Friday, April 25, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Brevard School Board, District 5 Candidates

PALM BAY, Florida - Four candidates have currently filed to run for the Brevard School Board, District 5 (which encompasses parts of Melbourne and Palm Bay).  Brevard Times submitted the same four questions to each candidate – with a 150-word limit for each answer.  Incumbent Andy Ziegler replied after the deadline that he did not receive the email request due to SPAM issues.  The election will be held on August 26, 2014.

1 - Do you support the referendum for a ½ penny sales surtax to fund the capital budget? Why or why not?

Denise Coyle - At this time, it is difficult to support this referendum as this is a double-edged sword. We cannot afford to ignore the underlying issues. Issue one is to “trust” that BPS will perform in a fiscally responsible manner. Issue two is, “Haven’t we been taxed enough?”  BPS need to change the message and develop a new structure that is more transparent and accountable to the taxpayers by providing them with the benefits of passing this sales tax rather than highlighting the punishments if not passed. I propose that an independent critical needs committee evaluate the needs of every school, along with an independent oversight board to ensure that these needs are being met and that the money is being spent on priorities, capital repair and maintenance rather than on capital additions and wants. It is then that you will have a YES vote. Students, teachers and schools must be our priority.
Dale Davis - No I do not support the Half-Cent sales, surtax. Why not?
First: Duration.  The ballot language will be required very soon. I heard Superintendent Dr. Binggeli while at a forum quote six to ten years of surtax. That is not defined. Wildly guessing from $210 to $350 million, shows no planning.
Secondly: Accountability.  With deferred projects totaling and estimated $105-134 million, why are they asking for two, three times what is needed to rectify past capital projects? I could support a three year half-cent tax only if we had a blue ribbon citizens advisory committee, and publicly accounted line item spending of each dollar given by Brevard County taxpayers.
Thirdly: Lack of vision.  There was no plan, there is no plan. We are back to budget levels prior to the 2004-2007 bubble. We do not have a revenue problem, we continue to have a spending and planning problem.
Dean Paterakis - Absolutely not!  I do not like our taxes spent frivolously.  Our schools continue to misspend millions of our tax-dollars.  Why would I, or anyone, want to give the board members more money to waste?  How can our schools justify principals and administrators having salaries over $107,000 and then give several of them over $500,000 each just because they had worked for the school board?  How can the board justify giving a no-bid contract for $8 million when they supposedly don’t have money.  Why isn’t anyone prosecuted when there is an investigation done and found that the facilities department misspent over $3 million in no-bid contracts to friends and family?  Why do we continue to employ the CFO that put us in this mess to begin with?  No, I am not supporting a ½ cent sales tax until the senior staff is held accountable for these actions.

 Andy Ziegler – No response

2 - The latest budget cut list for FY 2014-15 has 25 items and saves almost $18 million dollars.  Would you change any priorities on that list?
 
Coyle - BPS needs a list of cuts that addresses past errors without compromising our future. Developing concrete strategies with these budget cuts that benefit our students, teachers, and schools is necessary.  Rather than placing 10 Campus Monitor Positions on the list to save $247,000, an alternative is to eliminate the excess in allocated Assistant Principals/Deans positions as BPS is overstaffed. This creates a larger savings, thus narrowing this list.
“Increase Class Sizes” should be removed. Class size is a constitutional amendment to be respected and followed.   Increasing class size burdens the teacher and is a disservice to students.   Nothing should impede student success and their ability to learn; therefore budget cuts should be made at the district level first.  Going back to the drawing table to see where/ how to make this happen is a good starting point as the mission of BPS is to "serve every student with excellence.”
Davis - Absolutely.  Once again the top heavy Administration wants too many cuts to school related budgetary items that would affect our kids, teachers, and school staff. Honestly, our State legislature should reinstate the PECO dollars, and give us back one of the quarter mills taken from the capital budget.
Our State Constitution requires and mandates we have class size limits. It also states in Article IX Section 1a. that it is a paramount duty of the State to provide a high education, a free education, and one that is safe, secure, and efficient.
By law the STATE must provide for maintenance and operations of established schooling within its boundary's.  Priorities I would change would even out the required cuts at roll back levels, to include the top heavy Administration operations budget, and minimize cuts to school administrations, staffs, and programs for the kids.
 
