Cleveland, Tennessee, multimillionare Allan Jones has announced his candidacy as a Republican for Cleveland City school board.
He said his interest in local education was piqued 10 years ago when he was shocked to find Cleveland High School's ACT scores were lower than ACT scores at the Bradley County Schools' Walker Valley High, and he promises a fix if he's elected.
Jones - seeking the District 5 seat held by Tom Cloud, who according to a Cleveland Daily Banner report is not seeking re-election in the May 3 county primary - has deep Republican connections. Jones, 69, has an active relationship with the GOP on a national level and was former President Donald Trump's largest contributor in Tennessee, according to a news release.
A school board with closer community ties to a school system that operates more like a business will lead to dramatic improvements, Jones said Monday in a telephone interview.
"The school system has been graduating alums since 1967 - for 55 years - and not one single alumni has served on that board. That's inconceivable to me," he said. Jones, a 1972 graduate from Cleveland High School, said board leadership over the years and up to present have sought to keep it that way, and the system has suffered a decline as a result.
He said system information on schooldigger.com, which he believes accurately illustrates the situation, shows Cleveland High ranked 214 out of 344 Tennessee high schools, overall placing it in the lower 38% in performance. The system as a whole "was even worse," he said, ranking 106 out of 140 school districts in Tennessee, or the lower 24%.
KEY DATES FOR VOTERS
County primary election day: May 3, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.Early voting: April 13-28, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. 4 p.m. SaturdayLast day to register to vote: April 4Last day to request form for mail-in ballot: April 26Source: Bradley County Election Commission
Jones said he wants the high school to resume naming a valedictorian and salutatorian and do away with its "Graduates of Distinction," which can include numerous students, and he wants accounting to be returned to the high school curriculum to give students a basic understanding of business record-keeping processes.
He said the high school wrestling team is an example of his positive influence.
Jones took the wrestling program under his wing more than 15 years ago, supporting it with his vast resources, and in the past 10 years, Cleveland High notched eight state championships, a level of success he said he can duplicate in the classroom.
"Our wrestling team is 145-3, and right now, the Cleveland City Schools system is in the lower 24%, and I just can't take that," Jones said, adding the county is "the most conservative in the state" and should stay that way.
"If I don't fix this, Cleveland will be much different than the town we grew up in," he said. "If I'm elected, I will fix it."
Jones is one of the Chattanooga region's biggest multimillionares and owns the nation's largest privately owned payday lending firm and several other Cleveland businesses through Jones Management Co.