Justin McCartney thinks that he can bring a different perspective, a strong financial background, to the Liberty County Board of Education. McCartney is running for the District 6 seat that opened after Sampie Smith resigned from the position in February.
McCartney, 41, grew up in Liberty County. His father was in the military and his family moved to the area when he was 10. He attended Button Gwinnett, the former Hinesville Middle School and graduated from Bradwell Institute, where he met his future wife.
McCartney went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in finance and master’s degree in accounting from Georgia Southern, while his wife attended the University of Georgia. The two moved back to Liberty after college, and McCartney now works for Gulfstream. His wife works at Ameris Bank. They have to two daughters, ages 12 and 6. McCartney’s three brothers and parents still live in Liberty County.
His hobbies include spending time with family and hiking. So far he has hiked all of the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail.
McCartney talked about his career and what he will bring to the board seat.
“I support our IT organization. I’m responsible for the budget of (Gulfstream’s) technology organization. But I help the technology builders make decisions that have a financial impact, which is a good part of the reason why I wanted to run for this board seat,” McCartney said. “I’m proud of the education I got. I live here now, and education is key to any development. When a company tries to decide to come in, they look and see what kind of educated workforce they have (in the area).”
He said there isn’t a lot of financial experience and education on the board, and that is where he feels he will be a perfect fit.
“It’s one thing to say some things should happen and not jump in. It’s easy to go ahead and criticize from the sidelines. I’m a licensed CPA as well, so I think that education and experience will add a lot of value to the board and a different perspective,” McCartney said. “If we make poor financial decisions in the beginning, then I think we end up having to make decisions that we don’t want to make, and then we end up in a situation in which we’re cutting teachers’ days in the classroom.”
McCartney discussed what he sees as a need for better communication with the community and a perception problem.
“For example, with the vote that they just had on payroll, from once a month to twice a month for teachers. I can see the perspective of it being cost-effective so they don’t have to do a separate payroll. But when you allow the teachers to vote and they vote ‘no’ and you still go against what they say, it says, ‘We don’t care what you say, we’re going to do whatever we think we should do,’” McCartney said. “A lot of them aren’t bad decisions, some of them might be good and sound decisions, but it’s the way they’re conveyed and the rationale behind it that isn’t done very well.”
He said that when making a decision at his job, he has to make a case as to why he’s doing it.
“You almost have to have that case and explain to your constituents, your stakeholders why you decided to do this,” McCartney said. “If you don’t, then it’ll come off as no thought behind it when you might have had a lot of thought. But then if you can’t explain it to people, then they’re meaningless. It actually doesn’t mean anything to them.”
McCartney described himself as a collaborator. For example, he is the chairman of the Hinesville Development Authority’s board and works with others who have strong opinions. He said he is able to convey his own opinion to others while not alienating himself from those who disagree.
“Whoever takes the seat is one vote, they can’t do anything by themselves. They have to be able to work with the rest of the board to get stuff done, and I can do that. I’m a member of the community; I really want the school system to be successful,” he said. “When the teachers and educators understand that the board is working for them, working together for them, it just changes things.”
McCartney said that he is passionate about education.
In 1993, McCartney worked at Head Start for six months, calling it “the best job I ever had.” He also worked as a camp counselor through high school but said Head Start gave him an appreciation for the importance of a good education.
“I love teaching,” he said. “But I think you have to have kids that enjoy the learning environment, and you need teachers that create that learning environment. When you have teachers that have moral issues, it hinders learning.”
McCartney thinks the purpose of the school board is to make it easier for teachers to provide good education to students, and that is where the majority of the district’s resources should be spent.
“That’s the mission of the school board: to provide quality education,” he said. “I think the board sometimes stumbles with that with the teachers a lot. I think the charter-school (system) is a very good option that we have, but how we transition into that is going to be key.
“The decisions that the board makes effect everyone — students, families, teachers, everybody,” he continued. “When you have an educated population, it’s a better population. The better that we can educate our kids, the better we can educate the community.”