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Let the community decide on taxes, Pasco School Board candidate Armstrong says



armstrong.JPGPasco School Board candidate Cynthia Armstrong was not among those supporting the board's decision to increase the local property tax rate by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Without clear public backing, she said, the board should not impose such a tax.

"I think it should definitely go on the ballot," Armstrong told the Gradebook. "By having it on the ballot, that will give the School Board a real clear indication of what the public wants -- more money or cut services. ... I would hope they would tell us to do it next year."

Armstrong, a Realtor, is not a proponent of property taxes to fund public education. She proposes working with Florida lawmakers to change the funding source.

"The property tax system is broken, unreliable and unfair," Armstrong said. "If we continue to use it, we're going to continue to run into problems. The funding for schools shouldn't rely on property values going up and down. The best alternative is a sales tax. ... It does fluctuate, but I feel it's more stable than the values of homes."

To learn more about Armstrong's views, continue on to see her responses to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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

I do not support levying an additional quarter-mill property tax this year. It is a short-term fix to a budget problem that is only going to get worse since we will be losing the federal stimulus money next year. The additional quarter-mill tax would need to be passed by the voters next year in order to stay in place and I do not see support for additional property taxes at this time. We need to address the budget problem now and start planning for the future.

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 believe in the effectiveness of smaller classes. I have experienced first hand the difference a smaller class size has on student learning and teacher instruction. I also know when we passed the class size amendment we could not foresee the difficulty and expense in implementing the amendment as written in the current economic conditions. Using school average for implementation will keep the spirit of the amendment alive and also to give the local school boards the flexibility they need to meet the needs of the students. Inflexible class requirements should not disrupt an entire grade when one more student transfers into a school or prevent one more student from taking a subject in high school which they feel is important to their education.

If the voters choose not to pass Amendment 8, I would have to consider it a mandate that the people want to raise taxes to pay for the cost. If that happens I would be for increasing taxes to pay for implementing the original class size amendment.

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?

Basically you can divide parents into several categories. First you have the parents who are actively involved in the children’s education and make sure their children understand the value of working hard at school. Second you have parents who believe the above but do not know how to get involved with their children’s education. Thirdly you have some parents who just don’t care.

We have mentoring programs for the unfortunate children who have the parents who just do not care. I believe we should have a parent to parent mentoring program or support group approach to help the parents who care but need help.

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 oppose the expansion of charter schools. I do like the fact they have oversight from the school system but feel the time and money spent on the oversight would be better spent on the public schools. The benchmark for performance should be the same or higher than that of public schools if they are going to fulfill the reason they were allowed to be created. While some charter schools may offer a quality education I feel many of them started by companies do not have quality education as their priority. If the effort spent on charter schools were directed at improving public schools all our students would benefit.

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?

At this time a new version of Senate Bill 6 will be an unfunded mandate passed down to the school boards to implement. That will change if Florida receives the federal Race To The Top grant. The district does need to be aware of the possibility the legislation will pass and needs to look at what will be needed to implement it. The actual development of end-of-year tests will be expensive. Developing the tests should be delayed until required except for the tests that will be needed for implementation of SB 4 which did pass.

It is my understanding that the end of course tests are being developed by the same company that currently handles the FCAT. It concerns me that the educators teaching the courses do not have more involvement in developing the tests. Why give a multimillion dollar contract to an out-of-state company when we could and should use local resources.

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?

The education students receive should always challenge and make use of all their abilities so they can reach their full potential. A part-time program will not provide that challenge in all aspects of their education. A magnet school approach may be needed if there are not enough gifted students in each school to support a full time program in each school.

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

I feel she has done an excellent job handling the budget crisis and in anticipating the legislation and budget that is passed in Tallahassee. I do see a problem with her acquiring the respect and support of the teachers. With the budget crisis and all of the proposed changes to the educational process I do feel it will be important that the teachers trust and respect her and feel they have a say in how the changes will be implemented if we are going to be successful.

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

I have long desired to seek a seat on the Pasco County School Board but this year I felt the need was great and the timing was right. I have classroom experience in Pasco County Schools, a master's degree in education, leadership experience, governmental experience and local business experience. I believe my background will make me one of the most qualified to serve the citizens, the school system, the educators and students of Pasco County.

Education in Pasco County and in Florida is at a crossroads. School board members here will have the chance to help chart a new course as we seek to increase relevance and improve our student’s ability to excel in the ever-changing global economy and market place. I believe we are up to the challenge and I am excited at the opportunity to be a part of these changes. I have never been afraid of change and now is not a time to take chances with our schools.

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 a budget you have to decide what your most important goal is and what you must have to reach that goal. In the school system providing a quality academic education is the first priority. By keeping that goal in mind you have a benchmark to decide what should or should not be cut. Obviously sacrifices are going to have to be made and it will be impossible to make everyone happy. First items to be cut should be the items that do not affect the students, second should be items may affect the students but do not directly impact their academic education. The last items to be cut or affected would be the personnel who have direct contact with the students.

All expenses need to be examined with a creative problem solving approach with the goal that each one can be reduced. For example more efficient use of existing technology can reduce paper costs. Technology in the form of e-readers may be the answer to reducing textbook costs. Contracts for supplies need to be examined with the goal of allowing flexibility to get supplies from different sources not on the Florida bid list as prices fluctuate. Many, many small savings can add up.

Long term we do need to look at alternate funding sources for the schools. I have extensive experience lobbying in my current industry in both Tallahasse and Washington so I understand the complexity in finding an alternate funding source but it can and must be done. School funding should not be based so extensively on an unstable revenue source such as property tax. In Pasco County we have way too many homeowners who pay little to no property tax. I would work with the legislature to shift much of this burden from property to use (sales) tax. This would generate a larger and more stable and fair revenue stream for our schools.

Teacher and parent input in the budget process are crucial in helping board members prioritize budget cuts. As we have learned in adjusting our business and personal budgets making sacrifices is tough but ultimately can be rewarding as we learn we can persevere and still reach our goals.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 29, 2010 3:51pm]


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