On the campaign trail in Hillsborough: What did they say at Tiger Bay
Moderators at Friday's Tiger Bay Club forum for Hillsborough County School Board seats in District 1 and 5 said it was a shame they didn't get a higher turnout, as these are crucial races that will decide important issues for the school district. We can't turn back time and fill the room. But here are some longer quotes that did not fit in the Times' news story. Charter schools and the ongoing efficiency audit consumed much of the conversation.
Bill Person, District 1: "I'm from Detroit. Ten years ago, Detroit was the same size as we are. Now it's a shadow of itself."
Susan Valdes, District 1: "We have made some tremendous changes and we have to finish the work to benefit our children. We want for all of our kids to reach their dreams. I am not afraid to stand up and I think I have proven leadership to show that."
Joe Jordan-Robinson, District 5: "My campaign walks by faith and not by sight. A lot of people don't realize that I'm very passionate. This is the new Joe Robinson."
Lynette Tracee Judge, District 5: "I've seen some great things. I've also seen things that concern me."
Jacqueline Coffie Leeks, District 5: "I've seen the things that are adversely affecting the children in our district."
Tamara Patrice Shamburger, District 5: "I understand the issues of District 5. I understand the struggles of being a single parent. And that's why I've decided to run. We must challenge every student to manifest their excellence."
Tarance Delento LeNoir, District 5: "This is not about power speeches or political rhetoric. Let's start getting back to what we're supposed to be doing."
Valdes on contributions from the charter school operators: "I don't believe it's a conflict of interest. Number one, let's realize the law. The state of Florida has laws that we must abide by. Every year you're going to see bills on the floor of the House that are passing and as Constitutional officers, we have to abide by the law. As far as contributions, the way that I perceive this, if you look at my record voting on charter applications, you will find that I've voted for and against charter applications. And these donations which I'm most proud to receive, are, the way that I'm looking at it, testament of my leadership of being fair and being honest and open to listening to constituents, number one, and also, abiding by the law. So we've got to change the laws if that's the case. Tallahassee dictates to the School Board and the federal government dictates to the School Board certain aspects that we mist abide by."
Person's response to Valdes's response: "Legislators in Tallahassee wanted to put 9mm handguns in the hands of kids of campus. And if that became a law, I think people in this community would push back. Educators would push back. The president of USF would push back. So the fact that people want to do things in Tallahassee, my position after 35 years as an educator and candidate is, we have to push back."
LeNoir: "Let's make sure that every neighborhood has great schools because we've been operating in silos for too long when it comes to schools in specitic neighborhoods."
Shamburger on charters that spend state dollars on inflated leases instead of students: "Absolutely I would vote against the for-profit charter schools, wholeheartedly. I think that they altogether need to be eliminated. The problem we're having is what's called the Walmart-ization of charter schools, it's for-profi management companies, companies fleecing our taxayer dollars. I think charter schools are good for certain reasons and I support some charter schools. But overall I believe that we need to keep taxpayer dollars in our non-charter public schools. We need to make every public school a great school. Tampa is a world class city, and our public schools need to be the same. But parents should not have to rush to get their kids into a charter school when their neighborhood schools should be just as effective."
Leeks: "If it's not for the benefit of the student, then we don't need to say yes."
Judge: "Having worked at the district for 16 years, I have seen the effects of students that leave public schools to attend charter schools, then return to public schools. We actually have to look at what is the attraction of charter schools? If we take the best and brightest students from our public schools, it will decimiate the school system, espectially in District 5. So yes, I would vote down for-profit and not-for-profit schools."
Robinson: "First of all, you have to understand the law. Parents are looking for alternatives for their children. Charter school is an alternative. Virtual school is an alternative. Home-schooling is an alternatives. These are alternatives to a failing school system."
