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Class size changes critical to district success, Pasco School Board candidate Swartsel says



mark116px.jpgIf there's one single thing that needs doing to help Pasco schools, it's the passage of Amendment 8 scaling back Florida's class size amendment, District 5 candidate Mark Swartsel says.

"When the class size amendment passed, it sounded great. Everybody is for fewer students per teacher," Swartsel told the Gradebook. "But it was done at a time when nobody knew what was coming with the economy."

Now the state budget decline demands the changes lawmakers have proposed, allowing schools more flexibility in applying the rules and avoiding extra millions in costs, he said.

"I think that every single one of us needs to be out lobbying and promoting that initiative," Swartsel said.

Read more about Swartsel's views from his responses to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

Do you support or oppose levying an additional quarter-mill property tax this year?

Opposed, but……if after failing to find any other solution, that was the only answer and it was considered a temporary solution to offset the class-size amendment cost, it would be more palatable. However, while the overall economy is still in a recession, and so many people out of work, to do anything that impacts the general population’s checkbook, which can further impact our economic recovery, is irresponsible.

What is your opinion of Superintendent Heather Fiorentino's job performance?

As an outsider looking in, I cannot offer a fair and objective evaluation of that, so I have no opinion. I’m sure that I will develop one over the next four years, if elected, and hope that you will have the opportunity to ask me that question again in the future.
What specific ideas do you have on balancing the school district budget? Would you consider furloughing employees, cutting benefits, reducing salaries or other personnel cost reductions?

The current projected budget shortfall is $27-28M. Of that $11M is related to the class size amendment. I strongly believe that all of us must do everything possible to promote, lobby, and pray that the ballot initiative garners a 60% vote in November so that there can be some relief from that issue. I’ve already stated my position above regarding any cost cutting items that would negatively impact our children’s ability to achieve a quality education or our instructional personnel. Beyond that, no single possible way to cut the budget can be off the table. Every conceivable way possible must be examined. Every member of the school system must be involved in finding solutions and sought out for new ideas. A new team spirit must be created amongst all school personnel because we are truly all in this together.

What is your position on amending Constitutionally required class sizes? How do you propose to finance the long-term costs of the class-size amendment if voters choose not to alter it in November?

Position stated above. I have to believe that our current school administration has looked at every possible solution to try and minimize this impact. If not, shame on them. My questions to those answers will come if I am elected. If the initiative fails, we’ll have to deal with it into the future. Examining schools with potential surplus capacities that may have been created through recent construction, combined with shifting boundaries, may help. Considering recent declines in the estimates of student population growth, the population in general, and unknown future growth factors, I am anxious to learn more about the projections that were used in determining new school locations and necessities, and which of those projections are not proving out, and how this effects this issue. Giving incentives to students/parents to shift the focus to individual classes with excess capacity can help. In some cases, shifting population trends may create opportunities that we can take advantage of. Temporary classroom structures will have to be utilized in the short run, while consideration of permanent additions will have to be very closely looked at before committing to them due to the permanent nature of the operating cost increase that they will create. But underlying all else is the mantra that nothing can be off the table when expenses must be cut and there are no other choices.

Increased parental participation at schools is cited as a common need nearly universally. How would you propose to get parents more involved in their children's education?

Policy must be created to require more teacher/student/parent activities be created that bring a parent’s interest into play. The STAR program at Marlowe Elementary is generally well attended and Mr. Lane exhibits a personal interest in seeing that the program is successful. The star gazing nights and the homemade paper balloon launches (a science class project) at Gulf Middle were a lot of fun and great opportunities to bring parent involvement into the school. Creating “excuses” for meet-and-greet opportunities can be a great way to get parents involved in what is going on at their children’s schools and a lot of parents can be enlisted to help/volunteer to make them successful. Instructional personnel need to be enlisted to come up with new ideas for these fun events that can spill over into more parent involvement on an educational level. Creating fun programs/opportunities that take advantage of the home computer and require parent involvement may be another great way to accomplish this. I am a firm believer in the value of athletic programs. I personally have seen parents of kids that were in danger of “losing their way” getting more involved in their child’s sporting activities, and using the sports involvement as an incentive to better their grades or else. These programs, and many others not yet thought of, must be nurtured by caring teachers to make them successful.

Do you support or oppose the expansion of charter schools? What do you think is the appropriate role of charter schools in public education and what should be the benchmark for performance?

I am not opposed to the expansion of charter school, and neutral regarding expansion. The free enterprise system that this country was founded on allows the American spirit to find alternatives to traditional solutions and must be allowed, just as any other private schools are. Having stated that, it has proven harder than some thought to establish a successful charter school and the approval and oversight requirements in place are critical. Regarding the “benchmark” question, why should those benchmarks be different from the benchmarks established for public schools?

In light of Senate Bill 6 and the promise from legislators to seek a new version of it next year, should the district be moving toward changes in teacher pay/performance and developing end-of-year tests in each subject?

The idea of tying teacher pay to performance sounds great and the premise is indisputable – the better you perform the more you make (or you earn the right to keep teaching). It is a standard of the American free enterprise system. Now convince me that you have a fair set of standards or other measures to fairly judge a teacher’s performance and I’m all for that. But there is the problem and the challenge to implementing such a program. I won’t be in favor of it, or moving towards implementing it, until you convince me of that. Having stated that, I understand the current system of tenure and annual contracts. A talented and caring administrator is in a position to fairly evaluate a teacher’s performance, just as any person in a supervisory position is. Ultimately, a blend of those two measures – a supervisor’s evaluation combined with some fair measure of meeting or exceeding some form of standards, may be the best solution.

Would the school district and its students and families benefit from a magnet school approach to gifted education or one that has part-time programs at every school?

In today’s economic environment, a magnet school approach is not on the table, or even in the room (or the building). When I was the President of the Concourse Council, we explored establishing a magnet school on the property and looked at it in depth, but pulling it off just wasn’t possible. If a grant were obtained to fund the start-up of one, and the operational costs could be funded without impacting the entire system, I’d say lets go. But I don’t think that will happen anytime in the foreseeable future. Trying to implement parts of a magnet program within different schools is just not practical.

I believe in the IB program as it is now established, and believe that offering it in the schools where it is now offered is meeting the demand for the program at this time. I also know the level of commitment required for a student to be successful in the program, and the level of parental involvement required to make sure that they do, because my middle son started into the IB program last year and dropped out, with our permission, towards the end of the year. I also know a student who excelled in the program, graduated with over 4.2 weighted GPA, had multiple scholarship offers, and wishes she had not gone through the program because she feels she missed half of her high school experience, and questions whether it was worth it. It is a grueling program. So I think that the decision to enroll in it is a very personal one, and requires a very high level of commitment by both the student and the parents.

I strongly believe in advanced education classes being offered at all schools and the expansion of them as appropriate. Some students will excel in those courses that they have personal interest in, and may be inspired to seek higher levels of education in a chosen field as a result.

I feel very strongly that our school system must become more focused on improving our ability to utilize technology in the teaching of all courses that don’t now. I believe that many students that could excel and advance in certain areas at a more rapid pace are being held back by this deficiency. Our children are growing up in a world of technology not experienced by many of their parents, and can navigate through the world of the internet in ways that past generations couldn’t have dreamed of. Answers to any question that they can think of are available to them, and most of them know how to find them. Their curiosities are taking them to places many of us aren’t even aware of. Why aren't we doing a better job of harnessing this ability in our teaching system, and allowing them to expand their horizons a whatever pace they are capable of. I know…it’s a matter of money. But how about a matter of shifting our focus?

[Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 10:20am]


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