Name: David Graham
Family: I am married, and I am very proud of my three grown boys and two young grandchildren. All my children attended public schools.
Bio: Not answered
Why are you running for office?
I decided to run because I felt that the community no longer had a voice with the board. I felt like the community and I had lost its trust in the board. The board is divided and fighting all the time. This must end. Students, parents, teachers and staff should all be included and listened to. The board needs to take that input and factor that into their decisions. It is clear right now that special interests and outside influences have too loud a voice. I have no other allegiance other than to the school district and what is best for our students, teachers and staff.
What are the three policy priorities you hope to accomplish if elected?
- Students: We need to help close the achievement gap that has been stagnant for many years. We also need to enhance our offerings by offering programs including dual language, which we don’t offer today. We have to ensure equality and equity for all our students. This also means getting creative on transportation options, so that the students can get to the school of their choice in the district.
- Teachers: We need to work together with our union to provide a livable wage for our teachers, staff and employees. We need to provide more professional development opportunities. We need to retain our wonderful experienced teachers and attract new teachers to Sarasota County. We need to work with our other elected officials and community partners to provide affordable housing and different ways of making Sarasota County an excellent place for teachers to live and work.
- Community: We need to regain the trust of the community. We must be more interactive, be better listeners and work in partnership with the community members. We work for the community, and we must never lose sight of that. We need to involve the community in all major decisions.
What are your concerns regarding student learning under pandemic conditions, and how will you work to address them?
I have been a business intelligence consultant for more than 30 years. Whether you believe the COVID-19 numbers or not, the fact remains that the hospitals are filling back up, and the ICU beds are becoming scarce again. We must have a plan in place to open the schools where we can guarantee the health and safety of all our students, teachers, staff and employees. Does this plan include how we are going to be safe on the buses? How are we going to provide lunches? Who will be supervising the students when it is usually the teacher’s time for lunch? How are we going to have our younger students’ classes be safe and engaged while the teacher is performing in class and distance learning? I have been bringing these questions up, and we need solid answers before we return to the classroom. One child, one student, one employee or one staff member death is not acceptable. Returning to school should not be a life or death decision.
How will you, as a member of the school board, measure the success of the District’s new superintendent?
I am very excited and happy to have our new superintendent selected. Board members have two significant duties when working with the superintendent. We need to provide the vision and the mission that the superintendent and his administration will focus on. The second duty is the board provides oversight. I come from large organizational backgrounds. I believe in management by objectives. We need measurable and achievable goals that we can define for the superintendent to work toward. We should meet quarterly to see the progress with these objectives and adjust them based on the facts at that time. There should be no surprises from the superintendent or the board. This plan builds trust with all the stakeholders and the community.
If elected, what can and will you do to lessen the strife that has existed among board members?
I believe that there is a reason that the school board and school board elections are nonpartisan. We should all be working together for the benefit of the students, the teachers, the staff and our community. We all bring different backgrounds and experiences to the board, and we also have strong beliefs about what is best for our students and employees. But we must find common ground, we must discover compromises while holding firm to our values, we must perform our duties professionally and cordially, and we all should be good examples demonstrating professionalism, transparency and accountability.
What is your position on the following:
- Charter schools: I fully support our district nonprofit charter schools. Although they have more flexibility than our traditional schools, they do not discriminate and have to come back to the board to get their charter renewed at regular intervals. They are part of our Sarasota County Schools family, we share funding with them, and they are a great addition to our school system.
- The state’s recently expanded voucher-scholarship program? I am 100% opposed to public funds going to the voucher-scholarship program. The voucher program is taking much-needed funding away from our public schools even after our state has underfunded our schools for many years. The proponents of vouchers use the word “choice”; what they really mean is privatization. I believe that the voucher-scholarship program is a direct attempt to undermine public schools and public education. I do want to say there are many excellent private schools in the area, and they are the right choice for some of our students and families. However, they are not held accountable to the same standards of our public schools. They can elect not to accept students. They do not offer all the services that our public schools provide. I believe that public dollars should not go to enrich a private school or a for-profit company. As school board members, it is our duty to advocate for our public schools and public education every chance we get.
What would you say the Sarasota School Board and System can do to help recruit teachers?
We will have serious budget issues to deal with the current COVID-19 crisis right now, but we must not lose sight of the fact that we must retain and recruit teachers. We are going to lose a lot of excellent experienced teachers who choose not to return to the district due to the crisis. We need to do everything possible to help retain our experienced teachers, and it starts with a proper plan that puts the teachers' and staff's health and safety first. We need to provide a livable wage for our teachers here in Sarasota County. Teachers, staff and employees should not be forced to work a second or third job just to make ends meet each month. We need to work with the other elected officials to ensure affordable housing. We need partnerships with our business and community leaders to provide additional support for the classrooms. We also need active participation with the community and our families. Our actions must demonstrate to the teachers and staff that we care about them every day. Not just during a crisis or during budget times, but also we are genuinely concerned about their growth, opportunities and professional happiness.