Valdes: "The law dictates what we must do. If we were to, let's say, deny an application that meets all of the criteria, that company, whether it's a for profit company or just a local 501-c that wants to open up a charter, and they fill out a correct application that meets the letter of the law and if the board were to deny it and they appeal it in Tallahasssee, most probably that will be overruled and then now we have to allow that charter to exist and what we're doing at that point is, we're building negative relationships in our own communities. Charter school is a choice. I believe in parents chosing the way of educating their children. No longer are we a private and public sector. It's changed. And we have to do eveyrthing we can to abide by the law, but by the same token hold our legislators accountable for what is happening down to the laws that they're passing that are going to affect us here locally."
Person: "I've been told by a supporter that it's a shell game. You get on that board and you fight back and you push back. That's what my supporters are telling me. If we have a well funded and a well functioning school district, there's very little need for charter schools. This school district has met the needs of this community for decades. I have no problem with charter schools. I have some real issues with for-profit. People making a profit off the public schools, off children. You know who is going to suffer badly are the exceptional education kids and the Title I kids.The kids that have no funds or money, they're going to suffer."
Judge: "As I've said, I've seen students that have left public schools and when they return, how delayed they are. Granted, there are some great charter schools but some are not. It's not comparing apples to apples, it's not even apples and oranges. Charter schools have the privilege of accepting only certain students. They have the privilege of withdrawing admission for inappropriate behavior. In public schools we have to take all students. But what we have to do is figure out is, what is attracting these parents to these charter schools? We are doing well. We could be doing better, especially in District 5. One of the things I would like to do is bring back true vocational training. Not sending kids to South County or adult centers, but having a true vocational track in traditional high schools."
Leeks: "The district needs to hold the charter schools accountable and there needs to be transparency. A parent should know before their child enrolls in that school what to expect."
Person: "It's called vetting. Let's take a real hard look at these applications and if they're not capable or not in a position to run the school, do we have the courage or are we objective to say no, I'm not going to approve it?"
LeNoir: "This does not happen in a vaccum. The schools in District 5 do not have the resources thet should have been getting for decades. We all talk about accountability, we all talk about transparency. If every community and neighborhood does not have great schools, we have to understand why."
Robinson: "There's been a lot of charter schools that have failed, including in this district. There's public schools that have failed. What are we going to do about those? We have F schools. We have schools like Potter Elementary, that's an Elevate school, floors are dirty, teachers don't want to work there. Would you want to go there? Or charter school or virtual school or home school for your child?"
Robinson on the Gibson report: "I like tough questions, I don't run. I go right at it. Having done plenty of audits in my career as an engineer and a businessman, one of the few businessmen running in this race, I've been a businessman for 30 something years, and in business everyone knows you need an audit to clean up graft, mismanagement and corruption. School district, and I've said this at plenty of School Board meetings, unlike the other candidates that very rarely attend school board meetings, they have operational mismanagement. What Gibson has come to do, this is just Phase I, there's two more phases to go, and they're finding opportunities for the district to evaluate if there's overspending, underspending, graft. Because remember, Bill Gates' foundation put us into this issue of all of this money being spent and no way to deal with it. So they're coming in and they're proposing. Nothing is in granite. There's two more phases to go. Let's wait and see and get all the information on the table and then make an intelligent decision about what needs to be done."
[Was it worth the money?]
"Absolutely. They'll save more money than they're paying."
Judge: "For the information we have in Phase I? Absolutely not. I'm not going to support anything that reduces classroom instruction. Instead of reducing classroom instruction, we need to increase classroom instruction."
Leeks: "Since I was not in on the decision to use that company, I cannot speak to whether I would use that company. But any audit should start at the top."
LeNoir: "If it's going to affect the classroom, I'm not going to vote for it. We should always hold the classroom harmless."
Valdes: "Let's remember, this school board has not laid off any employee, even when Wall Street did what it did and the other districts were cutting jobs."
LeNoir about the black-white achievement gap and the federal investigation: "There's no quick fix. We have for so long ignored kids in specific districts."
Leeks: "It starts with relationships. We have some of the highest turnover rates in teachers."
Robinson: "The problem is that 75 percent of the teachers are white. Race is an issue and race matters."
Valdes' closing statement: "I know my community and I know what's best for my community because I listen to my constituents."
Person: "I will push back."