Pleasants candidates speak at school session

BELMONT Candidates for the Pleasants County Board of Education and House of Delegates participated in a question-and-answer session in the Pleasants County Middle School auditorium Monday evening.

The event was divided into two sections, focusing on the House of Delegates candidates first before moving on to the local board of education candidates.

Two House of Delegates candidates spoke for five minutes each, summing up their issues at the start of the meeting.

Jason S. Harshbarger, a Republican, is running for the seventh district House seat. He concentrated on the problems he said were caused by common core education practices, as well as focusing on coal and gas being vital for West Virginia.

Lynwood “Woody” Ireland, R-Ritchie, is running for the seventh district seat for the House of Delegates. He focused on problems he saw with the common core educational system and on the oil and gas industry.

The oil and gas industry was a hot topic during the House of Delegates candidates’ talks and during the questions that followed.

“The ability to pass a drug test is one of the biggest issues keeping local workers from claiming the oil and gas jobs,” said Ireland. In order to help the local jobs stay local, the social problem of drugs needs to be addressed locally, he said.

Harshbarger agreed that drugs were an issue, but said the push toward four-year degrees and away from trade jobs had also hurt the local economy.

“The trades have been forgotten,” Harshbarger said. “And they are what needs to make a comeback in the local community colleges,” he said.

The two candidates debated over second amendment rights, youth programs and anti-abortion stances.

The board of education candidates shifted their attentions to local educational issues.

Candidates Marty Lawhorn, Sharon Gainer, Heather Straight, Holly Jemison, Debra Carouthers and Casey Maston took turns speaking to the crowd.

Candidates Angie Colvin and David Meeks were unable to attend the gathering because of prior engagements, said Jody Murphy, executive director of the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce. Three seats are up for grabs in the May 13 election.

Lawhorn concentrated his speech on the need for increasing accountability and expectations in Pleasants County, citing low test scores as a problem. All of the candidates agreed about a problem in the local educational system, but most had different thoughts on how to solve that problem.

“The new high school may be a big win for the county, but it is just a building,” Lawhorn said. “If the broken process that is currently in place follows us to the new building, it won’t help.”

Gainer, a lifelong educator, said one answer to Pleasants County’s problems is to recruit qualified applicants to all positions within the school system.

“We need to raise the accountability for the stewards of the public dollar,” Gainer said.

Straight said the answer to problems experienced in the local educational system begins at home.

“We need to develop a relationship with the parents of students,” Straight said. “We must support the families,” she said.

Jemison has worked as the St. Marys crossing guard for nine years. She believes the problem lies in communication.

“We must communicate with the parents more,” Jemison said. “The kids want independence and to be responsible for themselves, but the parents need to be in the loop.”

Carouthers said the problem in the educational system begins long before high school in Pleasants County.

“We need to focus on the core basics before we can help with the higher levels,” she said. “We have 11th and 12th graders who don’t know how to read.”

Maston said she was running for the board of education because she doesn’t want to take her son, who will be starting school soon, to another county for education.

“This is my home. I want my son to be home,” Maston said. “The families need educated about the educational process as much as the students do,” she said.