Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Often times the Board of Education candidates are overlooked, according to Fred Gregg who's seeking election in District 3. He's up against incumbent, Monica Rinker, a three-year veteran, and 10-year veteran Tom Carr who's looking to return to the board. Gregg said that voters often lose interest in the educational system elections once they no longer have children in the system.
Gregg asked attendees at a candidate forum hosted by the Greater Grantsville Businesses Association to recognize the direct benefit to fostering strong community schools that support local businesses as well. He said how important these elections are because the decisions made by the Board of Education impacts everyone. “It affects us where we live, where we work, and where we shop.”
The three District 3 candidates along with District 2 candidate Nathan Sorber, presented at the Candidate Forum on June 30 at Penn Alps. Unable to attend was the unopposed incumbent Matthew Paugh for District 1, and challenger Rodney Glotfelty for District 2.
The nonpartisan board positions allow all voters, regardless of party affiliation, to select their two favorite candidates from each district to move on to the November ballot. Only one of those candidates making it through the June 26 Primary can be selected on the Fall ballot. With Paugh running unopposed, and only two candidates in District 2, the Primary will be important for District 3 where only two of the three candidates will be moving to the General Election.
Nathan Sorber opened the Board of Education candidate forum. He is a professor at WVU where he is in Specialized Education & Administration and Organizational Leadership. He was appointed to the Board roughly one and a half years ago by the current commissioners for which he expressed gratitude.
“I’m not a politician,” said Sorber. “I mostly answer to the title of Dad.” He is married and a proud father of two, a soccer coach in Grantsville, a Northern youth basketball coach, and he volunteers for the PTO. “I try to bring that perspective as a parent to all our meetings. I’m proud to do that for all the families of Garrett County.”
Sorber outlined accomplishments of the Board of Education during his tenure. He said they balanced two budgets and helped negotiate contracts with teachers and staff to make working conditions better. The Board helped preserve critical academic programs that earned Northern and Southern high schools bronze medals from US News and World Reports. He also advocated for vocational programs which he deemed critical for the county.
Sorber expressed the need to retain the arts, music, robotics, and sports programs that are important to students and communities where they attend school.
“What we didn’t do is close schools,” Sorber said. When he first joined the board, they were forced to address declining student populations and tight budgets. With four schools facing the chopping block, Sorber said the board began what he described as an open and transparent strategic planning process. He said, in that process, the board found savings across the budget by identifying areas where they could move funding to sustain core educational priorities. He also said their efforts were aided by greater state education investments.
Sorber noted that the population in the public schools has stabilized, and over the next six to eight years, significant growth could be seen in the elementary schools.
His board now has a $4 million surplus that could be used for short-term financial issues which he said was found through good financial stewardship.
He also expressed the importance of preserving existing schools and described them as important to the county’s communities.
“People will not move into this county and into our communities if they fear those schools will no longer be there,” said Sorber. “This is not only a moral imperative but our schools are essential to the economic vitality of Garrett County."
Tom Carr who is seeking election in District 3 is facing incumbent Monica Rinker and challenger Fred Gregg, a former Southern High School teacher.
Carr was drawn to Garrett County by his grandchildren he told attendees. “My roots are in the future,” said Carr. “I really feel the Garrett County Board of Education, in an effort to maintain its schools, needs to maintain its excellence and needs to maintain a presence downstate.” Carr feels being involved in the State Board of Education will help Garrett County stay ahead of state mandates and instructional changes.
Carr said that representation at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, could help the local Board of Education learn and share best practices and how to be good board members. “Our board needs to be as concerned about its own education as it is about the education of our children.”
Carr shared his interest in working with Garrett County’s Delegate and Senator to be informed and testify in Annapolis to support legislation that would benefit the school system.
Being no stranger to the board, Carr served for 10 years previously, acting as a liaison between Garrett County and downstate. Between 2010 and 2011 he also served as the President of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
“I quickly learned that too many Marylanders don’t even know where Garrett County is,” Carr said. “If we’re not there to remind them, they quickly forget about us.”
