School board candidates agree on several points, including opposing tax hike

VERO BEACH — District 5 School Board candidates Althea McKenzie, Jeff Pegler and Kimberly Keithahn met at a public forum Monday night and covered a variety of subjects including voicing their opposition to raising the millage rate to help cover a budget shortfall.

Speaking at the Vero Beach Heritage Center at the invitation of the Indian River County Education Association, the three candidates all said they were not in favor of the school board’s Nov. 2 referendum to raise the millage rate 25 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value.

McKenzie said it was her understanding that much of the money would not be directed for use in the classroom and instead would be used for capital projects in the building fund.

“What I would do if I could is I would go back and do a forensic audit to try to understand why we are one of the best funded school districts and yet we have had to cut teachers,” she said.

Keithahn said she, too, was opposed to raising taxes saying everyone needed to tighten their belts and the school district was no different.

“Our entire community is suffering right now,” she said. “Raising taxes is not a good solution.”

Keithahn added that her emphasis would be on getting funding into classrooms as a first priority and then consider cuts from the top down.

Pegler stressed that the School Board needed to begin to plan longterm in the likely scenario that the budgets they would be given to work with will contain fewer dollars.

“I don’t agree on raising taxes for a short-term solution,” he said. “But we have to look at it as a school board and say long term how are we going to fix these problems without raising taxes.”

The candidates also agreed that being a member of the school board would require close to 40 hours and that they would consider cutting their salary of about $30,000 a year as a way to reduce costs.

McKenzie did say that based on the amount of hours she estimated she would need to put into the job the pay came out to about $10 or $15 an hour.

They also agreed that the school district needed to come up with a way to fund the arts and sports – two areas that often come under the budget axe when money is scarce.

Pegler said the school district needed to start looking at private-public partnerships as a possible way to help fund those activities.

McKenzie is running as a write-in candidate after her petition drive for the primary fell 13 signatures short of the requirement.

Pegler won the most votes in the Aug. 24 primary, but because he did not get over 50 percent of the ballots cast — he finished with 48 percent — he had to stand for election again on Nov. 2.

Keithahn finished second with 29 percent of the vote in the Aug. 24 primary.

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Early voting has gotten underway. Before heading to the Supervisor of Elections Office, the Main Library, or the Historic Sebastian School to cast your ballot before Nov. 2, check out VeroNews.com’s Elections 2010 Section.

There you will find profiles and questionnaires for each of the three School Board candidates addressing the county’s educational issues.

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