SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For the first time, many county school board races in Tennessee will be partisan, including Sullivan County, where five Republicans are vying for three positions on the board.
In District 2, school resource officer Sgt. Jeret Ratliff is facing incumbent board member Paul Robinson. In District 6, Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office detective Matthew Price, who was appointed to the school board in December to fill a vacancy, faces retired Sullivan County Schools employee Glen Walden Jr.
Michael Hughes is running uncontested for the Board of Education seat in District 4.
Sullivan County Administrator of Elections Jason Booher told News Channel 11 that though this Board of Education race will have its first-ever primary this year, partisan races are not unusual.
“It’s just an addition to the race for school board. The parties had the choice to determine whether or not they wanted to have the races as is the case for every other county race,” Booher explained.
He said the candidates who are running for school board have the choice to run either as an independent, Republican, or Democrat, and then ultimately the voters have the choice to vote for the candidate that they choose based on party preference, or maybe not.
“I don’t see it really being all that problematic or different,” Booher said. “It is a freedom thing for me the way I see it, and a choice thing so as long as voters have the choice, and it’s not mandated, it should be something that should be accepted by the community.”
County primary elections in Tennessee will be held on May 3. County general elections will take place on Aug. 4.
“We’re already holding those elections. There are no increased costs or additional measures that we have to take. It’s just adding to the options for all the other options, all the other offices, school board, in the sense that now you get to choose before it was restricted,” Booher said.
“School board actually is a policymaking body. They do enact policy. And so we’re adding that same option for all the other offices to the office of school board,” Booher said.
School resource officer Sgt. Jeret Ratliff is facing incumbent Paul Robinson in the District 2 race.
News Channel 11 was unsuccessful in garnering a response from Robinson on the status of his candidacy or campaign goals.
Ratliff told News Channel 11 he is a strong leader who has worked in the county school system as the leader of the SROs for years.
“I’ve worked very closely with principals and very close to the director of schools and I know a lot of the issues is going on and I’d like to get in there and be a voice for the parents,” he said.
Both as an SRO and as a coach for West Ridge High School and Central Middle School, Ratliff said students are not afraid to come to him with concerns they would like addressed in the school system.
He also has multiple goals he’d like to achieve if elected. The first is a true, standalone alternative school in the county.
“Right now we got an alternative school which you go to for 10 days, I like to see a true alternative school for the kids that really need it because I think it would do kids good if we had a structured environment they can learn better, and it wouldn’t be disrupting the class, be an alternative school where you stay a semester if you behave you go back to school if you don’t you stay there for the year,” Ratliff explained.
He said he would like to see teaching assistants get raises.
“Teachers have gotten a raise but we haven’t given our teaching assistants a raise in a while,” Ratliff said.
He would also like to attract and retain better technical teachers for students who wish to learn a trade.
“So we can get the kids ready that don’t want to go to a four-year college, make them feel important also, and give them the education they need so they can go out to work or go to technical school. But I like to keep, you know, in all subjects, keep the best teachers we can get in Sullivan County,” Ratliff said.
He said voters should simply look at his track record when they head to the polls.
Sullivan County detective Matthew Price faces retired Sullivan County Schools employee Glen Walden Jr.
Price was appointed to the school board in December to fill a vacancy. He told News Channel 11 that in his short tenure he has learned a lot and hopes to continue to serve on the board.
“It’s something that I enjoy. I think I can help not only the students but the staff and hopefully be a benefit to the school board,” Price said.
His wife has taught in the county school system for about 20 years and his father was also a teacher, so now the 20-year sheriff’s office veteran hopes to envelop himself in the world of education.
He said he hopes to become a link between the school board and the rest of the county leaders.
“I think if we would all work together, that we could get a lot more done, and I think communication is key. We have to be able to communicate with each other. And make sure everybody understands what the end goal is, and everybody’s rowing the boat in the same direction. You know, I think that’s important,” he said.
Price said he hopes to help the county school system improve if elected.
“Keeping up with the technology, keeping up with what everybody else is doing, you know, I don’t want us to be stuck in the dark ages or whatever, which I don’t think we are, I just want us to keep moving forward,” he said.
He added that in his role as head of the Criminal Investigations Department with the sheriff’s office that he can make safety a top priority in schools.
“Obviously, safety is a big thing for me,” he said. “I’ve seen child abuse, I’ve worked child abuse (cases) for about the past 15 years pretty heavily, a lot of child exploitation, have somewhat of law knowledge when it comes to the electronic social media, that kind of stuff.”
Price faces Glen Walden Jr. who worked for Tennessee public schools for over 30 years, the last 15 of which he served in Sullivan County.
“I’ve always enjoyed the kids,” Walden said. “I have three kids and eight grandkids, and most of them go to Sullivan County. And I just want to be a part of making Sullivan County Schools a better system for the kids to get their education.”
Walden said he hopes to be the link between the community and the school board.
“I feel sometimes there’s a disconnection with the parents and the board, you know, not understanding the decisions and where I worked in the schools, I know that I can be a bridge to that, you know, help them understand that it’s like raising the child. Sometimes you have to tell them ‘no,’ they don’t understand but it’s in their best interest,” he explained.
He said he hopes the citizens of Sullivan County exercise their right to vote.
“A lot of people served and a lot fought and died for our freedom. And I feel that people should listen, and we have the freedom to choose, and if I’m the best choice, go out there and vote for me,” Walden said.
As a pastor of a small congregation, Walden said he tries to do what he can to better his community.
“I don’t push my opinions on other people just because they don’t have the same opinion. I don’t expect them to have it taken away. So just you know, respect each other. And when they go to vote, vote what’s on their heart what they feel best, and I hope that I’m on their heart to vote for,” Walden said.
Early voting in Sullivan County starts April 13.