Carr also shared his teaching experience of 55 years. During that time he taught in several countries, served as an administrator, and has taught every grade from kindergarten to college.
He also serves on the Doctor Wendell D. Teets Foundation that aims to solicit funds to be used in public schools. He describes the modest funding source as a means to fill gaps that can’t be met by strapped public school budgets. The nonprofit can also be used to help write grants and fund extra-curricular activities, according to Carr.
He is also a member of the Oakland Rotary Club and for the past 12 years has served as the Associate District Director for the Rotary where he helps coordinate efforts among several area clubs including the Cumberland and Romney Rotaries.
Fred Gregg followed Carr's comments, introducing himself as not just a retired Southern High School teacher, but also the owner of Gregg’s Pharmacy in Oakland and Terra Alta, WV, and Wildwood Athletic Club in Oakland. “I believe that my experiences from these two careers make me uniquely qualified to meet the challenges that our Board of Education is currently facing,” said Gregg.
Gregg shared what inspired him to run for the Board of Education. He told the story of a teacher who decided to retire after a long career. She was asked, “Why now?” Gregg said that the teacher realized it was time to retire when the teachers became afraid of the administration, the administration became afraid of the elected board, the elected board is afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the kids, and the kids aren’t afraid of anybody.
Gregg explained that this story may not reflect Garrett County specifically, but it does describe a disconnect between these groups. “And the biggest disconnect is with our County Commissioners,” Gregg feels. “As our fiscal authority, that disconnect needs to be remedied.”
One of Gregg’s first requests, if elected to the board, would be to invite the Commissioners back to the board to a seat they formerly held as an ex officio.
“I believe it would benefit our board, as well as the County Commissioners, to hear and see the budgetary challenges that our board is facing,” said Gregg. “That method worked in the past, and I feel it would work again."
Reconnecting with our communities was also important to Gregg. He said that the ongoing threat of school closings is growing old with parents and it should be a last resort rather than the first option to balance a budget. He supports smaller, community schools where educations can be more customized for the students.
Gregg said, in his mind, this election is simple, “If you like what we’re doing with the Board of Education, and you want to maintain the status quo, vote for one of my opponents,” referring to Carr and Rinker. “If you think like me – that there’s a better way – that there is a realistic path to the financial stability that our system needs to operate properly, then I would appreciate your vote.”
Monica Rinker closed the Board of Education candidate presentations. She is a life-long resident of Garrett County and attended the now-closed Red House Elementary School, and is a graduate of Southern Garrett High School.
Rinker shared her long history of family members who were part of the education system including her Great-Great Grandmother, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse, and family members that ranged from school cafeteria workers, to school bus drivers, to educators.
Rinker spoke of her 20 years volunteering in the public school system. As a mother of four daughters, Rinker said her first moment of getting involved was over a school closing. “I’ll never forget that day,” said Rinker about the fate of Dennett Road Elementary School. “The process had been started and the school was going to be closed.” That’s when she started attending board meetings and described herself as someone who is in the background, observing, analyzing, and asking a lot of questions.
She shared that she is “not the best public speaker” but she feels that’s okay since she pays close attention and she’s eager to learn. Rinker is a three-year veteran of the Board of Education and wishes to continue her service. “I feel our job is not complete and there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
Rinker feels after understanding an issue, she wants to serve in the best interest of the students.
“I know you can’t please everybody but you have to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “What is the best decision for the most that it will affect.”
Rinker acknowledged the Board of Education challenges to meet all the needs that the school system faces. She supports a broad range of programs particularly for middle and high school students who are on a career path where elected class could enhance the student learning experience.
“I take it personal,” said Rinker. “When we have a meeting, I spend days going over stuff.” She depicts herself as old-fashioned and not a technology person. "I like paper and pencil.” She values traditional methods, conversation, community schools, and career and technology programs.