Tuesday nonpartisan election will decide Lee County School Board District V race

LEESBURG – When former Lee County School Board Chairman Frank Griffin left in the middle of his term in 2021 after being appointed to the State Board of Education, Fran Walls climbed off the bus and entered politics for the first time.

She made her initial political foray in 2022, earning a spot in a runoff in a four-candidate race for the District V seat and won that contest to complete the unexpired term.

Now seeking a full term, Walls has herself drawn a challenger in Mary Egler, a substitute teacher with the Lee County School System. The race will be decided in the Tuesday nonpartisan election.

Walls has been a familiar face to many in the system. Her children graduated from the school system, as did one grandchild with another set to graduate next year.

“I drove a school bus for 45 years for Lee County,” she said. “I was born and raised in Lee County, Red Bone section, and I’ve hauled 10,000 kids. I have probably 20 nieces and nephews in the Lee County School System. I’m all for the kids. I’m not for myself. I just wanted to make a difference.”

The school system has been effective over the years, she said, and one of the biggest recent accomplishments was the selection of Superintendent Kathleen Truitt, who was hired in August 2023. That hire was the key to ensuring future success.

“She’s very intelligent,” Walls said. “She’s the kind of person you can talk to.”

In some instances, when she fields calls from parents, the candidate said, she refers them to Truitt.

“They’ll call back and tell me how helpful she was,” Walls said. “She’s a young lady, but she’s like a momma.”

Much of her less than two years on the board has been spent getting acquainted with the job, but Walls said the board is not a single-person operation but the working together of five members.

“I’m still learning,” she said “I’ve learned a lot about the education of the children, making sure the kids are getting the proper education and the things needed to go to college and technical school. We get the agenda ahead of time. If we don’t understand something, we get to call and talk to the superintendent. That’s the main thing, just being ahead of everything.”

At this moment, Walls said she believes the school system is on the right path to continue its tradition of excellence.

“I really think we’re on the right track,” she said. “We’ve got a five-year plan for the kids. I’m not saying we’re perfect. When I was in school, we were a school of excellence. When my kids were in school, we were a school of excellence. That’s what we’re working for. I’m there for the kids.”

Egler, a long-term substitute teacher in the system, worked 13 years in the Dougherty County School System, mostly as a paraprofessional with two years as a long-term substitute teacher. In her career, she has taught everything from math to English to dance and is currently teaching science.

Recently Egler graduated from Albany State University with a degree in interdisciplinary science with emphasis in education and administration and was on the dean’s list for the semester.

“You could say I have some hands-on experience in the school system,” the candidate said. “It (graduation) is just a testament that you don’t have to quit learning; you don’t have to quit life.”

One of the issues she said she would like to change is returning long-term substitute teachers to being direct employees of the school system. Currently, she said, those teachers are contracted through an outside company.

Similarly, she said, bus drivers are being hired through an employment agency for a probationary period before becoming employed by the school board.

“I also feel that when teachers have problems, they should be heard, not only by the principal but by the school board,” Egler said. “Solutions should be addressed, or tried to be addressed,”

Another area the candidate is interested in is ensuring that tax dollars are spent most effectively in the core mission of educating students. Parents also should be involved in education, and there should be a relationship between them and the board.

“I think the school board should be involved in the schools, and instead of just attending meetings they should be more accessible to the public,” Egler said. “I understand the school board members are rarely seen That’s what I have heard around different schools.”

The school system faces a number of teacher retirements this year, and Egler said that the emphasis should be on classroom instruction and less on increasing administrative staff. She also said she would not be in favor of a tax increase.

“You are not selling merchandise,” she said. “You are enhancing people’s minds; you are enhancing futures and lives. I just think there’s a time for change. (I’m) not saying I can change anything, but I can try. I just feel like I need to do this to make a difference.”