JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The seven candidates running for the Johnson City Schools Board of Education got a chance to share their platforms Tuesday night ahead of early voting in an election where the spotlight has been put on the school board’s decisions now more than ever.
“When it comes to the school board, the stakes are high, and now is the time for level-headed, critical decision-makers to be in a position that has all children in their best interest,” said candidate Matt Wilhjelm.
The forum was hosted by the Johnson City Press, The League of Women Voters of Northeast Tennessee, and ETSU Votes. Candidates were asked a range of questions from the needs in the school system and learning disruptions due to COVID-19.
“I would definitely like to work on not allowing our school campuses to be used as a public park while school is in session,” said candidate Ginger Carter, who put an emphasis on school safety throughout the evening.
“There are things that are happening during this pandemic that we couldn’t foresee,” said candidate David Linville. “And we need to be nimble enough to take advantage of those changes and implement them quickly, efficiently and be mindful of the impact that it has.”
Other questions brought up issues with standardized testing and the diversity ratio of students to teachers.
“[The standardized tests] don’t necessarily follow the Tennessee state standards and that’s a real issue and something that we need to take up with the state Department of Education,” said incumbent Paula Treece.
Several candidates mentioned enhancing recruiting and retention efforts and the recently formed diversity committee within the system.
“What’s good for all students is good for diversity, if we are educating all students from all walks of life,” said candidate Beth Simpson. “We are providing future teachers, future leaders, and that in turn will address the diversity issue.”
Another question asked about the school funding between Washington County and Johnson City, a topic brought up over the funding Jonesborough School Project this past year.
“Washington County has told us twice that 48% of the kids that happen to live in Johnson City which is inside Washington County believe it or not don’t matter,” said incumbent Jonathan Kinnick. “Then we do not have the money to rebuild town acres and we are going to have major capacity issues.”
Each candidate had one minute for an opening statement, 90 seconds to answer each question, and one minute for a closing remark.
“We’ve got great schools but sometimes the kids and the parents sometimes don’t get heard,” said candidate Kenneth Herb Greenlee. “That’s why I’m running to make a difference in the community…to make a difference in the schools.”
There are three seats open on the board. Two of the candidates, Paula Treece and Jonathan Kinnick, are seeking re-election. The board’s current chair, Tim Belisle, is not running for re-election.
Early voting locations in Washington County open Wednesday at 9 a.m.