BLUFF CITY — An incumbent and two challengers are seeking a Sullivan County Board of Education seat in next month's election.
In the only contested county BOE race of three this year, incumbent Robyn Ivester of Piney Flats and challengers Michael Hughes of the Bluff City area and Bruce Reed of the Blountville area are seeking the District 4 BOE seat in the Aug. 7 election.
The only forum or scheduled joint appearance was held at Holston Elementary/Middle School in Blountville, and it was attended by Reed and Ivester. Early voting started July 18 and goes through Aug. 2.
Although the other two incumbents in the Kingsport and Bristol area do not have opposition, many of the educational issues being raised in the District 4 campaign are the same ones the whole board, school system, region, state and nation face.
Precinct voters in Holston Elementary/Middle School, Sullivan County Office Building, Buffalo Ruritan, Bluff City Hall, Hickory Tree Firehall, Piney Flats Firehall and Sullivan East High can participate in the election.
For more information on the Aug. 7 elections and early voting, go to www.scelect.org/
Candidate bios, platforms:
Ivester, 44 and elected to the board in 2010, is married with a daughter at East High and son at Mary Hughes (K-8) School. She has taught at Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City for 10 years.
"I feel like Sullivan County schools have shown a lot of improvement over the last few years, and I would like to see that improvement continue," Ivester said of increases in ACT and Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program or TCAP scores. As a teacher, Ivester said she can relate to teachers and students whose evaluations and test scores, respectively, are partially dependent on standardized tests such as TCAPs and end-of-course tests.
Ivester also said she believes the school board has been fiscally responsible in dealing with declining revenue by working within the available funding as enrollment decreases, citing improved relations between the Sullivan County Commission and school board.
Hughes, 55, is a Teamsters representative for Virginia UPS workers who used to sit on the pension and health and wellness funds boards for the union and is president of the joint council that oversees both funds. He ran for a school board seat in 2012.
His son is a teacher at Colonial Heights Middle School, his wife at Weaver Elementary.
He said most board members fail to represent the majority wishes of their constituents.
As an example, he cited the board's decision to extend the contract of Director Jubal Yennie and past raises gives to Yennie, although henceforth Yennie's raise are tied to the teachers getting raises.
He said all that happened during cutbacks that included reducing the hours worked by maintenance and custodial staff and moving many aides from full- to part-time.
"I know the budget's tight," Hughes said. "I just feel like we need a board that better represents the people. I think some of our boards members have become elitists."
Reed, 60, retired as a maintenance employee with the county school system about two years ago after 34 years service. His only other run for elected office was a Sullivan County Commission bid in 1982. He has two children who attended schools in the county and four grandchildren, three at Blountville Elementary and five at Blountville Middle.
"I've heard their concerns," Reed said of former fellow employees, from custodians and maintenance workers to aides, teachers and principals. "Caretakers and maintenance are very vital to the school department as much as anybody is."
He said he'd like to find a way to bring maintenance employees back to 40 hours a week instead of the cut to 36 hours a few years ago, a cut he said really hurt some employees who might take home $200 less a month. He said maintenance is generally cheaper than building new schools.
His said another major concern is doing what is right and needed for the students and be "someone in there who really cares" for them.
"They're our future. We've got to take care of them now," Reed said, adding that he supports adding more kindergarten aides to help students and teachers. "The teachers really need the aides," Reed said. "Kindergarten aides are overwhelmed."
"I think we have a great school system in Sullivan County," Reed said. "There's always room for improvement in anything. I don't see any big bad problems in Sullivan County.
On other issues:
Hughes and Reed said they oppose the Common Core Standards, recently renamed Tennessee State Standards.
Hughes said the middle school math standards demand a "complex and nonsensical way of teaching math" to students.
"Common Core at its core imparts another way for the federal government to control local school districts," Hughes said. "We're (also) too much in lockstep with the Tennessee State Board of Education."
Reed said he's "not really a fan" of Common Core,
Ivester, on the other hand, said she supports the new standards but that her issue is that since Tennessee delayed testing for the new standards for a year, students in 3-8 will be taught new Common Core standards but will be tested on the old standards through TCAPs.
Ivester supports keeping mandated BOE-approved directors, while Hughes and Reed said they want to see the General Assembly again allow elected superintendents after they were phased out in the 1990s.
"Appointed superintendents put too much power in too few hands," Hughes said. "He's (Yennie) only got to please four people" of seven on the board.
Ivester said, "I feel like its important for all board members to have a positive working relationship with the director, but that doesn't mean you have to agree 100 percent with the director," Ivester said.
"As times changes, things in education changes. Many people don't like change but it is necessary. You're never going to please everybody. It's a lot easier to be negative than to be positive."
Reed said, "Anytime you take the vote away from the public, it's not good. I've always favored the election."
Hughes said he opposes the raise the school board got a few years ago, which initially was linked to county commission raises that were in turn linked to state-mandated county mayor raises, although that linkage has since been broken.
"By state law, the county commission sets the pay for school board members," said Ivester, who supported doing away with the pay link with the commission even before the BOE adopted language from the Tennessee School Boards Association cutting that linkage.
Reed said he too questions the linkage and raise, and he wants to make sure the BOE is accountable for the taxpayer dollars it spends but had no further thoughts on the matter.