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Primary Elections: Manatee County School District Seat 4

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 18, 2012
Bob Gause
Bob Gause
  • East County
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Editor’s Note: As the Aug. 16 primary election draws closer, the East County Observer will be publishing profiles and Q&As from each of the candidates who will represent the East County area.

In this week’s issue, read about the candidates for Supervisor of Elections, as well as for the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners District 7 at-large seat and the Manatee County School Board District 4 seat. Responses have been edited according to space, not content. For complete responses, visit

Name: Bob Gause
Age: 53
Family: Wife, Kris, and son, Chase
Hometown: Manatee County
Education: Graduated from Manatee High School in 1977. Associate’s degree from Manatee Junior College (1979); and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in landscape architecture (1982)

Experience: Partner in Allison-Gause Inc., a local multidisciplinary civil engineering firm providing services to both public- and private-sector clients. I have 29 years of private-sector business experience in Manatee County. Since Nov. 18, 2006, I have also served on the Manatee County School Board. I also have served or am serving with the Boy Scouts of America, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Keep Manatee Beautiful and City of Bradenton Tree Board and Architectural Review Board, among other contributions and am a former Manatee River Fair Association director.

Who is your favorite author? Carl Hiassen

If you could meet anyone dead or live, who would it be?
John Glenn. I would also like to meet the NASA mission control specialists who helped return Apollo 13 to earth. They had a great ability to problem solve during a crisis situation.


What's the biggest challenge the School Board faces, and what are your solutions?
Public perception/morale/student achievement: During the past five years, we’ve eliminated positions, increased transparency, corrected the Internal Service Fund deficit (from $9.4 million to $3.8 million and projected to be fully solvent by December 2013). Our operating costs are now below our revenue, unlike other school districts. Unfortunately, there continue to be claims that the district has increased its administration costs when, in fact, the district has reduced them.

Now that we’ve returned the focus to the classroom, we have an opportunity to prioritize spending. We’ve increased school site discretionary account funding. We also have offered the teachers union the elimination of the two furlough days for the next year and a 1% stipend. We are improving communication with the teachers to include them in the development of the new Common Core Curriculum. The approach this time will be to utilize district personnel in small groups, growing to larger groups and then rolling it out. A simple but significant change in the way it is being addressed this time around is to build in time for the teachers who are assisting in the development of the curriculum to meet with peers at their schools. I believe the new approach will increase student achievement.

Are teachers paid adequately? Why or why not?
A 10-month teacher in Manatee County earns a salary of between $37,800 and $74,000, not including benefits. The average cost for a teacher is $61,000 (including benefits). That exceeds the average wage for a 12-month employee in Manatee County. We have approximately 100 applicants for each opening. Regardless, a great teacher is worth whatever you can pay them. For me, the issue is that a teacher is not paid based on what they do. Our current compensation system relies only on degree earned and years of service. A mediocre teacher can earn significantly more money than a great teacher. (Senate Bill) 736 will require that to be addressed. In February, I submitted suggestions to the negotiating teams from both sides on a more comprehensive approach that I believe could allow the district to better recruit and retain great teachers.

What is your position on the FCAT and accountability testing?
I support accountability, and I believe that great teachers do, too. Like Superintendent Bill Vogel in Seminole County, I’ve reversed my position on the FCAT. The problem is that in its current usage, the FCAT is counterproductive. Students are learning to read partial passages to answer questions instead of truly reading for comprehension. Teachers have begun to focus entirely on preparing students for the FCAT instead of teaching them a comprehensive education. It costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars and has done little to prepare our students for the global competition they will face after school. I support a more comprehensive assessment model that measures a variety of factors instead of relying on one test that measures a snapshot of the student.

What skills and experiences do you feel you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
A deep understanding of our community, a passion for our children’s education, the experience to spot trends and an ability to look at the big picture. I’m a strategic thinker who looks forward and makes the changes necessary to achieve goals. I understand budgets and have the demonstrated courage to make the difficult decisions. I’m a problem solver who achieves results. Examples include: resolving the (Manatee Technical Institute) lawsuit with Manatee County; identifying the Internal (health care) Fund Balance issue early (2008) and successfully advocating for the changes to correct it; recognizing the termination pay policy cost ($26 million) and successfully modifying it to return some of the money for use in recruiting and retaining teachers going forward; mobilizing the chamber of commerce and school districts around the state to correct the Workforce Funding Inequity, which resulted in an additional $1.9 million dollars to MTI in 2011/2012 and $2 million in 2012/2013; and having employees promoted based on proven skill sets rather than length of tenure (i.e. Scott Martin, Bob Gagnon and Michael Boyer). By working quietly and in a positive way with my colleagues and the superintendent, we’ve returned the focus back to the children.

What immediate steps or actions do you feel are critical to take to improve education in Manatee County?
We need to focus attention on morale. We had one of the highest salaries in the state when I was elected, yet our morale (and performance) was low. Because we have had to make the cuts to maintain pace with our reduced funding, morale has continued to decline. Part of this needed morale boost has already been undertaken. The superintendent and Assistant Superintendent Bob Gagnon have been completely revamping the curriculum department. It is now the Department of Teaching and Learning. They have implemented a new level of communication between the district and the teachers. The changes will reap significant benefits next year and beyond. Teachers are relevant in ways they didn’t feel they were before. The focus will be on teaching and learning. Classroom and district accountability will be up, but in ways that matter. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can with the salary, it merely means that teachers care about more than just the money. As we are able to help with salary, we need to.

