Fort Smith native Greg Magness has announced his candidacy for the Fort Smith Public School (FSPS) Board of Directors, At-Large position held by Board President Dr. Deanie Mehl, who is not seeking re-election.
The election will be held on Sept. 19, 2017. Mehl told Talk Business & Politics on Wednesday (May 17) she would not run for reelection and she was “delighted” there were people interested in serving the students and parents of FSPS after her term is up, though she stopped short of endorsing any candidate.
“I’ve become something of a polarizing figure, and I’m not sure my endorsement would help,” Mehl said. “I want someone who is coming on the board without an agenda, or whose only agenda would be what’s in the best interest of the public schools.”
Dr. Mehl led the Board during its 2015 decision to change the Southside High School mascot, and she recognizes that could make any candidate she were to endorse a “target.”
Magness is an attorney with Hardin, Jesson, & Terry, PLC, focusing primarily on commercial law. He has worked with banking and creditors’ rights and has represented state and nationally chartered banks, mortgage companies, and financial institutions before state and federal courts. Magness also represents clients in contract disputes, asset purchases, corporate governance, and employment matters.
“My number one priority will be making sure we educate all students,” said Magness. “We’ve excelled at educating the majority of our students and preparing them for college. But I want to make sure that we address students at all levels and offer a path to workforce education as well. Fort Smith is a wonderful community and it’s our responsibility to make it better by creating opportunities for students at every level.”
According to a Wednesday (May 17) press release, the Southside High School alumnus graduated from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Magness then earned his law degree from the University of Texas, where he also served as associate editor for the Texas Law Review. He is a member of the Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Sebastian County Bar Associations and practices in Arkansas, Oklahoma, as well as the U.S. District Courts in Eastern and Western Arkansas and the Northern District of Oklahoma.
“I’m confident that I could help as a member of the Fort Smith School Board. Being part of a group that gives their time and talent to shepherd our resources and help guide our students to be successful, productive citizens would be rewarding. Students that reach their full potential and thrive will be successful members of our community,” Magness said.
Magness has served as a former board member for Western Arkansas Legal Services and is an elder and active member of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fort Smith. He and wife, Van Fakes Magness, have two children, both of whom attend Fort Smith Public Schools.
In a brief phone interview with Talk Business & Politics on Wednesday, Magness said he would not come into the job “thinking I’ve got all the answers to everything, but some things I would like to see looked at are safety in our schools – which they’re already broaching and dealing with – and we’ve got to realize we compete for students and families thinking about moving, so we have to be competitive with the school districts around us.”
Magness said district teachers “are doing great job already, but we need to make sure they are being paid competitively,” adding, “our kids are competing on a national level, but I don’t know that our facilities always reflect that.”
Magness said he would also like to “interface with our business community, to make sure they have input into educating our kids entering into the workforce, so we can keep more people locally.”
On President Donald Trump’s favorable view toward charter schools and voucher programs, Magness said he didn’t “have a hard and fast view on that,” noting that “on the one hand, I understand the position of the teachers and the teachers’ union. My grandfather was a lifetime educator, principal, and superintendent, so I understand concerns about taking money out of the system. At the same time, my understanding of the charter school here is positive. I’ve met locally with some of our charter school representatives, and I’m open to what they’re doing, absolutely. But we’ve got to be careful to make our first priority public schools as they’ve existed, while always looking for innovative solutions.”
As for the current Board, Magness believes they are doing a good job.
“I think we’re moving forward. Everything I’ve read and seen lately has been positive. It feels like the vector of our community is progressing.”