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Outsider perspective needed, Pasco School Board candidate Ryan says



ryan.JPGWhile so many candidates for Pasco County School Board are touting their longtime connections to the community, District 3 hopeful Mike Ryan is playing up his role as a relative newcomer. Ryan grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Pasco in the 1990s.

"I haven't grown up in the system," Ryan told the Gradebook. "I'm not always going to think the way everybody else thinks. It's good to have someone from a fresh perspective. Our backs are against the wall. We have to think differently. We have to stop doing things just because we have always done them."

Ryan has suggested the district look into privatizing services if the switch makes financial sense. A former member of the Dayspring Academy charter school board of directors, Ryan also is a strong supporter of the options that charter schools provide.

Read on to learn more about Ryan's responses to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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 don't mind a magnet school if the District is not burdened with having to provide transportation for every student. Specialized programs are alway good opportunities to introduce requirements for parental involvement.

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?

Everything needs to be put on the table. We need to look at all our contracts, how we are spending our resources. We cannot do things the way we have always done them. Specifically, we can save on energy by turning up the thermostat a couple of degrees. I want to identify every unfunded state mandate and work with our legislators to change ones that are not the most sensible and do away with any outdated ones. Expenses like those for textbooks need to be looked at. Why should we be forced to purchase new textbooks after a certain amount of years? We need to look at staffing. If someone is retiring at a support service employee, why not 2 part time people to replace instead of one full time? Partnerships with the private sector can provide some of the answers. There are management companies that provide a variety of service including preventive maintenance systems for schools. Also with scheduling, employee training and work processes. We need to find all the efficiencies we can. There are companies who are saving hundreds of thousands of $ for schools by outsourcing printing and copy needs.

I think furloughing employees can work and it should go to ALL, including the very top of administration. I would support this as a last resort and before we did any layoffs. Protecting the classroom is the number one priority and putting more on the teachers is not the answer.

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 and agree with amending the constitution in regard to class size as is currently proposed. Averaging with other classes not at capacity provides much needed flexibility. I am confident that voters will go along with the amendment changes proposed. All educators and legislators must get the word out and educate the electorate so the right decision is made.

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?

Increased parental involvement along with increasing volunteers in the schools is critical for the success of our students. There are a number of things we can do.
--. any gifted or special program can require parental involvement to keep a student in the program. Even if it is 10 volunteer hours per semester. We can put them to work in a number of different ways.
--we can do "Planner Nights" for projects where parents can get together with other parents and teachers to discuss various projects the student is responsible for. They can also see some of the work from prior years as well as clarify instructions and gather materials.
--Do various brown bag "chats" over lunch. Just to get them in the school.
-- "Take your family to school week".
--- Fundraising projects. Elementary schools can have a class Mom and can put on a community fair and each class can be responsible for a themed gift basket to auction.
--- I have a boat and in a gift basket I donated take your kid fishing for a day on the boat.
-- How about promote family reading nights? These are done at home.
-- Family fitness nights.
-- Also, a marketing program of some kind emphasizing the importance of their involvement and asking for simple sign ups at orientation meetings.

I also believe we can do SO much better recruiting volunteers but we can talk about that too.

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

Being a fiscal conservative, I do not support additional taxes unless I am convinced we have exhausted our resources in finding efficiencies. Given the financial environment in our County today with unemployment upward of 14% and many hanging on to their jobs by a thread. Many people in the private sector have been getting by on significantly less and one more tax could be the difference of someone paying their bills that month or even their mortgage. Still, the state put Pasco in a difficult place by including .25 mil in their revenue numbers while we are falling short of funds already. I am expecting the .25 mil increase to have enough support to pass.

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?

Charter schools are part of the school choice program and to me, represent an experiment in education. There are things that they are doing that work and can be observed and applied to public education. For many people, they represent a viable and important alternative to public education. I don't think there should be any expansion over the current system and I think there should be continued scrutiny and accoutability with Charter Schools. The schools that are doing well can be a bench mark for other schools. The schools should be held accoutable to their purpose, theme and also their comparative test scores.

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?

I think that the district should be in discussion with our legislators on this topic an fully know and understand what direction the State is going to go and what angle the state may go in reintroducing a new bill. 2 of the main education legislators are in Pasco County which is great for us. We need to closely scrutinize what Hillsborough County is doing with the Gates Foundation grant to look at what they are doing and what is working. Involving principals, teachers and the union on these talks is also important.

I think that the current proposals concerning end of cours exams are a good idea in replacing the FCAT. Careful attention to cost needs to be considered and stepping in the program gradually is best. Budgetary concerns are of vital importance.

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

We can always do better but I think that Pasco County Schools have grown and answered the call with budgetary concerns over the last several years. I am looking forward to working with her and her staff. I represent a different perspective for her since I have never worked with her before in any way whatsoever. Since I have never come up through the system, I can think outside the box and come from a different side of the issues we are beign faced with. Every board needs checks and balances.

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

I am a businessman who has made his living in Pasco for 18 years and want to make a difference on the next generation of leaders and strengthen Pasco County Schools. I also believe that in the face of a potential $28m budget shortfall, Pasco schools need someone with business experience and financial sensibility to ensure that our schools rise above present circumstances. My track record shows that I know what it takes to succeed despite cut backs and can be trusted to make the most sensible financial decisions.

[Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 6:32pm]


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