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Use textbook funds for performance pay instead, Pasco School Board candidate Luikart says



luikart.jpgIn a time of tight budgets, several candidates for Pasco School Board have called for more flexibility with state funds for textbooks.

District 5 hopeful Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal, is among them.

"I don't think we need to buy a whole new set of textbooks every four years," Luikart said. "1 plus 1 is still 2."

He suggested that board members must push lawmakers to ease the textbook purchasing cycle regardless of the publishers' lobbying powers. And then with the savings, Luikart figured the Pasco school district could get ahead of the performance pay curve that's clearly coming from Tallahassee and Washington.

"I would like to see the district start its own incentive program, look into it before the state steps in and says, 'This is what you are going to do,' " Luikart said, observing that the veto of Senate Bill 6 last spring was but a small bump in the trend toward changing the way teachers are evaluated and paid.

Read on to learn more about where Luikart stands on the issues, through his responses to a St. Petersburg Times questionnaire.

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

Oppose, but do understand that the Legislature backed the School Board into a corner to be the fall guy either way. Don't pass it and have to find over 5 million to cut or pass it and be the bad guys. Either way, some very tough decisions concerning the budget are going to have to be made. We have to look at all areas and find the cuts we can make before we raise or add any tax.

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 feel we will see parts of SB 6 in a number of Bills within the year. I think there needs to be a more defined question/goal. There needs to be an identified outcome. If it's teacher evaluation, then lets identify those characteristics we want to evaluate, develop an accurate and fair scale, and the process of how it will be implemented. This must have all stakeholders involved and at the table. I feel it should be done at the local level. If we want to identify student learning gains, a similar process should take place. I must state that these are two separate issues and should be treated separately. I do understand that one has impact on the other, but should be treated separately. Performance pay, step increases, and any process that adds to salary has a multitude of variables attached to the process. I feel this is also a local issue and should be dealt with at the table with all stakeholders working for a common goal.

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 agree with class size, but I do think there should be a two to four student, by class, variance to accommodate new students, transfers, and drop/add students. We are already dealing with the October implementation of the class size amendment or be subject to some real hefty fines. Placing 250 teachers on short term contracts until after the public vote Nov 2, puts a lot of teachers and the District in a very uncomfortable situation. Reviewing the above answer is a start to the financial long term costs of the class size amendment.

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?

Until Charter Schools are held to the same standards as all public schools, test requirements, teacher certification, attendance requirements, pupil progression plan etc...public school tax dollars should stay with the public school system. In this case, I think it's comparing apples and oranges. I am for Charter Schools if they are held to the same accountability as all public schools.

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

The Superintendent has a tough job and I understand that. Tough and tight times are difficult at best. I feel the more knowledge, leadership and experience available the better. Strong leadership by the Board (all five) will help in developing district wide confidence in tough times.

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

My 32 years of experience in the Pasco County School District has given me an inside look at how the District works. Working as a school based Assistant Principal for the last 24 years of my employment with the District gives me a unique working insight from classroom to District Office . One goal is to build the District's focus on students and enhance educational opportunities for students. I understand the upcoming budget shortfalls and protecting the classroom has to be a top priority when reviewing cuts. I plan to be a proactive School Board Member. I feel my professional and educational background and experience will be a positive attribute to the Board. I have worked with 1,000's of students, 100's of parents, and 100's of teachers and staff. Bringing people together on common goals was a major part of being an Assistant Principal and I bring those skills with my experience.

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 current IB Programs, Honors classes, Advanced Placement courses are providing a current challenge at the secondary level. At the elementary and middle school level, more input from parents, possible student data and cost factors need to be reviewed before any direction can or should be taken.

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?

I would first look at all District Departments and their staff and budgets. Furloughs, contract days being shortened/cut would have to start with those positions that do not directly impact students. Cuts need to start as far away from the classroom as possible and impact students as little as possible. I would like to follow up on what can be done about text book costs and having to buy text books every four to five years for programs. Many districts are discussing ways to extend the time between buying new books, some districts have looked into doing away with text books. More data and possible alternatives need to be looked at.

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?

I think that education is a key to a lot of issues, this one included. Ideas are incentives to stimulate thinking. If someone thinks they are going to have to do more because of someone's idea, they seem to come up with their own ideas.
A student once asked the question, "Why don't you give parents a report card." Can you imagine the conversations that could take place and the ideas that could be discussed.
Just a thought: Imagine if we suggested giving parents a report card with their student. Base it on, do they return signed notes from the teacher, do they return phone calls related to their student, how is their student's attendance, extra points for open house, can they sign off that they spent up to three hours a week helping their student with school work? Does their student come to school prepared (have eaten something, clean, have necessary materials etc...) do they support their students extra curricular activities, and so on.

You want parents to come up with some ideas on their own and become involved. I am sure that the above would draw out a lot of ideas, critics, the good and the bad. But they will start a dialogue and come up with ideas. My first thought is the students report card will look a lot like their parents. But what a dialogue that could be.

[Last modified: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 11:30am]


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