Two Kanawha County Board of Education seats are up for grabs in the June 9 primary.
School board races don’t have general elections, so the winners of June’s primary will start four-year terms July 1.
No matter where you live in Kanawha, you get to vote for two board candidates on your ballot. Only one person from District 3 can win a seat, and only one from District 1 can win.
District 3 race
Crawford, of St. Albans, has served on the board for 20 years. He’s about 83 now, though he declined to give his exact age.
“There may be snow on the mountain but there’s still fire in the furnace,” said Crawford, who was a teacher for 39 years.
“We’re doing the two new schools up Elk River, we’ve got an excess levy passed and we’re doing a lot of work with our HVAC and roofs,” he said, “and I just want to be a part of that and see that we get that done.”
Kanawha demolished Herbert Hoover High after it was damaged in the June 2016 flood, and Clendenin Elementary, also damaged in 2016, is vacant and awaiting destruction. But land preparation for building a new Hoover only began this past December, and not even site preparation has begun for Clendenin’s replacement.
In 2018, Kanawha residents removed the cap that existed for a quarter-century on how much the school system’s excess levy property tax could raise. Kanawha can now tax at the state-allowed maximum rate.
All five current board members backed this. The increase is mainly dedicated to fund heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) improvements to 15 schools, including six of the eight high schools.
Crawford also made the motion early this year to simply promote Deputy Superintendent Tom Williams to replace Superintendent Ron Duerring, without even posting the position for applicants. Duerring is retiring June 30.
Crawford had only spent $25 of his own money on the filing fee, according to the only campaign finance report due before the primary. He said Tuesday that he’s spent a further roughly $800 of his own money on yard signs.
The county branch of the National Education Association school workers union also endorsed him.
Holstein, 51, of Cross Lanes, said he graduated from the now-shuttered East Bank High before getting degrees from local colleges.
“The reason I’m running is I’m from Kanawha County and I understand Kanawha County and I think it’s important that every child gets a quality education regardless of where they live in the county and regardless of their socioeconomic status,” he said. “And I think I have a good background to help get us there.”
He said he retired after 21 years in the Army and Army Reserve, has a master’s degree in human resources, had a career in manufacturing and now works for the U.S. Treasury Department, improving efficiency and effectiveness of programs there.
Holstein said he didn’t put his children, who are now at West Virginia University, through Kanawha public schools. They were homeschooled and then went to Teays Valley Christian School for high school.
“I visited a number of high schools in the area and my son was very advanced in math and science,” Holstein said.
“Because we had homeschooled our kids, they wanted to put him into lower-level math courses — courses that he had already passed.”
He opposed the excess levy increase that Crawford backed. Holstein said he would’ve supported it if it had just been for HVACs and if the school system had cut current financial waste.
Also unlike Crawford, Holstein wanted a search for a new superintendent, and Holstein wants the school system to be close to a Sept. 1-May 31 school year.
Holstein said he wants to expand a current entrepreneurship program into Kanawha high schools, expose middle schoolers to vocational education, lower teachers’ administrative burdens and reduce out-of-school suspensions by using alternative discipline more.
During public hearings last year on the omnibus education bill, Holstein backed the version that would’ve legalized both charter schools and private- and home-schooling vouchers. The vouchers were removed before the omnibus became law.
He said he has no plans to push charter schools in Kanawha.
“If we were to get a charter school application, I’ll certainly review it thoroughly, and if it’s the right thing for Kanawha County, I would certainly consider it,” he said.
“If it’s not a benefit, then certainly my answer would be no,” he said.
To create a charter school, a group or organization must apply to the local school board for approval. The state requires board members, if they shoot down an application, to provide justification for the denial.
Holstein opposed the 2018 and 2019 school worker strikes.
Last year, speaking to lawmakers at forum, he started off by noting how much time off teachers get for things like summer break, and he noted taxpayers subsidize their health insurance.
But then he told lawmakers that teaching is difficult and he advocated for raises. Instead of the same-for-everyone raise that eventually passed, he proposed upping starting salaries and having teachers receive bigger annual raises earlier in their careers and lower raises later.
