Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories on contested races in November’s election.

FRANKTON – Frankton-Lapel school board incumbent candidates for districts 1 and 4 both cited the district’s virtual academy as a proud accomplishment.

District 1 incumbent Michael S. Rusche faces competition from local political newcomer Robert “Rob” Trotter Jr., who could not be reached for comment for this story.

Rusche, 50, who is hoping for a third term on Frankton-Lapel’s school board, said he’s pleased with the efforts he and his board colleagues have made to establish the district’s virtual academy, stabilize its finances and develop a course for future growth.

“We were ahead of the curve when we set up our online academy, which set us ahead with this pandemic,” he said.

Rusche was among the board members who voted in favor of the solar expansion that has reduced utility costs and the purchase of land to accommodate student population growth.

“We have been able to decrease our energy bills on the south side of the district quite a bit to the point we have been able to sell back some of our electricity to the grid,” he said.

Also in view over the coming term will be the possibility of renovating or replacing Frankton Jr.-Sr. High School and/or Lapel Elementary School.

“Nobody can see the future, but it’s a matter of being prepared for that,” he said. “Ever since I have gotten into the school board, it’s been all about what is best for the kids.”

District 4 incumbent Tami Davis-Bailey is seeking a third term with opposition from first-time candidate George “Geep” Harrison.

Harrison, 43, a blood bank supervisor at Community Hospital Anderson, said he wanted to run for the school board as a way to remain involved in the education of his daughters, who attend Frankton schools.

“I want to make sure funding is going to the right areas,” the Frankton native said. “There’s no real deficiencies I think they’ve had. I just want to help going forward.”

With the discussion of a new building replacing either Frankton’s high school or Lapel’s elementary school, Harrison said he’s interested in the district’s finances and finding a solution that would work for both schools at the lowest cost to taxpayers, whether that’s building additions or entirely new schools.

“I’d like to know that either of them is 100% necessary,” he said. “If the finances are there that wouldn’t put a new burden on things, I might be willing to do that. But I want to deal with the existing structures first.”

With a wife who teaches at Frankton Elementary School, Harrison said he also is interested in employment issues.

“I kind of would like to be a voice for the teachers,” he said.

Davis-Bailey, 61, who is director of Elwood Community Schools Hinds Career Center, said she believes her direct experience as a 30-year veteran of education and her knowledge of the business world and workforce development makes her a solid choice for voters.

“I feel every school board should have an educator that has the background and insight,” she said. “It takes the first term to get your bearings as school board members. Right now, it’s a pretty critical time, so I think it’s pretty important for me to continue with the knowledge base I have right now.”

Davis-Bailey said, like Rusche, one of the accomplishments of her and the other members of Frankton-Lapel’s board of which she is most proud includes the launch of the virtual academy and the growth of the district’s technology in general.

“It was very forward thinking,” she said. “Stressing the active engagement of the learner has been a key to the success of our students.”

That has led to another area of improvement for the district, which is increased student enrollment, Bailey-Davis said.

“When you have open enrollment, I think competition is healthy for everyone,” she said.

The biggest challenge facing the board will be making construction decisions amid the new requirements for COVID-19 and any future pandemics, Bailey-Davis said.

“When you’re building a construction project the new way that education will be following COVID, there will be new challenges and opportunities to make education fit this day and age,” she said. “The inside of the building and those details is what gets me excited.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.