Parker Pursues His Last Hurrah

By Desmon, Stephanie | The Florida Times Union, August 25, 1996 | Go to article overview

Parker Pursues His Last Hurrah


Desmon, Stephanie, The Florida Times Union


Four years ago, Billy Parker said he was running his last

campaign for the Duval County School Board.

Well, it's 1996, and Parker's name is back on the ballot for

the Westside seat he has held for 16 years. Term limits dictate

that this time will truly be his last hurrah. Still, he seems

poised to walk away with his fifth term, facing a relatively

unknown challenger named Bob Durant, a 51-year-old former school

system employee.

Parker, who at 70 is the oldest on the seven-member board, said

he is having too much fun to quit now.

"Everything's coming up roses," he said.

Durant's view of the school system isn't as rosy. He said he

represents the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Westsiders who

are "fed up" with the state of the schools. He said he is

running to give voters a choice on Sept. 3.

"The bottom line is I get tired of seeing the same old faces

singing the same old songs and nothing gets done," Durant said.

"There are a lot of us out here who are really frustrated with

the school system. I'm not by myself."

Durant's is a low-budget campaign. The few dollars he is

spending are his own, and the campaign ran out of money two

weeks ago, he said.

Parker, on the other hand, has raised almost $30,000.

Parker, a 1944 Lee High School graduate, has worked for the

School Board for more than 40 years. He has been a teacher, a

coach, a dean, a principal and an assistant superintendent. He

missed a shot at the superintendent's job by one vote in 1970.

Durant worked almost nine years in the school system's grounds

department. He was fired in 1994 for misconduct.

When Durant applied for that job, he lied on his application

about the time he spent in a North Carolina prison after he

pleaded guilty to a 1964 armed robbery.

Durant has called the robbery "the dumbest thing you could do"

and said his participation was a result of falling in with the

wrong crowd. He said he has tried to live as law-abiding a life

as possible since then and mentors teens who were troubled like

he was.

Though their politics are similar, the two candidates differ

sharply on one issue: whether Superintendent Larry Zenke should

keep his job.

"Larry Zenke is not loved and adored by man and beast alike

universally," Durant said. "He has actually been probably the

worst superintendent the system has had, at least in my

lifetime, if not this century. If we don't get rid of him now .

. . [he'll be] the sorriest one in two centuries."

Zenke, who typically does not like to get involved in politics,

said he is not surprised by Durant's comments. "After having

been fired from the school system . . . I perhaps would not

expect to have very favorable feelings from him," he said.

Parker admits he has had his ups and downs with the man he

brought back to Jacksonville in 1989 to lead the school system.

But he said he supports the superintendent, as evidenced by his

most recent evaluation.

"I didn't give him a perfect score, but I didn't grade him like

I wanted him fired," Parker said. "On a scale of 1 to 10, my

opinion of the superintendent now is about a 7. …

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