NEW CUMBERLAND – Eight county residents are hoping to get the votes needed to fill three seats up for grabs on the Hancock County Board of Education as part of the upcoming West Virginia primary election.
Candidates appearing on the ballot are Dr. Gregory Albert Baldt, of Clay District; Seth A. Cheuvront, of Grant District; Christina Lee Fair, of Clay District; Ed Fields, of Clay District; Jim Horstman, of Clay District; incumbent Danny Kaser, of Grant District; Philip Rujak, of Clay District; and Gerard Spencer, of Butler District.
According to information from the Hancock County Clerk’s Office, voters can elect no more than two representatives from Clay District, one representative from Butler District and one representative from Grant District in filling the three open seats.
A Weirton resident, Baldt earned a doctorate in naturopathic medicine, a field that involves the use of natural remedies to help the body heal, and is a retired chiropractor.
While living in the Pittsburgh area, he taught in inner city schools for a time.
Baldt said he is opposed to the teaching of critical race theory and alternative views of genders and feels more instruction is needed in civics and the democratic process to ensure future leaders preserve America’s freedoms.
Fair, of Weirton, previously served on the school board from 2000 to 2010. Her children are graduates of Weir High, and her grandson is a 2020 graduate of Oak Glen.
“I was actively involved in either the special education or regular education process for each of them,” she said.
Fair holds a master’s degree in nursing education from Franciscan University, and her student teaching was done at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center’s Practical Nursing program. She also is a former board member for the Autism Training Center at Marshall University and currently sits on the board for the Hancock County Sheltered Workshop.
She said her priorities, if elected, will include educating employees and the community on the guidelines under which the board must operate, and being available for employees while also having a presence in the schools.
“Currently the biggest issue is misunderstanding of the school administrative process which has led to mistrust,” she said.
Fair served as a certified registered nurse anesthetist and a captain in the US Air Force, and for the past 12 years has been active with the Autism Society of West Virginia.
Fields, of New Cumberland, also is a former member of the school board, having previously served from 1989 to 1998, including two years as president. He also spent six years as a representative to the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, and currently is a member of the John D. Rockefeller Career Center Advisory Board.
“I believe I am the best candidate for this office as evidenced by my continued involvement in the community and school system. I am committed to the citizens and youth of Hancock County,” he said. “Accountability, integrity, fiscal responsibility and a common-sense approach to solving problems will help lead Hancock County’s education system into the future. I want to help provide our students with the best educational opportunities possible and prepare them to succeed in whatever future vocations they choose. Likewise, our faculty and staff deserve to be supported in strong ways as their roles continue to change through technology and social issues. Communication and participation among all stakeholders are absolute must for the betterment of the Hancock County education system overall.”
Fields actively supports Hancock County athletic programs. For more than 30 years, he has volunteered his time as a member of the Oak Glen High School and Middle School football “Chain Gang,” and has participated on the sideline crews for Madonna High School. Fields is a longtime volunteer timer/scorer for the annual OVAC wrestling tournament, for which he received an OVAC service award in 1996. He also volunteers at all Oak Glen track meets, Weir High School meets, and many Brooke track events, as well. He volunteers at Oak Glen wrestling matches when needed. He is a WVSSAC track official.
He is active in numerous organizations in New Cumberland, is a 2017 inductee into the New Cumberland Hall of Fame, is a recipient of the Jack Harris Spirit of Scouting Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the West Virginia Athletic Directors Association.
He and his wife, Leslie, have two daughters and three grandchildren.
Horstman, of Weirton, notes he currently has one child who is a student in Hancock County Schools and another who is a teacher in the county, giving him a vested interest. In addition, he said, he is constantly talking with parents, teachers and principals to learn about their issues and concerns.
“My top priority will be improving the communication from the superintendent and school board to the principals and teachers,” he said. Transparency is key. Plus we have to spend our tax dollars better.”
Horstman said a major concern for him is putting students first and making sure that they are educated in a field of their interest, whether on a path of a four-year college or trade school, and working to make sure good-paying jobs are available so the youth will stay in West Virginia.
Horstman is a pharmaceutical representative, with a master’s in business administration from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He also coaches youth baseball and basketball.
Kaser, of New Cumberland, is seeking re-election to the board, noting his nearly 50 years of experience within the county school system, including as a teacher, holding several positions in the central office and serving as superintendent.
I am running for a second term to follow through with the many projects the Board of Education has under way, such as the new ball fields and the physical education classrooms on the Weir High campus,Kaser said. “Also, the Board is in the planning process to add two additional classrooms at Weir Middle and New Manchester Elementary. I am an advocate for providing our professional staff training for new instructional strategies and providing the latest instructional technology for their use. Hancock County Schools are known throughout the State of West Virginia for our high test scores and the quality of education provided by our system. As a re-elected Board member I will continue to improve our education delivery and services to our students. Our facilities are second to none, I will strive to maintain, update or expand them as needed to protect the taxpayers’ property and assure their use for generations to come.”
Kaser pointed to the continuing loss of population and jobs as a challenge for the district, as well as a lack of development in the natural gas industry.
“We seemed to have missed out on the gas and oil tax money generated by our counties leaving us in a stagnated situation,” he said. “This is making it very hard for the school system to recruit and maintain employees because of our low pay.”
Kaser has been married to his wife, Sharon, for 48 years. They have two children, a daughter who is a special education teacher at Allison Elementary and a son who is a tax attorney in Pittsburgh, and four grandchildren.
Rujak, of Weirton, said ensuring the best interests of students should always be the priority with every decision made by the school board, and he wants to make sure employees are treated with respect and dignity.
“I was an employee of the county school system for over 15 years (leaving in Jan of 2021) so I am familiar with many of the feelings of the issues and processes and have an understanding of the general of many of the employees from all levels.” Rujak said.
Rujak also points to issues of transparency and communication within the school district, saying he wants to make sure everyone within the system is held accountable.
He noted among major concerns a loss of population and enrollment in the county, a lack of educators and support employees, including substitutes, increasing costs and the need to best prepare students for the future.
“As a board member, I promise to listen, learn, and make decisions based on all the information I collect and analyze.” he said. “Too often, decisions are based on what decision-makers know right now, which doesn’t necessarily include all the information required to make the best decisions.”
Cheuvront and Spencer did not respond to a questionnaire sent to each of the candidates.
Early voting for the May 10 election is available in Hancock County from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm weekdays, and will be available from 9 am to 5 pm this Saturday. Saturday is the final day for early voting. The polls will be open from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. on election day.