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 possible4 - 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.