Paterakis - Yes, I would.  This list is more of a manipulation list, than a priority list.  “Give us more money, or else!” Our school leaders’ cuts cause children and families to suffer but have not made any sacrifices themselves.  I have been a proponent of cutting the fat at the top.  I have been to the community forums and have asked Dr. Binggeli tough questions.  I specifically asked him to provide the names, positions, and salaries of the cuts he made at the top publicly at these forums in February.  It is now the end of April and he has yet to produce evidence of any cuts at the top.  Senior staff members continue to give themselves raises to the tune of 15%+ increasing individual salaries by $15,000 while teachers pay scales are frozen this greatly concerns me. 
Ziegler – No response

3 - The current budget cut list for FY 2015-16 contains school closures, outsourcing custodial services and pay-to-play for sports.  If this had to be implanted, do you agree with those priorities?  Do you believe that a list of potential specific school closures should be made public as part of budget negotiations?

Coyle - Often, the most cost-effective solution is internal management reform rather than outsourcing. My concerns - Will this cause a reduction in pay for some of our citizens? Will it put community members out of work?  How will this affect our economy?
Sports are just as important as the arts and music programs.  School-based sports programs can bring out noticeable positive reactions and behaviors in teens with unlimited benefits.  Many of our students depend on sports for scholarships. We will save $400,000, but how much could we save if district staff drove their own cars, or board members paid for their own benefits?
No school should be closed unless there is substantial data to support it, and yes; any school set for closure should be made public.  Those who it will affect (students, teachers, staff, parents, community) have a right to know, prepare, and make decisions that will affect their future.
Davis - I have addressed minimizing cuts to the capital budget, schools, staff, including custodial. As for pay to play, I say, no way!  If elected, I will not vote to keep cutting programs intended for the excellence of kids being, and staying in school, so the District Administration can keep padding the Operations budget.

No, I do not agree. One, that three votes on that dais decide what gets  implanted". Two, I have addressed the priority's in my campaign, kids first, then our teachers, then taxpayers and parents. 
 
We are compelled to educate our children, with the best schools, Principals, Teachers, and staff. The efficiency thereof has top priority, then we can talk District Administration and Operations.

Lastly, if elected, my school closure list is right here ".............." for everyone to see. No school closures, period.

Paterakis - Again, let’s not be fooled.  The schools must not be hurting for money if they continue to misspend our money.  If they can vote to spend $8 million on an unnecessary NO-BID program then obviously they have extra money.  When senior staff continue to collect six-digit salaries and get another $ ½ million on top of that then it is hard to convince me that school closures, outsourcing of custodial services, and pay-to-play is needed.  If you want to be misled then listen to the school leaders who continue to misinform the public.  I never agreed with these priorities.  We need to hold those accountable for the misspending of our tax-dollars.  Until they fire and prosecute these overpaid-incompetent administrators I will not trust them with any more money.  Citizens shouldn’t be manipulated by these so-called school leaders who use our children’s schools as ransom for their own agenda.

Ziegler – No response

4 - What is your opinion of the new Florida Standards? 
Coyle - Students need to develop critical thinking skills so that they can apply, analyze and evaluate. Critical thinking is significant in the learning process whereby the learner builds on a basic idea and eventually develops problem-solving skills. This will serve them well, not only in their academic career but in their chosen career field and in life. It is unfortunate that current Florida State Standards will not help students achieve this goal. Standards should be developmentally appropriate for each grade level. Those standards should also be developed based on research and implemented so that students can be active learners in the classroom and become productive members of society. Implementation of these standards should also include proper teacher evaluations, responsible school funding and school calendar requirements so that these goals can be met.

Davis - I have a very low opinion of Common Core lite. The Florida Standards through A.I.R.* is little more than a shrunken pea under a new shell.
Common Core is the Obamacare of Education. (IMHO)

One:  Since the elimination of PARCC, the State DOE has forgotten to replace the testing.  As of yet, we have no test. We've had to "lease" testing from another State to fill the void.

Two:  I am against teachers PGP's and benchmark protocols. Our teachers should be able to teach.  This is their profession, they love what they do, and we've had the top teachers in the Nation right here.  I trust they know how to do their jobs. We don't need to teach robots. Let kids excel. Don't hold one back, because another is having difficulties. Allow the teachers the time to help each student help themselves, not promote a cookie cutter education.

