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Schools must ensure equality for all, Pasco School Board candidate Tracy says



tracy.JPGSchools need to offer more student equality, regardless of political, religious or other backgrounds, Pasco School Board District 4 candidate John Tracy says.

"I shouldn't feel like because I'm from a different religion or a different race that I'm going to be treated differently," said Tracy, a Baptist pastor who heads the county Faith and Family Values Republican Club.

That means all groups should have access to the schools and the ability to speak freely, so long as they follow the established school rules, he said.

"Students should be able to be what they are," Tracy said, adding that groups or individuals should not be allowed to proselytize. "It should be neutral ground."

Read on for Tracy's views on other issues from his response to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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 School Budget is the largest budget in the entire county. It’s over a billion dollars. The Pasco School Board has been working most of this year to cut the current budget anywhere from 20 -50 million dollars based on the projected funding shortfall for 2011. A lot of cuts have to be made to balance that budget. What will get cut? They are still trying to sort that out. A lot of things are on the table, including reducing teaching staff, cutting salaries, eliminating insurance benefits, and eliminating certain programs like driver’s ed., art and music programs, or middle school sports. They are also considering a .25 property tax millage increase.

I’m the owner of two small businesses and to keep those businesses running, I know a lot about living on a tight budget…personally and in business. I also know that sometimes things happen financially that you could not have anticipated and hard decisions have to be made as a result. Who doesn’t know what it is like to get stuck in a “bad deal” and have to make the best of a bad situation? I’ve been there, and that is where our county is right now!

I believe that in these economic times serious action must take place. We must get creative in how we cut spending, and also how we generate additional income.

It is true that everything has to be on table when deciding what cuts have to be made to get the budget balanced. There is no way around cutting the budget.

Having said that, I am also opposed to a knee jerk reaction to cut areas that will result in an inferior education and standard of excellence for our schools. We should do everything in our power to avoid cutting the classroom.

In addition to the proposed budget cuts, I believe that we must also look for areas for more subtle savings. For example, I am for investigating the possibility of cutting costs by privatizing as many auxiliary services as possible. I believe that things always work better and are more cost effective in the free market.

Further, how about getting creative with additional revenue sources?

I am for selling advertising spots on our scoreboards, in our concert programs, and virtually any other outlet that we can think of. There are a number of counties across the U.S. that sell advertising spots on the sides of the school buses. The buses function as 36 feet long billboards. That could be a significant source of additional revenue. Certainly we need to be going after every grant possible. What a difference it would have made for Pasco County to receive the grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as did our neighbor to the south (Hillsborough County).

What I am saying is this: Indeed, all options must be on the table. The budget must be balanced, and we should do our best to maintain the quality of education as well as the extracurricular activities that are currently available to our kids.

Every businessperson knows that when the budget won’t balance there is more than one option. Cutting isn’t the only thing you look at. You also figure out how to make more money. That seems like common sense to me.

To specifically address the question of salaries and benefits for our teachers, let me say that I was disheartened to hear that Florida continues to fall behind the majority of the states in average teacher salaries. We should do everything that we can to make our salary and benefits packages competitive on the national level. We want the best teachers to come to Pasco County. The budget is going to be the single biggest task that the school board will have to tackle and some tough decisions will have to be made in order to balance it, but we must do what we can to protect teacher wages.

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

I am not for raising taxes in this economic environment.

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?

Magnet School approach.

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 am in favor of “amending the amendment.” What sounded like a good idea years ago is going to have horrible financial repercussions if it goes into effect this year. We simply cannot afford it. If voters choose not to alter it, our financial situation will be even that more bleak and the board will be in the difficult position of again finding ways to cut the budget and increase spending.

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 school system must work hand in hand with parents and families. This is certainly an area where my experience with families and young people is far superior to most of my competition. I’ve dedicated my life to serving families. I’ve been on the staff of two local churches. I’ve been a staff counselor for young people for three different summer teen camps. I have heart to help and support the family. Most of the social, behavioral, academic, and other problems that we struggle with in our schools are directly rooted in problems at home. I am a firm believer that we cannot fault the schools for problems at home. We can do much more to provide training, help, and resources for parents and families. If our families fail, the schools will not be far behind.

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 support charter schools. A competitive environment produces a better product. The District should not be afraid of competition. A competitive environment should just cause us to work harder to be the best. The job of the school board is to work hard to make sure that the public schools do indeed offer the best education available for the families of the county. We do not need to eliminate the competition, we just need to be better than the competition.

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 if there is a way to fairly compensate teachers for their performance, that is a good thing. Any person who knows that a higher salary is attainable by doing better work will have built in motivation to excel. Having said that, I do not support the type of performance pay that was recently seen with the SB6 Bill where test scores are the sole criteria for determining “a good teacher.” For performance pay to work, it must be based more fairly on administrator and peer evaluation, not only on test scores. There are so many different factors that play into what makes a great teacher. I am for accountability, and I am for offering incentives to reward good teachers for doing work that is above and beyond. Some examples of possible incentives include: rewarding teachers who receive accreditation from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, consistently receive outstanding evaluations by their principals, and specialize in hard-to-fill subjects such as science or mathematics. Again, I do not believe that student test scores should be the only consideration to determine teacher performance pay. Should it be considered at all? Of course. Are there a number of other things to be considered too? Absolutely.

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

I do not know Superintendent Fiorentino personally. Like most people who are in the public eye, there are decisions that she has made that I agree with and some that I do not agree with. Having said that, there is nothing of particular note that she has done that I would go on record to oppose.

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

My goal as your District 4 Pasco County School Board Member is to be a man of integrity and honesty who works hard for families. There is a rich heritage of excellence in our Pasco County Schools but there is also much room for improvement. My goal is to focus on school safety, student equality, fiscal responsibility, family values. I believe in smaller government, fewer taxes, and basic freedoms. By working together we can continue to provide the kind of quality education for the next generation that has always fueled the American spirit. I promise to work hard, listen to the students, parents, and families of Pasco, be a team player with my fellow board members, and represent conservative families. Will you stand with me for family values in Pasco County?

[Last modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 11:22am]


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