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HomeLocal & StateMeet the Candidates: School Board District 1 - Aug. 23 Primary

Meet the Candidates: School Board District 1 – Aug. 23 Primary

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All School Board candidates will appear on all three ballot types: Nonpartisan, Democrat and Republican.
All voters in the county vote for candidates from a single district. If a single candidate does not receive more than 50% of the vote in the primary, then the top two vote getters will run off in the Nov. 8 election.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to provide a 150-word bio and respond to our questions within 850 words. We had several community members submit questions for school board candidates and candidates were instructed to choose one question to answer from the public.

Thank you to the candidates for providing a bio and answering our questions.

MARK JOHNSON

Mark Johnson photo courtesy of Mark Johnson

BIO:
I have a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a Masters Degree in Public Administration. I am a small business owner and a Licensed Investigator.

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I am a husband, father, and grandfather with two stepsons and a daughter teaching in public schools, four grandchildren in public schools, and a fifth grandchild entering kindergarten.

I am a fiscal conservative. During my tenure on the Hernando County School Board, from 2014 – 2018, the District went from a $12 million deficit to a $14 million unrestricted reserve, and the District’s academic performance went from a C- to a B+.

I am a creative leader who thinks outside the box. I brought cost-neutral programs into the District, lowering behavioral incidents and increasing academic performance. I initiated public-private partnerships, intern programs, and developed parent workshops.

I am a Fiscal Conservative and Creative Leader who thinks outside the box.
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Please describe the three top issues facing the school district and how you would address them.
Teacher Retention – The teacher shortage, and the inability to attract and retain needed teachers is a major deficiency of the School District. Money is not the only or even the main attraction. Administrative and Board support can go a long way: removal of the culture of fear, attempts to reduce the amount of paperwork or at least sympathetic and understanding of the issue, and encouragement of open teacher discussions to resolve issues.

Transportation in Shambles – The inability to attract and maintain bus drivers and mechanics is a major problem for the District. Paying workers fair market wages will help tremendously. While this appears to require additional funding, it realistically saves money due to the cost of new hire training, time, and retention value in keeping employees.

More Parental Involvement – The paucity of parental (stakeholder) Involvement has become a major obstacle for the District. Parental involvement in selection of programs, books, and even course offerings are needed.

Do you see any areas where the school district needs to increase funding?  How could this be paid for?
As noted in previous questions wages for non-instructional workers needs to be increased, but as noted this will result in substantial savings due to retention, and equally important will solve transportation problems and parental frustration.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?
Is Administration top heavy? How many Directors are required? A thorough examination is needed. Also, the amount of money being spent on Equity, programs, and support needs to be addressed. There are other smaller areas that need to be evaluated such as the GIS mapping purchase (The mapping exists in the County for use at no cost).

If you are in favor of decreasing the budget, how do you pay for obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and other inflationary costs?

The District claims it has unrestricted reserves as of April 30th in excess of $17 million. The areas I enumerated will not impact obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and within reason inflationary costs. Increases in salaries are adjusted in budget allowances by Tallahassee annually.

Please describe up to three projects that are most important to the school district and why?
The completion of the Wilton Simpson School – Is important because the project has started, and funds have already been expended. The School will alleviate overcrowding and offer new opportunities in vocational training that is desperately needed by local interests.

Revamping the Transportation Department is a major project for the District. Transportation services are now below acceptable levels leading to stress and anger for the drivers, students, and stakeholder parents.

Employee retention – Morale is low. The cost of keeping existing employees is more cost-effective than training new hires constantly. Their concerns and income levels need examining. The cost savings of keeping existing employees outweighs continually filling vacancies.

Do you support eliminating teacher training and student educational tools that use social-emotional learning, critical race theory, unconscious bias, and equity training?
Absolutely. I will seek to eliminate teacher training and student educational tools that use CRT Social Emotional Learning or Equity training. This is nothing more than affirmative action and the dumbing down of America with hatred and divisiveness.

Please explain some of the strategies you support or disagree with for closing the achievement gap? 
I unequivocally and firmly oppose closing the Achievement gap using CRT or Equity Programs, and that includes SEL and transformative learning. The sensible and practical approach to closing the achievement gap is bringing creative, stimulating, and motivating the very early grades and preschool programs. Students do not start falling behind at the higher grades; it starts in the lower grades.