Paterakis - What a waste of millions of taxpayers’ dollars.  This is just a marketing technique, only a repackaging of old standards that will do very little to improve education.   It gives the perception that politicians are improving education, but they are really harming it.  Now it will be harder for teachers to focus on the child’s unique gifts and will create a hostile learning environment.  If we truly want to improve education then we need to put the very best teachers in the classroom and allow them to teach and exploit the gifts that each child has.  Instead trying to make children’s education common, it should focus on making children extraordinary.  It saddens me to see what the profession of teaching has become.  I just hope I can get on the school board to help stop the insanity and help the teaching profession get back to being respected and effective.

Ziegler – No response

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Charles Parker: County Commission District 2 Settling In As A Two-Man Race

L to R: Michael Hartman and Jim Barfield

It is safe to say that the Brevard County Commission District 2 race has settled into a typical Republican primary battle –the “conservative” versus the “establishment.”

Last week, Michael Hartman won the Tea Party gathering straw poll with 60% of the vote.  If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it. No one else was really close.  Advantage - Hartman.

And, so far, Jim Barfield is winning the money race.  He has raised over $45,000 – with $25,000 coming from his own bank account as a loan.  That’s still a net of $20,000.  Pretty impressive at this stage.  At first glance, Hartman looks impressive too with about $38,000 raised.  However, almost $35,000 of that is personal loans.  Advantage – Barfield.

And it is easy to further identify Barfield as the “establishment” guy by looking at who has donated to his campaign.  Many are from the Chamber of Commerce/United Way/EDC crowd – names like Baugher, Hermansen, Bjerning, Hobbs, Byron, Proctor, Hoyman, Swann, Podnos, McLouth, Bakke, Kabboard, Bancroft, Rood, and Weldon.  If you look at the society pages in local publications, you know who these people are.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these people.  Many are community benefactors and have done much great work in Brevard.  But they are who they are.

In a Brevard Times political column from last July, these two differentiated themselves on several issues. (http://cp.opinion.brevardtimes.com/2013/07/first-look-candidates-for-county.html)

Barfield said the top challenges facing Brevard are increased costs of pensions, health care, and Medicaid.  Hartman said Brevard needs jobs, improved infrastructure, and focusing on budgets “needs” instead of “wants.”

On spending cuts, Barfield would delay projects that haven’t started and wait to fill vacant jobs openings.  Hartman said he would cut administrative costs in EELS and HHS.

Regarding the Economic Development Commission, Barfield is status quo and Hartman says that the county should not fund more than 50% of its total income.

I have heard that overtures have been made to Ron Taylor – the other self-professed conservative in the race who garnered a distant second to Hartman at the straw poll – to drop from the race so the conservative vote would not be split.

It is an interesting idea.

However, I saw brand new Taylor road signs out just yesterday on south Merritt Island.  That doesn’t sound like a guy who is considering backing down.

So…Hartman has the grassroots and Barfield has the cash.  The next few months will prove interesting in how they campaign to best capitalize on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.

 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Brevard School Board, District 1 Candidates

TITUSVILLE, Florida - Three candidates have currently filed to run for the Brevard School Board, District 1 (which encompasses Mims, Titusville, Port St. John and parts of Cocoa).  Brevard Times submitted the same four questions to each candidate – with a 150-word limit for each answer.  The election will be held on August 26, 2014.

1 - Do you support the referendum for a ½ penny sales surtax to fund the capital budget? Why or why not?
Misty Belford - I support continuing to find efficiencies in the school system to ensure responsible spending with the greatest positive impact for our students. Citizen oversight of spending is crucial to that goal.

Even with increased efficiency, our schools desperately need additional funding to meet the needs of our students and counter declines in funding streams including property tax and PECO dollars.  The surtax will bring that funding with minimal cost to our residents and benefiting from visitor spending.  All of the surrounding counties have a school surtax.  We support their schools when we spend in neighboring counties.  Visitors to Brevard contribute nothing to our schools.  The cost of the surtax to Brevard residents will be minimal ($25 per year for the average family) but the return on investment is significant when you consider funds generated by visitors as well as the impact of high quality schools on our local economy.
Paul Chinaris - The ½ penny sales tax referendum has not been written yet, which means that there are some questions unanswered. How long is the term? Will the School Board publish a specific list of capital repairs if approved? Likewise, will there be a detailed published list of cuts and school closures should it fail? The Board needs to publish its definite plan so that the public can make an informed decision.