Any other thoughts/comments?
A company the size of the school district changes slowly. When I was elected in 2006, teacher morale was low, academic achievement was already in decline measured against other districts and our financial condition was precarious. I have successfully made changes to improve our financial health and return the focus and funding to the classroom. It took five years. Transparency has increased dramatically on my watch and often at my behest. Our approach to the legislature and our success has improved. I believe the changes made during the last few years will improve teacher morale and student achievement significantly. The focus is on listening to and supporting our teachers, providing relevant training and prioritizing resources based on improved data comprehension. Beyond that, we need to do a better job of communicating with our staff and the community to help them understand the changes, the reasons for the changes and the goals going forward. We must change the structure of compensation to reward great teaching and improve morale, but, in the end, we need to rekindle an appreciation for public education. Our children represent the future and we need to make sure it is a bright one.

Name: Linda Schaich
Age: 69
Family: One son
Hometown: Bradenton
Education: Associate’s degree in accounting, with a minor in ECE. Graduated with honors.

: Spent 20 years as owner and operator of a contractor’s equipment rental business in California, with five locations, two John Deere dealerships, truck and party rental businesses. Appointed by a member of the City Council to the Community Foundation, eventually becoming president. Invited to be a member of the Education Foundation, eventually becoming vice president; worked with husband to secure volunteers to build an Optimist Youth Building. In 1990, became a federally licensed IRS Enrolled Agent.Volunteered on National Ski Patrol for many years in New York, Vermont and California. In Florida, spent 12 years as a volunteer docent at Mote Aquarium. Began volunteering three years ago as a volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club, assisting the CFO and now work there part time. Appointed to school district budget committee and volunteered for the land and building committee; also appointed to the sales tax committee.

Who is your favorite author? Toss up between Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader and James Mitchner, but Mitchner wins, because I possess more of his books.

If you could meet anyone dead or live, who would it be? My mother, who passed three years ago.


What's the biggest challenge the School Board faces, and what are your solutions?
The health-care deficit. Past boards have failed to take action since 2007, even after getting advised of the solution. We need to find a plan that will fit into the budget, rather than building the budget around the health-care plan.

(We need to) update severely out-of-date plans. According to the Mercer Report, three of the plans are essentially the same, and prices vary from $13 to $56, to $119 per month.

(We need to) reconfigure the insurance committee to equally represent the district and employees, not just employees.

They are not even addressing the issue of funding the reserve fund, which is mandatory according to the Florida Statutes. The law requires that the reserve be equal to two months’ expenses, which would be about $12 million. Add to this number the present deficit for the fund of $7 million, and you are looking at a shortage of almost $19 million. We are a long way from solving the problem.

Are teachers paid adequately? Why or why not?
Teachers will never be paid what they are worth. There are always budget constraints. But, I do not feel that the pay decrease of 3% was necessary. But, until we can get full transparency of the district finances, we will not know how much money is available for teaching salaries. There are too many questions that have remained unanswered by district personnel.

More importantly, the teachers need to be included in the educational process. We need to develop a partnership with the teachers in setting the education goals and evaluating the results to improve educational outcomes.

What is your position on the FCAT and accountability testing?
The public needs to see what results the schools are achieving with the money entrusted to them. But the FCATs have many flaws.

In the near future we will see a change in the testing procedure. I feel that the FCAT tests are on the way out.

What skills and experiences do you feel you bring to the table that your opponent does not?
After years of school district committee work, I have learned a lot about the inner workings of the district.
Being a trained and licensed IRS enrolled agent, I can analyze complex financial information and identify areas in the district finances that can be redirected to benefit the classrooms, students and teachers. My solution is to utilize the resources already available to us. We need to spend wiser.

Once we get the finances in order, we will be able to put those monies back into the classrooms that at present are being used to correct problems created years ago.

I am not a vendor, nor have I accepted campaign donations from vendors who do business with the school district. My opponent is supported by the developers and builders who have contracts and have made millions from the district.

My opponent is part of the problem — the health-care deficit started on his watch; the debt went up; and academic achievement went down. His motto is look to the future because he cannot stand on his past.

What immediate steps or actions do you feel are critical to take to improve education in Manatee County?
My solution is to utilize the resources already available to us. I have the skills to identify areas in the district finances that could be redirected to benefit the classrooms.

I will make sure that the limited funds available for education are prioritized for the classrooms, students and teachers.

Programs that are not needed or that are not working will not be supported by me. Educational programs need to be supported by teachers and not consultants and must be proven to increase student achievement in the specific areas. I would establish a teacher advisory board to bring vision on how to bring effective teaching back to the district students.

We need an efficiency audit. I would like to see the right people paid a fair salary for the right position and eliminate redundant positions.

Next, we need a fiscal audit, which would pinpoint irregularities or eliminate any suspicion. Recently, credibility has been an issue with the community. This audit will go a long way to restore confidence.

I would like to substantially modify the board meetings to get the focus back to the business that needs to be done. All contracts will be brought before the board for approval, not just those more than $50,000.


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