Do you feel that the school board’s COVID-19 response was appropriate?  In hindsight, what changes would you make?
I do not believe the District’s response to COVID was appropriate, needed, or beneficial. The damage to students was inestimable. Virtual teaching, masking, and separation were just wrong, especially since the impact of COVID on youngsters was shown to be minimal.
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QUESTION FROM THE PUBLIC:
What will you do to address the bus driver shortage currently causing students to wait an hour after school for a bus to arrive?
To fully assess the impact of the bus driver shortage you must evaluate the true and full cost of the shortage. From the parents’ and students’ perspective costs include but are not limited to danger to the children, and frustration and anger as well as wasted time for parents. These are non-quantifiable costs but true costs, nevertheless. These have major impacts on how parents perceive the District. Other costs are bread and butter quantifiable costs: cost of new hires, constant lost time in retraining, and constant cost of rescheduling remaining drivers, to name a few. It makes sense to pay reasonable market wages to bus drivers because this cost is far less than the non-quantifiable plus quantifiable costs resulting from having a less then full team of drivers, That is one way to relieve the problem.

KAY HATCH- incumbent

Kay Hatch photo courtesy of Kay Hatch

BIO:
I am a wife, mother of 5 and grandmother of 10. I am a former Pediatric nurse and taught Pediatric nursing for 25 years. I am also an ordained United Methodist Elder and served local churches for 20 years. Throughout my adult life, I have volunteered in local elementary schools focused on reading skills for primary students. I was elected to HCSB in 2018.
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QUESTIONS FROM HERNANDO SUN:
Please describe the three top issues facing the school district and how you would address them.

Here are some options….
Recruitment/Retention of staff
Closing the achievement gap
Cost of maintaining schools
Addressing mental health needs of students (hired more social workers, increasing staff trained in YMH training, etc.)

Do you see any areas where the school district needs to increase funding?  How could this be paid for?
Each year, the Hernando School Board develops and approves its legislative platform which identifies the school district’s key funding and policy needs that require support at the state level. For several years, the school board has included student transportation on the platform. School districts in Florida receive approximately 50% of the cost of transporting students and the remaining cost is paid from the general fund. As enrollment and ridership grow, the school board moved to reduce costly repairs by replacing our aging fleet as we can and increasing the salaries of drivers and mechanics to be competitive with the private sector. Despite the challenge of meeting rising costs, our transportation staff remains dedicated to looking for ways to provide service to those families who rely on school transportation.

Do you see any areas where funding/the budget can be cut?
Our Directors of Budget and Finance provide a detailed update to the Board every quarter and those updates are posted to the website for the public’s review. During those budget updates, I look carefully at those reports and ask questions of the staff to ensure district spending aligns with our priority needs. There are few places in the district budget that have more dollars than expenses. (Kay – You may not need this part) Because of our fiscal discipline, we have been able to grow a healthy fund balance. In the event of catastrophe (for example loss of a school due to hurricane damage), that fund balance would protect the district from an unexpected downturn.

If you are in favor of decreasing the budget, how do you pay for obligated salary increases, cost of living increases, and other inflationary costs?

Please describe up to three projects that are most important to the school district and why?

1 to 1 devices. Providing all students with learning devices extends the opportunity for students to extend learning, conduct research, and practice concepts outside of the classroom. By using a variety of federal grants to fund this thoughtful and comprehensive plan for our students, we will remove limited access to technology as a barrier to academic achievement.

Recruitment of staff.

Ongoing school repair and improvements using half-cent sales tax

Do you support eliminating teacher training and student educational tools that use social-emotional learning, critical race theory, unconscious bias, and equity training?
Instructional materials purchased for student use are selected from state-approved lists. Within the school district, materials are also vetted by a committee to ensure they meet the standard. Despite the claims of some, there is no evidence that inappropriate material is being presented.

Please explain some of the strategies you support or disagree with for closing the achievement gap? 

I don’t know how you feel about this topic…

Do you feel that the school board’s COVID-19 response was appropriate?  In hindsight, what changes would you make?
I do. Throughout the first year of confronting the effect of Covid-19 on our staff and students, the school district relied on the leadership and expertise of our state leaders, the Florida Dept of Education, and our local health department to ensure our decisions were sound. Those first months of the pandemic were hard on everyone but especially for teachers and administrators who were on the front lines. In only a few weeks, the school district had to implement distance learning for 23,000 students, convert food service to a mobile operation where meals were distributed from community locations, and throughout the pandemic, schools did everything they could to keep schools open and operating despite daily absences of staff and student due to Covid. Some will criticize our response, but I am proud of the work they did.

JENNIFER LYNN LICATA
We did not receive any submissions from this candidate.

Some information we have on Jennifer Licata:
Jennifer Licata is the mother of a child in the school system who is in the gifted program/ESE. She sees a lack of leadership and a need for a fully independent third-party audit in order to identify wasteful spending- like too many mid-level administration positions/salaries. She believes education should be a team effort between parents, students, and teachers.

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