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Pasco schools need appointed superintendent, School Board candidate Kanakis says



PT_315069_HO_paskanaki.JPGPasco County has the nation's largest school district with an elected superintendent. District 4 School Board candidate Steve Kanakis suggests that needs to change.

"There is more conflict between the board and superintendent than there needs to be because Heather Fiorentino probably has more power than is ideal," Kanakis told the Gradebook.

The superintendent has no incentive to work on issues that the board seeks to implement if she does not agree, he said.

"It's a weird paradigm. You don't have any power over someone who is elected. She could literally snub her nose at the elected board," Kanakis said. "It's detrimental to the school system becoming great."

Read on for more of Kanakis' views from his responses to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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?

There is no research available that indicates that charter schools are any more effective than public schools in achieving superior student achievement levels. Monies provided to these schools reduce the resources avaiable in our public schools and relegate the Board of Education to being "contract administrators" rather than innovators in creating quality education programs. If charter schools continue to exist, they must be held to the same standards as the public schools (e.g., standardized testing).

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 disagree with the magnet school approach to gifted education. Such an approach removes students from their community, expected surroundings, and friends. It is an elitist approach and not successful for many students.

I believe that every child has a gift or talent, if only an undiscovered one. As educators, our job is to discover that talent/gift in each child and encourage its' development. Coordination of gifted education at the local school level allows identified children to remain in the home school, with their peers, while providing them and their parents with significant advancement and enrichment opportunities. A school-based program is not elitist, but simply highly encouraging and more successful.

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?

Certainly, legislation like Senate Bill 6 with many striking similarities to Race to the Top and private intitiatives (e.g., Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grants), call on our school districts to make changes in teacher/pay performance programs based upon teacher effectiveness. I am absolutely supportive of Performance Pay for teachers, as good teachers should be rewarded for the challenging work they accomplish each and every day. However, I do not support any system that puts undue emphasis on student test scores; instead, I support a system that uses equal parts: student evaluations (i.e., learning gains based), degrees earned and further education achieved by the teacher, and the results of peer/supervisor review. I did not support Senate Bill 6; I was extremely pleased that Governor Crist vetoed it.

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

The Pasco County School District is a business, in fact, a business that is the largest employer in Pasco County. It is made up of many different people, one of which, is Heather Fiorentino who I do not know personally or professionally. I come to you, from out of the proverbial woodwork, as an agent of change. I believe that Pasco County Schools do many things right, but there is always room for improvement. I hope to be that agent of change for the people who comprise the Distrist 4 area of Pasco County as well as Pasco County as a whole.

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 business of education is children; the means to achieving wonderful opportunities for children involves teachers. All else is secondary.

The budget is positively impacted by careful spending, in all areas, but particularly in the area of highest spending - personnel. Class sizes must be carefully established and strictly maintained throughout the year; staffing in core academic and other required areas must remain the primary focus.

I am a vocal supporter of teachers and school support staff. THEY are the reason why our schools are ones of quality. THEY are the reason our graduates achieve as they do. At the same time however, responsibility for a balanced budget is a shared one. The good faith collective bargaining process between the United School Employees of Pasco and the Board of Education is the proper vehicle for staff participation, understanding, and agreement.

Our schools are not immune to the state's financial crisis. Salary freezes, furloughs, and hiring freezes are commonplace throughout both the public and private sectors. If necessary, and as the plan of last resort, I would be supportive of such cost saving plans of action leading to a balanced budget.

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 can neither support or oppose these legislative mandates, as I do not have enough information. The intent of the legislature and the voters of Florida was clear: Reduce class size because this has been proven to improve student learning gains. It appears that this ideologically pure concept has met with the realities of a strained budget. In short, where is the money needed to hire 6700 new teachers statewide going to come from? Therefore, the legislature now wishes to create an amendment to be voted on this election cycle that would change the classroom measurement system from classroom counts to school-wide averaging. The question that needs to be answered currently is: For how long and by how much can a particular classroom be out of compliance of the strict new regulation? In other words, if a Kindergarten classroom has 19 students, for how long can that student be included in the classroom without falling out of compliance? If the answer is zero days, then clearly the proposed amendment must pass. If the answer is in months or school years, the current constitutional language is sufficient to not create any undue burden on students, parents, or teaching professionals.

From an employee-employer perspective, is it fair to hire 6700 new teachers to meet the current constitutional language and then lay off those same 6700 teachers when the classroom measurement system is changed to school-wide averaging?
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?

The phrase "Parents as Partners" has been heard for many years. However, in a time of financial crisis, the phrase takes on new meaning with interested parents offering needed support services, during a hiring freeze.

For parents to become involved, parents need to feel wanted - wanted by the board, by the administration, and wanted in their children's schools. Active recruitment of parents to complete meaningful activities on a convenient schedule for th parent are key factors in the district-wide success of such a program.

Parents need to feel that they have a voice, both from the administration and from the teacher. I would suggest that a good starting point is a survey of parents - what is their level of interest, what are barriers to their volunteerism, etc.? The next logical step is the involvement of teachers - what is the perception of an expanded parent role? What is the comfort level of teachers? Finally, and if accepted, the parent-teacher conference is an excellent opportunity to broker an active school role for interested parents.

Parents are each child's first teacher. An expanded teacher-parent partnership is a natural extension of the school community.

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

I support the additional quarter-mill property tax this year. Unfortunately, this money was already built in to county school budgets by the state. Not imposing the quarter-mill tax increase would provide Pasco County with a $5.6 million dollar short fall in addition to the $28 million that we are already short. Forty-four local school boards in the state have already levied this tax. I do not believe that we can afford to not levy this tax.

[Last modified: Monday, August 2, 2010 10:05am]


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