All four Sullivan school board races to be competitive

Rick Wagner • Mar 30, 2020 at 7:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — All four Sullivan County school board races for 2020 are shaping up to be contested, with one set to be a three-way race and another three-way race still possible.

District 5 Board of Education member and Vice Chairman Randall Jones of Indian Springs recently filed, joining newcomers Jason Horton and Grover Blane Starnes. Horton, of the Holston area near Tri-Cities Airport, has been a vocal critic of the new West Ridge High School project. Starnes, of Bloomingdale, is a minister and retired Sullivan East High School teacher. 

“There’s some unfinished work that needs to be completed,” said Jones, a former teacher who retired from the central office of Bristol, Tennessee, schools. He said the work was in facilities and curriculum, mostly for secondary and specifically the new West Ridge High. 

“It’s all kind of tied together,” Jones said.

He said a third issue he wants to address is the budget process.

All candidates, including the incumbents, who have picked up papers to run in the Aug. 6 nonpartisan election have filed except for one: retired Sullivan County Director of Schools and 40-year school system employee Evelyn Rafalowski in District 1. In that district, first-term incumbent Mark Ireson and newcomer Mark Harris, both of Colonial Heights, have filed. Ireson is an air traffic controller, while Harris is an attorney and son of former school board member Larry Harris.

Rafalowski could not be reached for comment.

The qualifying deadline for all four school board races is noon, this Thursday, April 2, and the withdrawal deadline is noon, April 9.

In District 3, all inside the city of Kingsport, first-term incumbent Matthew Spivey, an attorney, faces a challenge from Mark Vicars, a teacher at Cherokee High School in Hawkins County and a 2017 candidate for Kingsport alderman.

In District 7, in the far eastern end of the county including the Bluff City area, incumbent Jane Thomas faces a challenge from newcomer Mary Rouse. Thomas is a retired speech teacher in the system, while Rouse is a former Sullivan East principal, who most recently retired as principal of Tennessee High School in Bristol.

Three other seats won’t be on the ballot until 2023: those of Chairman Michael Hughes of the Hickory Tree area, Randall Gilmore of Blountville and Paul Robinson of Bloomingdale. Board terms are for four years. 


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