Monday, June 2, 2014

Our most important votes

There will be a number of races on the ballot for the August 26 Primary Election, but our votes in the three school board races will be the most important.

Why?

Because the people we elect will make policies that will directly shape the young people who become the voting citizens and leaders of Collier County’s future. 

And many of those policy decisions will be controversial. 

In this post, I’ll give some context for the upcoming elections in terms of School Board composition, responsibilities, and some of the issues. Future posts will delve deeper into some of the controversial issues, and look at each of the candidates.

I encourage readers to follow my Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page, where I’ll post relevant news articles, information about candidate forums and other opportunities to meet and assess the candidates. There’s going to be a lot of important information out there, and this new Facebook Page is my attempt to help you stay on top of it.

Composition of the Collier County School Board and the 2014 Elections

Collier’s five School Board members are elected at-large (i.e. by all county voters) in nonpartisan elections for staggered terms of four years. There are no term limits.

Three members will be on the ballot this year, and two members will be elected in 2016.

The incumbents from Districts 1 and 3 have chosen not to seek reelection, leaving the fields for those seats wide open. The incumbent from District 5 is running again, and faces a challenger.

Candidates have until June 20 to qualify to run for the School Board. As of now, there are at least two candidates for each District, so a primary election will be held on August 26. Unless a candidate receives 50% of the votes cast + 1, the top two voter-getters in each race will go on to the general election in November.

Responsibilities of the School Board

As provided by Florida law, the School Board is responsible for policy and governance for the County’s 48 public schools, 12 Alternative School Programs and two career/technical centers.  (For Fast Facts about the Collier County School District, click here.)

The Board manages the District’s $860 million budget, and has the authority to levy taxes and issue bonds. (Some 43% of a Collier County resident’s tax bill funds the School District’s Budget.)

The School Board is responsible for prescribing and adopting standards and policies to provide each of the County’s 45,000 students the opportunity to receive a “complete education program” -- as defined by state law.

Those policies must include guidelines for the adoption and purchase of district and school site instructional materials and technology, the implementation of student health and fitness standards, staff training, school advisory council member training, student support services, budgeting, and the allocation of staff resources.

The School Board may sponsor charter schools, and is responsible for the review and approval or denial of new charter school applications, and the termination of academically low-performing or financially unsound charter schools.

In addition, the School Board is responsible for:
  • establishing schools and school attendance areas;
  • adopting the school calendar;
  • governing personnel matters and collectively bargaining for district employee salaries;
  • providing adequate instructional materials to students;
  • providing for adequate school facilities;
  • providing for student welfare and discipline; and
  • providing for the transportation of students.
As you can see, the School Board is responsible for making substantive policies that will directly shape the future voting citizens and leaders of Collier County.

Controversial Issues

These are just some of the issues that have come up recently at the local, state and/or national levels that School Board members are likely to deal with in the coming years:

  • Vouchers, charter schools and “school choice”
  • The Common Core curriculum
  • After-school and summer programs
  • Parental review of text book selections
  • “Bring Your Own Device”

The School Board elections matter to us - whether or not we have children in Collier schools - because our schools are educating the voting citizens and leaders of our County’s future.

In coming posts, I’ll delve into some of the issues and candidates so that we can be informed voters in the August elections.  Meanwhile, please follow my Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page. And if you have any specific questions or topics you’d like me to cover, please post a comment and let me know.

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