Friday, July 25, 2014

My Endorsements for the August School Board Elections

Eleven weeks ago (“Something for your radar screen”), I decided to research and write about the candidates and issues at stake in the upcoming elections. A few weeks later, my friend Dianne Mayberry-Hatt and I decided to invite each of the School Board candidates for a one-on-one conversation to help us learn more about them.

If you had asked me what I was looking for in a School Board candidate before we started this process, I probably couldn’t have told you. But over these past weeks, as I have interacted with each candidate in person, by phone and by email; observed them in Candidate Forums and Editorial Board interviews; read what they included in their social media presence; considered the amount and source of their campaign contributions; looked on the Internet for any “red flags;” and spent hours discussing and debating the issues with Dianne and others, my views crystalized.

I hope that as you’ve read these posts, yours have, too.

These are some things I considered in deciding who to vote for.

The role of politics and political ideology
Our School Board elections are nonpartisan. Yet several of the candidates are aligned with the Tea Party, Parents Against Common Core, SWFL Citizen’s Alliance, Collier 912 Freedom Council, or other groups whose values and priorities differ from my own. It’s not about party affiliation per se, but I want Board members who share my personal values, because I need to trust them to make decisions on my behalf.

The candidates’ views about public education and the Common Core standards
Several of the candidates claim – proudly and defiantly, it seems – to oppose the Common Core Standards. (See my posts of June 10 and June 16.)  I support the Common Core and all that the effort leading up to them was trying to accomplish. I do not want a School Board that wants to “Kill Common Core.”

The candidates’ past and current community involvement
A candidate’s past and current involvement in community activities and the particular organizations they support say a lot about their values and interests. I want Board members who have demonstrated a consistent interest in education by their past involvement with public schools, Champions for Learning, or other education- or student-centric organizations.

The candidates’ motivations for running for office
We asked each candidate when and why she/he decided to run for the School Board. The answers were both candid and telling. In some cases they were not the answers they subsequently gave in media interviews and candidate forums. I do not want a Board member who has had a personal run-in with or spoken disparagingly about a Board Member or the Superintendent. Nor do I want a Board member who views the position as a stepping-stone to higher political office.

The candidates’ campaign slogans
What words did the candidate choose to sum up her/his candidacy? Slogans are brief, and so they crystalize what a candidate thinks is most important.

District 1
  • Kathy Greenawalt: “Demand a Higher Standard.”
  • Kelly Lichter: “Working Hard for You.”
  • Jacob Winge: (no slogan)
 District 3
  • Luis Bernal: “A Parent’s Voice on the School Board.”
  • JB Holmes: “Education First! Students, Parents, Teachers.”
  • Kathy Ryan: “Ryan Supports Education.”
  • Erika Donalds: “Determined to Make a Difference.”
District 5
  • Thomas Andler: “The Conservative Choice in District 5.”
  • Roy Terry: “Our Work Isn’t Finished.”
The candidates’ campaign contributions
Nationwide, campaign finance is a huge issue and one I’m quite concerned about. Money simply plays too big a role in elections in this country. It’s no coincidence that the size and number of campaign signs you see driving around town correlate directly with the campaign coffers of the candidates. As I reviewed each candidate’s contributions, I found myself sometimes asking, “Why is this person contributing so much to this candidate? What does he expect in return?”

The candidates’ ability to work collaboratively with others
I want Board members who care about public education and have demonstrated the ability to work collaboratively with the Superintendent, the other Board members, parents and the community at large.

The candidates’ open-mindedness and willingness to compromise
We live in a politically-divisive time and place. I am all for fiscal-conservatism, but I do not want a candidate who has pledged not to raise taxes. I am especially troubled by the words of one candidate that “We, as conservatives, … do not compromise on anything that goes against our founders’ principles and hold true to what makes us Republicans.”

The candidates’ maturity and life experience
The School Board is responsible for overseeing an almost $1 billion budget. I don’t accept the proposition that the complexity of and responsibility for a budget is the same regardless of its size or source of funds. I also don’t think that someone who has not had the experience of working for a living, meeting financial obligations, and effectively participating as part of a large social organization (school district, business, corporation) has enough life experience to contribute as necessary to the oversight of our Superintendent and School District.

These are just some of the things I’ve been thinking about as I’ve studied the candidates these past weeks. I will continue to watch what happens between now and the August 26 election.  

But because absentee ballots are out and people are starting to vote, here are my choices were I to cast my ballot today.

Kathy Greenawalt for District 1
Kathy Greenawalt has devoted her career to public education. Even in retirement, her commitment to education shows: she’s a Docent at the Conservancy, and a Lector at her church. She supports Common Core standards, the District’s STEM initiative, and Bring Your Own Device – as I do. She says, “I am a strong believer in public schools, and I pledge a constant, determined drive to excellence.”

Luis Bernal for District 3
Luis Bernal has a long history of commitment to our community. Much of his volunteer time has been spent in our schools. He wants to share what he’s learned from gaining his recent Masters degree in Education Policy, and his skills as a consultant, with our Board and our community. He will bring a much-needed understanding and awareness of Hispanic and Latino cultures to the School Board, something embarrassingly lacking for our District where 47 percent of our students are Hispanic. Importantly, Mr. Bernal is the only parent running for the School Board who actually wants his child to attend the Collier County Public Schools, and has volunteered for many years as a parent at his son’s school.

Roy Terry for District 5
Roy Terry not only has devoted his career to public education, but he continues to do so in retirement by serving on the School Board these past four years. He has been an excellent Board member, always listening and participating respectfully in Board discussions, and soliciting input from community members before making important decisions. He is a thoughtful listener. His community involvement has been consistent and shows a commitment to helping others. I especially appreciate Mr. Terry’s willingness to endure another campaign in order to provide what he sees as much-needed continuity and stability for the Board for another four years. 

__________
I hope you will join me and vote for Kathy Greenawalt, Luis Bernal and Roy Terry for School Board.


As always, I appreciate your comments, corrections and suggestions.

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