In advance of the Aug. 30 primary election, the Sarasota Observer is asking local candidates about the issues impacting their races. This week, we spoke to the candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Sarasota County School Board.
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Profession: School Board member
Why do you want to serve on the school board for another term?
One of the main reasons is we are hiring a new superintendent, and I want to be a part of that decision making, because I’ve been involved in the schools. I know the school community, I know our community, I’ve been involved in all areas of it.
More than that, our deputy CFO is also retiring. That leaves a vacuum of knowledge leaving this district. I have that knowledge – with 17 years on the school board, on and off — of what we’ve done before and what we’re doing now and where we’re hoping to go in the future.
What do you see as the top three issues the board will have to address in the next term?
Teacher shortages, number one. There are less teachers going into the profession, and we’re already down 100 teachers we need to hire. Number two is the challenge of low socioeconomic students — getting them to read on grade level and starting before kindergarten to get to that level. The third challenge will be the budget. Right now, this is the first year in about five years now that we actually have a balanced budget.
There are less teachers going into the profession, and we’re already down 100 teachers we need to hire.
How do you balance managing the budget and improving the district?
All of the foundations in Sarasota have been working with us, which is allowing us to bring in extra grant money, extra funding to help us balance this budget to get through. I’m hoping that our legislators wake up to the fact that education should be the key priority. It is the future of our country. If we don’t pay attention to our education system, what does our future hold for us? That’s one of the reasons I got involved with this in the first place, because I recognized that. I’ve been asked to go to Tallahassee, asked to run for the House. I have no desire to do that. This here — education of our students — is key to the progress of our country. That’s why I’m here.
What should the district’s priorities be when looking for a new superintendent?
Someone with integrity and fantastic communication skills. A knowledge of education — and if possible, a knowledge of the funding formula in Florida.
Do you think fundraising has shifted the focus of the race?
My vote on impact fees impacted me. I had two reports in front of me, and both of them I felt were not accurate. I could see the growth that we’re having in our community as I drive around — no matter where you go, there’s growth. I knew that we needed impact fees. I tried to think if I could delay them for two years as was being suggested, but in recognizing the growth we have and how long it’s going to take us to be able to gather any funds at all in order to purchase the land that we need to build new schools, I had to vote for impact fees — at the lowest percentage I could. That impacted me, because some people got angry with me for my vote. I can tell you I lost $5,000 right off the bat, and I lost the support of some people. But I did the right thing.
Some people got angry with me for my vote. But I did the right thing.
Would you consider adjusting impact fees from the current level?
Right now, I’m fine where it is. That’s not to say if staff came to us and proved their case — that we are having more children moving into this district — that I would not be open to change it. But as of right now, I don’t see that happening.
Why should voters see your experience as an asset?
Why would you fire someone who is doing a good job — who has an “A”-rated school district for the past 10 years? Who has increased student graduation rates; who has, for the low socioeconomic students, reduced the achievement block between the haves and the have-nots? We have plans in place to work even harder through summer schools now, so our kids won’t lose anything during the summer. There are a lot of plans I’ve put into place with the board that are reasons for me to stay.
This is not an easy job. Everybody thinks it is, but it’s not.
What is the biggest change in your role on the board now versus when you first started?
The difference is I know what I’m doing now. This is not an easy job; everybody thinks it is, but it’s not an easy job. To learn the budget, I went to school. I went back to college and took a year course at USF in governmental budgeting in order to understand what it was I was doing. You just don’t walk in here and open up the budget and understand what it is and how to maneuver it and what each one of the components means.
I go to every school, I visit the principals, I talk to them. I know what the priorities are here. I live here; I’ve lived here. I have kids in this school system. I’m proven, experienced and committed to this district and to the students of Sarasota County.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.