Many of the school districts in Florida have surplus sales tax to help fund their schools. With our beautiful beaches and the busy cruise terminals, our tourist could help fund our schools if the sales tax is voted in.
Shana Lynn Moore - It is important to start spending money to maintain the physical plants of the schools, avoiding greater expenses in future years.  If the surtax is approved, it will be my priority to ensure that the funds are used correctly.

2 - The latest budget cut list for FY 2014-15 has 25 items and saves almost $18 million dollars.  Would you change any priorities on that list?
Belford - The two items dealing with IB and AICE funding should move to second and third place on the list.  These are choice programs that generate funding intended to be used to support the administration of the programs.

Class size is a constitutional amendment that should be followed.  If the district refuses to follow class size, we should fill classes equally (instead of significantly overfilling one class within a grade to avoid fines in multiple classes) and eliminate intentionally small classes from the calculation of average.  This cut should be as far down the list as possible.
Almost all of the proposed cuts will have a significant negative impact on students and teachers and should be avoided if at all possible.  I encourage cutting at the district level and minimizing the impact at the school level or looking for school level cuts that do not impact students to such as extent.

Chinaris - Everything on the proposed cut list is at the school level, either a program at schools or personnel in direct contact with our students. I believe that there are still administrative cuts that can be made at ESF with less negative impact on our students. I believe it is time to take a closer look at the entire structure of the administration. The idea “that’s just the way we have always done it” is not a valid excuse to avoid change.
 The proposed cut of 82 school media specialists and 70 media assistants is disconcerting. This would effectively close school libraries. That doesn’t seem to be in keeping with “serving all students with excellence as the standard.” Also, the idea of eliminating campus monitors at schools where the facility is not set up for one entry-exit point potentially puts our children in harm’s way and should not be considered in today’s climate.

Moore - I am opposed to eliminating art and music education in the elementary schools.  Perhaps the pay-for-play concept can be used to help save the art and music programs.  Research proves that these classes improve students’ cognitive skills in other subjects.  Some cuts, such as campus monitors, make complete sense to me.

3 - The current budget cut list for FY 2015-16 contains school closures, outsourcing custodial services and pay-to-play for sports.  If this had to be implanted, do you agree with those priorities?  Do you believe that a list of potential specific school closures should be made public as part of budget negotiations?
Belford - I encourage a thorough evaluation of district level cuts that could be made prior to these cuts being implemented as well as a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed cuts.  For example, I would not endorse closing two schools, knowing the impact on students, to save $400,000.  The cost would outweigh the proposed savings.  I would not endorse pay to play without a contingency plan for students who could not truly pay to play.  We must consider the overall impact, not just the immediate financial savings.

Regarding school closures, recommendations should be shared with the public as soon as possible.  This would allow time for research on the options as well as time to begin processes that could potentially save neighborhood schools.  The district has stated repeatedly that this information would be shared prior to a vote on the surtax.  To do otherwise would be disingenuous.
Chinaris - As I said potential school closures should indeed be made public. And, as I believe the 2014-15 cut list needs to be re-evaluated, that would certainly mean a new 2015-16 list as well.

Moore - I don’t have a problem with the pay-to-play; the sliding scale is in place for economically disadvantaged students, and booster clubs can help as well.  Outsourcing, in addition to costing jobs, usually does not save as much money as advertised; the controversy with the Clerk of Court’s office comes to mind.  I do believe the list of schools to be closed should be made public; parents, students, and the Board need all the information available to make the best decisions possible
4 - What is your opinion of the new Florida Standards? 

Belford - Moving away from rote memorization and teaching our children to be higher level thinkers is critical to their future success.  Unfortunately, the current Florida standards and the current implementation plan will not achieve that goal.  We need standards that are developmentally appropriate and created with input from individuals who are specialists in child development and child education, those on the front line of education.  We need to develop standards based on sold research and thoughtfully implement those standards without a rush to meet arbitrary deadlines that are counterproductive to the end goal.  Standards must be field tested before a mass rollout.  We must provide the resources to support the successful implementation of the plan.  And finally, we must provide opportunity for the standards to be implemented and adjusted as necessary before we attach potentially detrimental consequences to the outcomes including teacher evaluations, school funding, and school calendar requirements.
Chinaris - The new Florida Standards are just the Common Core standards with different numbers and a few additions. Of course I believe that rigorous standards are essential; however, there have been issues and concerns with the common core, especially in elementary math. Revision is called for before high stakes accountability testing is implemented.

