INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Eight of nine candidates running for three seats on the Indian River County School Board squared off on issues of charter schools and district goals in what was one of their first opportunities to address potential voters.
The candidates seem to support charter schools – at least the concept – to varying degrees. And they all have different goals and issues they want to take on if they’re successful in gaining a seat on the board.
The last three school board elections have had an average of about 2.7 candidates run per seat. This year, that number is slightly higher with three candidates – on average – running for three seats.
However, the majority of the candidates are running for School Board member Debbie MacKay’s open seat in District 5. MacKay has announced that she is not running for re-election.
Incumbents Carol Johnson and Karen Disney-Brombach, however, are seeking another term. Both face one challenger for their district seats.
On Wednesday, all but one candidate running in the race addressed the Republican Women of Indian River County organization, taking on questions about charter schools and what they would do if they were elected.
The only question asked that received a consistent answer had to do with whether the candidates support more screening of substitute teachers.
To a one, the candidates said they would indeed support increased screening of substitutes.
Candidates varied widely in what they would like to change or would hope to change if elected to the school board.
Guy Barber, a perennial school board candidate, said he wants the School District to get “back to basics” in terms of education – that there’s only one way to figure 4 plus 4 equals 8. He also said he wants to bring honesty and accountability back to the board.
Barber is running against Disney-Brombach for the District 1 seat.
Disney-Brombach said she wants the board to continue working together and to continue to improve its relationship with teachers. She would also like to improve communication between the district and the public.
“I have been a part of change,” District 2 incumbent Johnson said in response to the question and pointed to her knowledge and experience as a longtime board member.
Richard Marini Sr. is challenging Johnson for the seat. He said the changes he’d like to see include improvements to morale district wide and establishing better and more vocational programs to serve students who have no plans for college.
Those running for the open District 5 seat include Harry Hall Jr., Kimberly Keithahn, Althea McKenzie, Jeff Pegler and Ardra Rigby. McKenzie did not attend the candidate debate.
Hall said he would like to foster communication amongst the board members and help to make more efficient use of district funds to bring back as many teachers and programs as possible that were cut due to budget restrictions.
Keithahn said the board needs a “fresh perspective” and better communication. She would also like the focus to shift from gap between student performance levels to the students themselves.
Pegler said the school district needs to reach out to the community and get it involved in helping to solve the budget shortfall.
“The community has to gather around,” he said.
He would also like to see the school board lead and make policies that are in the best interest of the students.
Rigby said the biggest change he’d like to see is the board work together with the teachers in a cooperative fashion – without either side cutting down the other.
“The kids are watching,” he said, adding he would also like the district to move away from test-based teaching.
As for charter schools, all but one candidate voiced support for the alternative schools to varying degrees.
Candidate Harry Hall Jr. said he is “absolutely against” charter schools and questioned the need for them in Indian River County, explaining that they might be needed in other school districts that have problems with level educational fields.
Despite being against charters, Hall said he would not want to get rid of the charters already established in the district but would not want to expand them.
He later said during the debate that he does support the concept of charters.
Here’s how the rest of the candidates responded:
Barber: District needs more charter schools.
Disney-Brombach: Her family exercises choice – one student attends a traditional high school while another attends a charter.
Johnson: Alternative schools are needed for students. “One size does not fit all.”
Marini: So long as the charters are meeting the students’ needs – then support.”Bottom line, we’re here for the children.”
Keithahn: Has freshman at Sebastian River High School and a sixth grader at Imagine Schools at South Vero. “Every parent should have that choice.”
Pegler: School choice is good. “It’s phenomenal we have options.”
Rigby: Parents should have the option to choose to send their students to charters.”If the leg of your horse is broken, you get on another horse.”