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Give parents more positive feedback, Pasco School Board candidate Brazier says

30

July

brazier.jpgToo often, parents only hear from school when their kids have done something wrong. Pasco School Board District 5 candidate George Brazier, a special education teacher, says if the school district is to get parents more involved in their kids' education, the board should encourage teachers to have more regular, positive interaction with parents.

"Parents usually get calls from their child's school when their child has done something inappropriate," Brazier said. "Schools could turn that around, make calls to let parents know about their child's successes, and foster parental involvement that way."

He also recommended the creation of Dad's Clubs with monthly meetings for fathers to get involved, and said he would set up regular meetings with parents as a board member to get their input and seek their ideas.

Read on for more of Brazier's positions, as he responded to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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?

Performance Pay is a concept that is not going to go away, and I feel that it would be a good idea for the District, USEP, and the employees of the school board to develop some sort of plan to implement a Performance Pay program. Of course, every aspect of the plan would have to be tentative and subject to change based on what the legislature would require the plan to cover.
With the incremental elimination of the FCAT test, I do think it would be in the best interest of the District to begin developing their end of year exams as well.

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

While I do not like raising taxes, especially in tough economic times, the state Legislature really has left the School Board no choice. The .25 mill increase is already factored into the money that the school district will be receiving from the state. If the School Board does not levy the additional .25 mill property tax increase, the district will be facing an even larger deficit in the budget.

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 currently opposed to the expansion of charter schools due to my experiences as a parent of two former charter school students. While they do provide some parents with an alternative to schools where their child may be having difficulties, they have not proven as a whole to be better than our public schools. As for accountability, I think that any school that receives money from public school funding sources, whether charter or private, should be required to meet the same standards and benchmarks that public schools have to meet.

Describe why voters should consider you for this office and what you hope to accomplish:

Voters should consider me for the Pasco County School Board because, unlike most of the other candidates running for school board, my business IS education. As a matter of fact, education is my family business. I am currently a teacher, my wife is a District supervisor, and all 4 of our children are Pasco County public school students. I am 110% dedicated to seeing that our school district is putting students first and providing them with the best education possible - both as a parent and an employee!

I want to work with employees, administrators, and the District Office to eliminate the "Us versus Them" atmosphere that exists. As long as this occurs, we cannot truly say we are putting students first. I would like to have school board meetings televised on a public access channel so that more stakeholders can be kept informed about what is happenning within the school district. I want to review the District's vendor selection process to ensure that we are maximizing every dollar we spend and we are not wasting money.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to make sure that we do everything possible in order to save jobs. Every job lost hurts our students, whether it be a School Related Personnel position, teaching position, or administrative position. Saving jobs has got to be a top priority!

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?

When balancing the school district budget, I do believe we have to look at it and say that nothing is off of the table. However, I think we need to prioritize how we look at everything on the table and, if cutbacks are necessary, start with areas that do not directly affect the classroom.

I would like to first take a look at the District's vendor selection process. We have to buy classroom supplies through approved vendors, which is not always cost effective. For instance, I had a colleague that was looking to buy a colored ink cartridge for a laser printer in her art class. The cartridge she needed was $188 through our approved vendor, and $78 through another source. That's $110 we're throwing away on a single purchase! I believe there may be a great deal of money we could save by looking at our vendor contracts.

I am not in favor of reducing salaries. Many of our employees have a difficult time getting by on what they make as it is, and they haven't had step increases going on three years now. I would, however, consider a reduction in supplements, both academic and athletic.
As for benefits, I would consider having employees pay a percentage of their benefits. However, this would have to be done on a sliding scale of sorts, since our SRPs don't make as much money as our instructional and administrative personnel. It wouldn't be fair to ask an SRP who makes $7.50 an hour to contribute the same amount towards his/her benefits that a teacher making $25 an hour would contribute. Again, this would have to be worked out so as not to put a potentially devastating financial burden on our employees.

I think we have to consider furloughing employees. This could be done without interfering with an instructional day and would not affect our students' class time. Also, I don't think we should furlough our SRPs since they do not generally work as many days as instructional and administrative personnel, nor do they make nearly as much money. The bottom line when balancing the school district budget has got to be making sure that our students academic needs are met, and that we save as many jobs as possible. Of course, the state could fund education the way it should be funded and make most of this discussion a moot point!

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?

I support the class size amendment the way it is written now. Any teacher will tell you that you can accomplish more with your students with lower numbers in your classes. Also, the amendment as it is written now calls for the Legislature to pay for the reduction in class sizes, not the school districts. Has this happened? I’m not sure at this point. Now, on the other hand if the flexibility provided to schools through the proposed changes to the amendment will truly save jobs, I have to support that. Saving jobs has got to be a priority. Financing the long-term costs associated with this amendment should be provided for by the state! It's time that our legislators put their money where their mouths are and fund education the way it should be funded, not just say that "education is important to them" then cut our budgets!

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?

To begin with, I would organize a monthly breakfast or luncheon for parents in order to get them more involved in their children's education. During these programs, the school could discuss a featured program that it may offer to its students. I would also propose creating some kind of reward program for parent volunteers that goes beyond your typical certificate and thank you.

For the fathers, I would propose establishing a dad's club and holding monthly meetings at the school. The schools could also host father/student events such as a breakfast or lunch. I know some schools have these clubs now and they are very successful and have done a lot for getting parents involved in their children's education.

Another thing I would propose would be to make contact with a student's parent(s) in order to give them positive feedback. Parents usually get calls from their child's school when their child has done something inappropriate. Schools could turn that around, make calls to let parents know about their child's successes, and foster parental involvement that way.

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?

I think the magnet school approach that we use now is the best way to approach gifted education. I think that gifted students really benefit from being able to participate in the program full-time. I don't think that a part-time program would provide the experiences that these students need in order to take advantage of their full potential.

I think the school district also benefits from the magnet school approach because we only need to hire gifted teachers to work at a few schools as opposed to hiring gifted teachers at every school. Furthermore, if we had part-time programs, then our gifted teachers wouldn't even be utilizing the training they went through in order to get their gifted certification (for a full school day) - they wouldn't be doing what they were trained to do.

I think our gifted students deserve to participate in a gifted program 5 days a week as opposed to 2.5 days a week.

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

I think there is definitely room for improvement. As far as the financial/budgetary part of it goes, it is what it is. You can only do so much with what you are given, and I think any superintendent would find it difficult to work with what the state is doling out to districts for their budgets. Now, is there more money sitting somewhere or areas we could cut at the district level that we could use to help balance our budget? Many would say 'yes". Are we being leveled with, so to speak, when it comes to information coming out of district office? Many would say "no". Any way you look at it, I think all of these issues could be dealt with if those of us in the field felt as if we really had open and honest communication with the superintendent.

However, when policies are put in place that require school district employees who want to contact their school board representative to go through the superintendent first or notify the superintendent of one's intention to run for public office upon qualification, one does not get the sense of open and honest communication. One instead gets a feeling of censorship and control. Add to that that some messages from the superintendent to employees end with the phrase - and I paraphrase - "Please feel free to contact me, but remember to keep it professional," and you can see that there is definitely room for improvement in this area. This communication problem damages employee morale, and poor employee morale does not promote a positive work environment, which in turn can effect a student's learning environment. Again, a policy of truly open communication can help mend employee morale, which I think is one of the biggest issues facing Superintendent Fiorentino right now.

[Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 11:43am]

    

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