I support state and local control of our curriculum and programs.
Moore - The new standards are not radically different from the original Sunshine State Standards.  The issue in the classroom is currently not that there are standards; it’s that classes are structured around loading and regurgitation of testing material.  Teachers need to be held accountable for preparing students for life and work, not for this year’s testing fad.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Brevard School Board, District 2 Candidates



MERRITT ISLAND, Florida - Three candidates have currently filed to run for the Brevard School Board, District 2 (which encompasses Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and portions of Cocoa).  Brevard Times submitted the same four questions to each candidate – with a 150-word limit for each answer.  The election will be held on August 26, 2014.

1 - Do you support the referendum for a ½ penny sales surtax to fund the capital budget? Why or why not?

John W. Craig - I support a sales surtax for a four to six year period with stringent oversight by a committee of non-partisan community members.  Since the administration has not provided the language for the ballot initiative or a defined plan for oversight, I do not know if I will support the actual proposal come November.
The current BPS financial situation is tenuous, with long-term debt service requirements creating a shortfall in the capital budget.  We cannot compromise the health and safety of our children and teachers.  We must provide a proper learning environment or we are failing our primary mission.  A sales surtax will provide revenue required to repair our infrastructure and give us some breathing room while a new School Board creates a long-term strategic plan for fiscal solvency. 

Robert A. Mentillo - Financially our school district seems to be in dire straights.  But the current leadership has shown a lack of ability to properly spend the money they have.  So giving them more does not seem like a good idea, unless the money is allocated to a specific need for a specific time.  Or the leadership is changed.  Or both.  We have a huge debt and our needs are growing faster than the money provided by the state.  We need to work on getting the state to better fund our schools, and they are not willing to do that at this point.  We need to work on that too.  I believe the school district should specify that this money be spent on debt reduction and matched by district level cuts, not school level cuts. 
So, I support the ½ penny sales tax if certain stipulations are met.     

Keith Yarbrough - Whether or not the surtax passes is totally dependent on the level of trust that Brevard citizens have in its school board. At present, that level is extremely low and the superintendent and board have no one to blame but themselves.

2 - The latest budget cut list for FY 2014-15 has 25 items and saves almost $18 million dollars.  Would you change any priorities on that list?

Craig - The potential cut list is focused entirely on areas that directly affect children and teachers in the classroom.  I’d like to see a more balanced approach with District level cuts leading the list before any classroom items.  We need to reevaluate how BPS operates and look for efficiencies using sound business practices.  An example is a needed reevaluation of the employment relationship with the BPS attorney.  This individual works as a consultant and is paid hourly for his services.  Negotiating a service contract or hiring a full-time staff attorney could save several hundred thousand dollars. 
As for the current list, I would remove number 18 (Increase Class Sizes to Move Toward School Wide Average – Eliminate 10 Annual Contract Teachers).  We cannot afford to eliminate teachers and we cannot ignore the state class-size law.  I also would move number 12 (Elementary Strings elimination) to at or near the bottom of the list. 

Mentillo - Several. I think we need to look at what programs we had 7 years ago when we were one of the top 5 school districts in the state and then take a hard look at everything we have added since then.  That should be the starting point of this list.
The biggest missing item I see on this list is that not a single high-level administrator is on it.  The district leadership has mandated that secondary teachers work an additional 15% without pay.   That means that at the district level you should reorganize with two less departments.  Our current leadership has not been willing to do this.  We have added several “teachers” to the district payroll.  In our current situation is this really necessary?

Once you take these steps it is more palatable to address school level issues.
Yarbrough - Our current board believes that it is philosophically and ethically correct to eliminate teaching positions and as a result, increase class size. I disagree because not only is such an approach wrong educationally, but it is in clear and deliberate violation of the Class Size Amendment.

3 - The current budget cut list for FY 2015-16 contains school closures, outsourcing custodial services and pay-to-play for sports.  If this had to be implanted, do you agree with those priorities?  Do you believe that a list of potential specific school closures should be made public as part of budget negotiations?

Craig - I believe school closures are an absolute last resort.  BPS still owns and maintains the facilities that were closed last year.  And there is no report of the real savings achieved nearly a year later.  Closing a school for self-inflicted budgetary issues sends a clear signal to individuals and companies looking to relocate – that BPS can’t properly manage its’ money.  As the Brevard economy evolves with new jobs and strong economic development, a strong and financially sound public school system is critical.  And those closed schools may very well be needed in the near future. 
Outsourcing custodial services needs further examination using a projected services model and savings analysis compared with potential negatives.  On the face, I believe a well-constructed request for proposals will produce competing bids for evaluation and a determination of suitability for BPS can come from that process.  In addition, BPS needs to consult with other districts of similar size that outsource and study their lessons learned.

