Although Gary Thomas doesn't work in the Hesperia Unified School District any longer, the former assistant principal still affects the course of the district every day.
Thomas, who has lived in the city since 1987, first came to the district to accept a position as the assistant principal of Kingston Elementary School and later Maple Elementary School.
"Then I went into the district office as the director of elementary education," said Thomas. From there, he became the district's chief business official, advising the board on financial decisions. He served in that role through 1996, when he left to accept a job as the superintendent of Lucerne Valley Unified School District.
"We were working out of financial difficulty at that time," Thomas said. "Right when I left, we had just settled a two-year difficult time with the teachers association and we had just started to receive cost of living increases and that allowed us."
His family remained in Hesperia, though, and all three of his children graduated from Sultana High School, before going onto Victor Valley College and Cal State San Bernardino.
After a stint as the superintendent of Silver Valley Unified School District, north of Barstow, he accepted accepting a job working for San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Herb Fischer in 2004, as the assistant superintendent for business services. Two years later, he rose to the position of deputy superintendent.
Midway through his term, Fischer announced that he was retiring, and the school board appointed Thomas to serve out the rest of Fischer's term.
But to keep the job, Thomas has to cross over from administrator to politician for the first time, as San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools is an elected position and is up for grabs on June 8.
Although his job title is similar to that of HUSD Superintendent Mark McKinney, in practice, the job is very different: It's one of oversight and support for the county's school districts.
Thomas' office exercises fiscal oversight over school districts, implements various state and federal mandates and monitors teacher credentialing.
"We also operate a number of student programs through our Student Services Division," including educational programs at juvenile hall, running community day school for kids expelled from their school districts, special education programs (like those at Hesperia's Lucy Siegrist School) and preschool programs. "We operate those pretty much at the request of the school district."
Thomas is facing two challengers in his bid for a second four-year term.
"I'm the only one of the three candidates that has county office experience and chief business official experience and a lot of what we do here is work with districts on their budget," he said. "I feel very qualified to do the work, compared to my opponents, particularly with the fiscal circumstances we're in right here."
Should he be reelected, Thomas plans to improve safety in the county's schools, lower dropout rates and work with the state department of education to find a more stable way of funding education.
"Right now we're so hooked to the economy of the state, and the economy goes up and the economy goes down," he said. "That sort of process is really destructive to an educational setting."
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star