Editor’s Note: Today we have the final installment of our series on the Aug. 6 Sullivan County BOE election. Nine individuals are vying for four seats on the school board.

Fourth in a series

QUESTION FOUR — How could the relationships between the Sullivan County Commission/county officials and the Board of Education/school system officials be improved?


Mark Harris: Honest communication and no hidden agendas are imperative. West Ridge High School is an example where an access road to the school should have been decided upon prior to purchasing the land for the school and issuing bonds to have the school built. It appears the board expected the state or the county to provide that access road and it wasn’t properly discussed.

I also feel open, honest communication extends from the board representative in each district to his constituents; this is critical. I will have an open door policy and will meet and discuss issues with my constituents.

Mark Ireson: My first year on the Board of Education I received training from the Tennessee School Board Association. I was told, “You can never win a war with your funding body. Whatever you do, you need to keep good relations with them because you WILL NEED them.”

The Sullivan County Commission is the funding body for the Board of Education. There is a complete lack of trust between the Sullivan County Commission and the Board of Education leadership. This will only be corrected with open, honest, and transparent discussions where people are trying to fix issues, NOT win an argument.


Matthew Spivey: Differing personalities and perspectives may make compromise and progress challenging, but they are critical to an effective decision-making process. Mutual respect between individuals is important, as is the understanding that each individual is advocating for what he or she believes is in the best interest of our community. Conflict is part of this process, but name-calling and bickering does not serve the public.

Continuing joint meetings over larger issues is a must, and I support more communication and public meetings between these bodies. I will represent my district’s interests in a forceful but professional and respectful manner, based on facts and with the best interests of the school system in mind.

Mark Vicars Jr.: The biggest issue is financial transparency and cooperation with the County Commission. Hiding huge fund balances while going around with your hand out is dishonest, to say the least. Playing political games and threatening teachers’ pay and jobs is even worse, not to mention the mission of the school board, which is to give our children the gift of competence, a broad education and skill set that they can count on for a lifetime. We need solutions, not standoffs.


Jason Horton: The relationship can improve easily using a critical word: “respect.” Through mutual respect, and each board understanding the others’ function, much work can be done to bring exciting results to our school communities. This excitement will naturally flow into the classroom where it matters. When I become a member of this team, I will work to assure the public my commitment to work together.

Randall Jones: The most important step is for members of each group to understand their state- defined role. “The General Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the need to separate the funding of schools (County Commission) from the operation of schools (School Board).” All elected officials should advocate for our schools. I want everyone to be as proud of our school district as I am. I challenge each of us to focus on the positive impact schools have had on our lives and how we can impact the lives of our current students. We need to be examples and work together to find solutions; not create problems.

Grover Starnes: There needs to be a permanent committee established with members from both the County Commission as well as the Board of Education. This committee should also include general members of the community to better address the needs of the citizens, giving the taxpayers a real voice. This group would meet on a monthly basis to discuss any shared issues that concern the county as well as the school system.


Mary Rouse: I believe the relationship between the Sullivan County Commission and the Board of Education can be improved by everyone remembering that we were elected to create the very best learning environment for ALL students. There should always be honesty and truth and NO special or hidden agendas. We should be supportive of each other; we are on the same team working for each child in Sullivan County. I want to work with the County Commission to improve opportunities for all children. Research shows us over and over that we either spend money to educate our children or we pay to house them in jail or prison.

Jane Thomas: There are several issues causing this problem.

Competition can be good if managed properly, but if not managed properly “competition” can result into “confusion.” Confusion can result into “conflict” and conflict can result into “chaos.”

You can’t have success when you are at “war” with your funding body, the commission.

Blame can be credited to both sides, the commission and the BOE.

We obviously have a leadership problem. The commission has accused the BOE of not being financially transparent.

The BOE has accused the commission of not being accurately/correctly informed of the needs and the understanding of how the BOE/DOE functions within its budget.

Not everyone on the BOE/DOE and the commission are in agreement on all these issues.

The leadership of the BOE/DOE, the mayor, and key leaders of the County Commission have not been effective in meeting together to resolve these critical issues.

Consequently, there has been a lack of trust, respect, and confidence with members of both the commission, the mayor, and the BOE/DOE.

If I am re-elected, I will continue to work to resolve and mediate where possible with both sides to resolve these concerns.

During the escalation of these issues, I have worked hard to develop a good working relationship with members on both sides of the table — the County Commission and the BOE.