I am a huge fan of and proponent of scholastic athletics.  I played organized sports through college and recognize the importance of these activities with regard to leadership, discipline and teamwork.  These are not required activities though and I believe a participation charge used to offset program costs is appropriate in today’s environment.  I also believe we need to foster more partnerships with the business community to offset these costs.  A small participation charge combined with business and community support allows BPS to offer these important programs while not impacting the classroom.
There needs to be complete transparency in all School Board dealings.  If the Board is going to perform a closure analysis, then it is their responsibility to inform the public of those findings immediately. 

Mentillo - I do not.  Based on the list presented to the public, it is difficult to believe that this list was based on what is best for students.  Closing schools should be based on student needs, not on arbitrary discussions.   Closing schools that continue to be owned by the school district will not save enough money to offset the affect it has on students in those schools.  Schools should be closed when student populations decrease dramatically or the school is no longer fit for students to use and renovating it is not cost effective.  We have other areas we can address to save money before we close schools that are serving our students with excellence.  There are several buildings being used to house district personnel, outside of the Educational Services Facility in Viera.  We should look to close those down, move the personnel into existing and empty classrooms in the under-capacity schools instead of closing the schools. Look at the Psychological Services offices in Cocoa Beach, most of the people with offices there are only there for one day a week, they spend most of their time out in the school’s they service.  Why can’t they have an office in an unused classroom, it has AC, Internet, phone and space? Makes more sense to relocate adults and close an office building than to move students and then fill that school with offices (Clearlake MS).
In the last part of your question:  if you need to close a school it should be made public – when and why.

Yarbrough - Our current school board has demonstrated that it will use school closures as an initial option in dealing with budget disarray. I disagree with this philosophy. This board has unfortunately developed a reputation for questionable and closed-door decision making. To hide specifics concerning future plans for closing schools is unacceptable.

4 - What is your opinion of the new Florida Standards? 

Craig - Florida Standards are the law and the School Board is bound to uphold that law regardless of personal opinions on the subject.  Much like the class size amendment, we cannot choose to ignore the law. 
I believe in the absolute best education for my children.  I believe teachers are most effective when they are allowed some leeway in how they translate their subjects to students and that strict guidelines are often detrimental to the overall learning process.  If Florida Standards offer teaching methods and resources that improve the educational experience for my children, then I don’t really care what it is called or the politics behind it.  My concern is that the state has built the testing model before outlining the actual curriculum process and doing due diligence on the product.  And the state has not provided the appropriate funding for implementation at the local level.

Mentillo - I support having a standard that teachers teach to.  Sadly, that is not what the implementation of the Florida Standards is about.   Some company is going to make lots of money selling standardized test, study material and remediation.   Based on past experience with the state in these matters, the test will not be scrutinized by anyone outside of the company.   What makes this so disconcerting is that the College Board has proven a method, over time, of how to give standardized tests, how to grade them and how to make sure they are truly assessing what you want them to.   FCAT did none of these things, and from what I have heard, neither will this new set. The new standards themselves are just that, standards, a guide for teachers.  These standards want the students to think, to go deeper into concepts, that is what teachers want for their students also.
Yarbrough - I am a firm and relentless believer in local control of our public schools.

 

Friday, January 3, 2014

FIRST LOOK: 2014 Candidates for Canaveral Port Authority District 3

PORT CANAVERAL, Florida – Two Republican candidates have announced for the 2014 Canaveral Port Authority District 3 position: one-term incumbent Frank Sullivan and Brevard political newcomer Wayne Justice.

District 3 encompasses parts of Cocoa, Rockledge and Viera.  The four-year term pays $10,083.72 per year.

Brevard Times sent a list of four questions to the candidates and asked that the answers be 250 words or under.   Answers for Questions 1 and 2 have been combined.  The candidates' answers are listed alphabetically.

Question 1:  Name the top three challenges that Port Canaveral faces in the next five years and give brief background as to why they are challenges.

Question 2: How will you address these challenges?

