BLOOMINGDALE — An incumbent Sullivan County Board of Education member will face off in the May 3 election with a challenger who works in the school system and Sheriff’s Office.
The District 2 contest between Paul Robinson of Bloomingdale and newcomer Jeret Ratliff of Kingsport is one of three school board seats on the ballot this year and one of two that have competition.
Robinson, 40, is seeking a second four-year term on the BOE. In 2018, he defeated Dan Wells, who had served since 2006. He operates the baseball, softball and basketball youth athletic programs at Ketron Elementary School in Bloomingdale.
He graduated from Sullivan North High in 2001, took the operator apprenticeship at Eastman Chemical Co. before becoming an operator there. He will be married for 20 years in August and has two daughters, a freshman at West Ridge High and a fourth-grader at Ketron.
Ratliff, 46, oversees the school resource officer program operated by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in the county school system, and he also is on the Sheriff’s Office Hostage Negotiations Team. Ratliff is single. He also is a wrestling coach at West Ridge High School and a girls softball coach at Sullivan Central Middle.
He is a 1994 graduate of Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport and a 2008 graduate of the Donaldson Police Academy.
Both are running in the Republican primary, marking the first time school board races have been partisan affairs since a Tennessee law changed to allow that, since by law the school board races previously had to be non-partisan. Since no one is running as an independent or Democrat, the May winner will be unopposed on the Aug. 4 ballot and take office on or about Sept. 1.
Voters in the Lynn View Community Center, the former Traders Village (Goodwill Industries) and Vermont United Methodist Church may participate in the District 2 race.
Early voting started Wednesday, April 13, at the Sullivan County Election Commission in Blountville and will continue Monday-Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and Saturdays 9 am to noon except it will be closed April 15 for Good Friday.
In Kingsport, early voting is the same hours and days April 21-28 at the Civic Auditorium and in Bristol the same dates and times at the Slater Community Center.
The Kingsport Times News asked the two candidates the same questions via email. Here are the questions and their unedited responses:
1. What makes you qualified to serve or continue serving on the Sullivan County school board?
Paul Robinson: “I have served on the board for 4 years now. I also run the Baseball/Softball and Ketron Basketball programs for the Bloomingdale Optimist. I also have been able to build on my relationships with Sullivan County School system employees.”
Jared Ratliff: “Over the last seven years, I have worked alongside the Sullivan County schools as an SRO (school resource officer) and their Truancy officer.
“I started out as an SRO over five schools in Sullivan County in 2015. I have achieved goals and jobs to become SRO Sergeant in 2018, along with becoming the Truancy officer for Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office in 2019. I have worked closely with principals of all the schools in Sullivan County, along with the director of schools. I am aware of all situations that go on within the schools and truly believe I can be a voice for the teachers, students, and even the parents.”
2. Of which action of the current board, over the past four years, are you the most proud?
Jared Ratliff: “Putting SRO’s in the schools. This ensures safety for both students and staff. It allows for a better learning environment for students and a better teaching environment for teachers.”
Paul Robinson: “I would have to say what made me the most proud was getting the teachers on an equalization pay scale. Our teachers in Sullivan County work hard and deserved to be rewarded.”
3. Of which action of the current board, over the past four years, are you the least proud?
Paul Robinson: “I would have to say what I am least proud of was putting students in the new schools without everything being finished.”
Jared Ratliff: “Putting the kids on virtual learning. Doing this hindered children from learning, and now many students are further behind in school than they should ever be. This also caused us to have low test scores countywide in our schools. School prepares students for their future, no matter what it is, and we now have a lot of catching up to do due to closing schools down.”
4. What are the top three issues the county school system faces and your thoughts on each of them?
Jared Ratliff: “Discipline. We need to be consistent with how we discipline our students and follow the handbook countywide.
“The county commission and school board need to get along. This can allow for us to sit down and talk about issues the county schools face and have better ideas and solutions from more minds.
“Lastly, the school board needs to be more transparent with parents of the school system. It’s important that they are aware of decisions and changes made and it isn’t coming out to them last minute.
Paul Robinson: “Not in any certain order:
“We need a second access road into West Ridge High School. This needs to be done soon to make it safer and have more accessibility to the school.
“We need to update our schools and our newest middle schools need their renaming/branding completed. Several of our schools need a face lift (painting, cleaning and new signage).
“I would personally like to find a way to get our teachers more supplies without them having to use their own money. They currently get $200 a year for supplies and I would like to see that increased.”
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