Holstein attended Monday’s Re-Open West Virginia rally at the state Capitol, holding a Don’t Tread on Me flag and not wearing a face mask. Regardless, Holstein backed the governor’s decision to close schools for the rest of the school year because social distancing isn’t easy in classrooms.
Holstein, who ran for secretary of state as a Republican in 2016, has raised about $2,000, per his filing.
That included $250 from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, $100 from Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, $100 from Kanawha sheriff candidate Sean Crosier and $100 from longtime former state delegate John Overington. All of them are Republicans.
He also planned a fundraiser, canceled due to COVID-19, hosted by two more Republicans: state Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch and local Delegate Dianna Graves.
Lanham, 38, of Cross Lanes, said that when her family moved back to West Virginia in 2015, she looked at the pay scales in Kanawha.
“I was just appalled,” she said. “I could not believe that someone with a bachelor’s [degree] was making that little amount, especially considering the class sizes.”
She said that due to problems in Kanawha’s school system, including “jammed pack” classrooms, and ties to a Christian school in Cross Lanes, she moved her five kids into that school. But she couldn’t afford that and moved them back.
Even though she just needed to finish her student teaching to get her own education degree, she abandoned it and began working for an insurance company that paid double, she said.
Lanham said Tracy White, a current board member whose term hasn’t expired, reminded her on the last day to file to run to do so “because we talked about it when I moved back to West Virginia, when I was ranting and raving about all the low teacher pay and all that stuff.”
Lanham said that “while I know that Mr. Crawford has many years of experience and an extended education background, again, I think it’s time to let [someone with] a pair of fresh eyes and newer experiences and kids in the system come in.”
As for Crawford voting to promote Williams without a search or posting the position, Lanham wasn’t opposed.
“You don’t want to ruin the relationships with individuals who are deserving of moving up,” she said.
“Ultimately, the ends did justify the means,” she said. “They had reason for what they did and they accomplished it.”
But, unlike Crawford, she didn’t have high praise for retiring Superintendent Duerring. She said she wants board members to have town halls to hear from parents on what the problems are and what administrators need to be held accountable.
“I just feel like, generally speaking, where the superintendent is concerned, the past 22 years has been the cart pulling the horse,” she said. “It’s time to turn that around. The board is the one that’s responsible for making sure the superintendent is doing what he is supposed to do, he or she.”
“I have a lot of respect for Ron Duerring,” she said. “He should have been out of this position many years ago.”
While Lanham was unfamiliar with what the excess levy increase was for, she said that “generally speaking, any time there’s an increased levy, I’m for it.”
To taxpayers without children in the school system, she said that “one day, when you’re in the nursing home, you’re going to want someone who is educated taking care of you.”
As for charter schools, she said “I’m not for it and I’m not against it, right now it’s not going to happen. I would never approve anything until we take care of what we have right now. You don’t go giving money to charity when you can’t put food on the table for your own children.”
“We have schools that don’t have appropriate AC, that can’t take care of pest control, these are just things I know about our schools here in Cross Lanes,” she said.
Lanham hasn’t turned in the required first campaign finance report.
District 1 race
Cavender, 37, has served on the board for four-years.
He’s executive director of the Charleston Main Streets economic and community development nonprofit and has two sons at Kanawha’s Piedmont Elementary.
He’s proud of his support for the excess levy increase.
“We’re going to be able to start replacing several HVAC systems, not just one here or there and piecemealing it,” he said.
He also said he was proud of pushing to hire a communications director for the school system — it went about 17 years without one.
If he wins another term, he said he wants to work with that director and Williams to make it easier for the public to see how the excess levy dollars are being spent.
He said he read the wrong due dates for the finance report, and he provided one after the Gazette-Mail requested it. It says his only donation has been $1,000 from the county’s arm of the American Federation of Teachers union.
He’s also been endorsed by the National Education Association’s county chapter.
Bulger didn’t provide the Gazette-Mail an interview.