Justice:
1.     Cruise Industry growth. Port Canaveral has embraced the growth potential and now has a challenge to rapidly deliver infrastructure to accommodate this growth.  Ensure laser focus on the delivery of new Terminal 1. It's on time/on budget procurement will signal to all concerned the capability of the Port to manage growth and set the tone for next steps.
2.     Cargo Industry growth. Port Canaveral wants to embrace the growth potential for cargo but again has infrastructure challenges including the lack of a rail head.  Set and monitor realistic expectations for more/diversified cargo capacity based on the steadily improving handling capabilities. Improvements should include on time/on budget cranes, re-consideration of the barge/train option, and maximum effort to get the rail line all the way to the Port.
3.     Cove growth.  Port Canaveral has an ambitious Cove Development Master Plan. I believe its success is interwoven with regional businesses successes. Is the Port willing and ready to engage?  Ensure the growth decisions are based on published policies that are supportive of regional interests. "A rising tide floats all boats."

Sullivan:
1.     Continuing the close working relationship we have enjoyed with our major cruise lines.  We as a port work hard to have a smooth, safe, secure and efficient operation of embarking and debarking their passengers.  Happy passengers make happy cruise line executives.  Their ships are given easy in and out access to docking, fuel and resupplies.  We have just authorized staff to engage contractors to build a new terminal complex on the south side of the port to serve new 6000 passenger ships.  We must work diligently to continue that relationship. 
2.     Diversify our business plan to attract a substantial increase in cargo tonnage.  With our soon to be implemented plan on channel widening and deepening, and our new container cranes being installed in 2014 we will be working hard with cargo interest to show the advantage Port Canaveral has to bringing their products closer to their customers.  We have recently expanded our staff in the cargo area to work toward identifying and showing our commitment to new potential customers.  We must continue our working relationship with NASA to extend their rail to the port.  Rail access is a vital part of our cargo expansion.  In the interim our inland port concept will be vital to serve customers until full rail access to the port is completed. 
3.     With a new terminal on the south side of the port and the opening of our new and dramatic Exploration Tower we now need to select a dynamic and experienced developer to take our Cove area expansion to the next level of development.  This will serve our community well by bringing new attention and visitors to the Space Coast.  All our construction will mean local jobs, jobs, jobs and a reason for cruise passengers – currently at 4 million passengers yearly – a reason to spend a few more days in our area or to come back on vacation.  The challenge is continuing to make wise decisions in the Cove expansion.  We have the staff on board to give us their knowledge and experience.  

Question 3   During the last few years, the port has maintained a substantial positive ratio of revenue against expenses – due mostly to the increase of cruise passengers.  As well, the port is a taxing district and could raise additional funds through that.  Why – then- does the port seek federal and state grants when the federal debt and deficit are de-stabilizing the economy and the state budget struggles to pay teacher and first responders a living wage?

Justice:   Port Canaveral is a regional entity whose economic engine benefits thousands of citizens in and beyond the Port District.  Federal and State grants for Port development have been produced for exactly that reason!  The "many" outside of this (and all) Port Districts should support the few Ports this nation has.  Port Canaveral should not take local tax $ from its District, leaving them for the County and School Board to spend (on teachers/1st responders etc.).                

Sullivan:  As a commission we operate our port as a public/private business for the benefit of our port district residents in particular, and the residents of Brevard County in general.  Our excess revenues are used for supporting bond issues we obtain for capital improvements and to use as matching funds for federal and state grants. Because we have kept expenses below budget and revenues strong while continuing expansion as necessary we have not collected taxes from district residents in 27 years.  Our port stakeholders and others in Brevard County send many tax dollars to Tallahassee and Washington.  Port Canaveral needs large influxes of revenue to continue to grow our economic impact on Brevard County, which now stands at 2 billion dollars.  Our state and federal governments see the wisdom of investing what I call our tax dollars back in successful growth and service opportunities.  With our port’s potential for growth and the 17 thousand jobs the port now accounts for I feel it is a wiser investment of our tax dollars than some of the areas on which our government now spends our tax dollars.  That said, as we continue to grow jobs, continue to bring millions of visitors to Brevard, continue to grow our economic impact to our county more dollars will become available to strengthen budgets for others.

Question 4. Why should the voters choose you?

Justice: Throughout my Coast Guard career, I learned and espoused the belief that the heart of attaining exceptional performance is setting high standards, coupled with ensuring people have the training and properly maintained equipment to reach those standards. I strive to maintain that philosophy in leadership positions here in Brevard County. My ship commands; federal policy, acquisition, and capabilities knowledge; extensive law enforcement and security expertise; along with participation in numerous trials and congressional hearings, has provided the broad experience needed to help direct the Port Canaveral Authority.  I supported thousands of Coast Guard men and women during my military service. I would like to continue public service by applying my uniquely suited experiences while supporting the residents and businesses in Brevard County as one of their Port Commissioners.

