on the board for two or three terms,” she noted. “I have been a good steward with our tax dollars.”

King’s opponents have questioned her commitment. In May, soon after announcing her re-election bid, she temporarily dropped out.

King said she was being verbally attacked in the community and online. She temporarily lost the will to run. Ultimately she decided to continue working for the children and not let detractors run her out of office.

Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him Twitter @JoeOcalaNews