Sullivan:  As a lifelong resident of Brevard County I have tried to do my part in its growth and development through my business and my years of volunteer service to my community.   Over the years I have given back in time and what talent I have to such organizations as the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Cocoa Village Playhouse, Wuesthoff Memorial Hospital, KBB, 4-H Foundation, Brevard County Fair and my church.  Five years ago Brevard County Commissioners honored me with the Jefferson Award for Voluntarism.    I was always interested in someday serving on the Port Canaveral Commission.  I set some goals for myself.  First, I needed my family to approve because I knew that public office put different pressures on family life.  Second, my only agenda would be to continue to use best business principles to make our port one of the most productive economic engines for Brevard County ever.  Now after one term on the board, one can look at my record and decide whether I have done the job I set out to do.  I look forward to another term as we have great opportunities to bring more business, jobs and economic successes to Brevard County and all of central Florida.        

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Charles Parker: Brevard Schools Needs Strategy Change to Win Half-Penny Sales Tax

I need to tread lightly as I am a school board employee.  But I must speak up – as I have done before – regarding a Brevard Public Schools potential proposed half-penny sales tax.

Even though a similar measure was defeated 52-48% in November 2012, BPS is back – mainly because the problems have not gone away.

They have a deficit in their capital funds and have been using operational funds to band-aid problems.  They have HVAC units that are literally pieced together with duct tape.  They have school buses that high school seniors rode on when they started kindergarten.

But, at the same time, they have serious perception problems and they are, frankly, political peons.

First – the perceptions.  I took a look at my property tax bill the other day.  Using some rounding, approximately 70% of my school taxes go to Tallahassee (of which I assume some comes back).  About 7% goes to local general operating funds.  About 23% goes to capital expenditures.

Reality bites…I am already taxed more on school capital expenditures than I am taxed for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department.  And now they want more.  And their detailed charts and graphs do not fix the perception that they already get enough of my money…maybe too much.

Next – the politics.  Last go round, they made a political decision to divulge a cut list of people and programs that would go away if the sales tax vote fell short.  However, they didn’t divulge the school closure list.  They said they didn’t want to spark a parochial battle of school v. school.  And, of course, that eventually happened anyway.  And it was ugly.

But, in the end, the sky has not fallen.  The students from closed schools have settled in elsewhere, secondary teachers are figuring out how to do more work with less time like elementary teachers have always done, some busing was eliminated, some programs ended.

So what does BPS need to do to get this tax passed?  Deal with perceptions and change their politics.

First, the perceptions.  We already know that they are using some funds from the operating budget to prop up the capital budget.  So they need to make a grand statement that they are spending the operating budget wisely so they can justify the transfer and win trust.

What should that grand statement be – you ask?  BPS needs to make a major overhaul in their organizational chart to be more efficient in management and delivery of programs.  If I were Superintendent Dr. Brian Binggeli, I would call in executives from Harris Corporation, Health-First, and some other major players and ask them to develop a new structure that is leaner and meaner.

It doesn’t even have to have a lot of cost savings.  It just has to show the reluctant voter that BPS is serious about streamlining government bureaucracy.  I guarantee a move like this would sway some moderate hearts and minds.

Second, the politics.  They need three actions in this column.

Number one – they need to put out another cut list – and this time they need to name the schools that will close and how it will impact other schools.  Parochialistic fights be damned.  If they really want this money, it is time to play hardball.

Number two – Binggeli needs to lighten his tone and change his tune.  His doom-and-gloom, almost threatening attitude does not ring true for his target voter – middle-aged retired folks who may not have kids in school. They are already suspect of the politics of intimidation by others that always say kids and old people will starve and cops and firefighters won’t show up.  As well, air conditioners and buses are not sexy.  Stop talking about them.

Number three – they need to run this like a political campaign because that is what it is.  They should take out advertising and have yard signs.  Maybe have a pithy saying or two.  And they need someone other than themselves to run this campaign.

Wait…I have an idea…How about they give a politically-knowledgeable teacher a leave-of-absence in 2014, a stipend and modest budget and let him run the campaign for them…wonder who that could be?