NEW PORT RICHEY — Candidates Alison Crumbley and Karen King don't like to talk about each other as they campaign for the vacant Pasco School Board District 4 seat. They prefer to tout their own resumes and positions.
"I'm not going to compare myself to Alison," said King, 60, who placed second in the August primary to secure a spot on the Nov. 2 ballot. "I can just give you what I bring to the table."
But each hopeful also acknowledges the need to distinguish herself in order to win voters' support.
"I eat, sleep and dream it now," said Crumbley, 52, who led the five-person primary.
They differ in several key areas.
On evaluating teachers, for instance, Crumbley does not support the use of student classroom performance as the primary measure of a teacher's effectiveness. King, on the other hand, says she can't think of a better standard.
King contends that vouchers strengthen public schools by giving families choices, while Crumbley argues that they take too much money out of the system.
Crumbley backs some forms of new taxes, such as a three-year 1 percent sales tax, to bolster education funding. King, by contrast, opposes additional taxes as too onerous in difficult economic times.
The taxing question looms large over the Pasco school district, which is asking voters to allow the board to impose a "critical needs" property tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in each of the next two years. Outgoing District 4 board member Kathryn Starkey was the only board member to oppose the tax for the current fiscal year.
The two candidates don't disagree on everything. They see eye to eye on the need to move to performance pay for teachers and to relax the state's class size rules, and they share their opposition to lawmaker proposals that school districts must set a specific percentage of their funding aside for classroom spending only.
For the most part, though, the two women have different priorities in mind as they seek election to the School Board.
King focuses much of her campaign on bringing the schools and the community closer together.
"We have to get back to positive things," she said. "I'm trying to get people to come and work together."
King suggested, for instance, about getting more people living in assisted living centers to volunteer in schools. Their help could alleviate overworked teachers of some of their burden, perhaps improving morale, King said.
She also spoke about the need to get more collaboration between the schools and local businesses and civic organizations. The United Way, for instance, could bring its computer printer donation program to Title I schools.
King said she was working with a group to collect used musical instruments for students who cannot afford them but want to play in a school band or orchestra. Maybe businesses can donate more school supplies to children so teachers don't feel so compelled to spend their own money on the items, she added.
"When you have buy-in, everybody gets committed, at whatever level it is," King said.
She figured on using the School Board as a bully pulpit to help build these relationships.
King also has talked about the need to get more local companies contracts with the school district, adding that the district should not always do business only with the lowest bidder. She said she would like to donate her board salary back to the district so it can pay for an additional teacher.
Crumbley said that the school district's ties to parents and the community are critical. She suggested much of that relationship building already is occurring through booster clubs, business partnerships, school advisory committees and the like.
But the School Board needs a member to pay attention to many other things, Crumbley said. That will require listening to employees, students and administrators, as well as parents and others, to find out what is working and what isn't, she said.
"I want to hear what areas they feel like money could be saved," Crumbley said. "You really need to worry about the level of the schools, where it is all really happening."
She expressed strong support for improving the district's existing career academies and for adding more of them to the high schools. Along with that, Crumbley said, the district needs to improve the image of career programs so people don't think of them as the vocational education of the past.
As the state's academic standards continue to increase, Crumbley said, the schools should create more supports for students who struggle. She said children in upper grades can't suddenly be expected to sail through higher-order course work without the proper foundation, and the district must avoid increasing its dropout rate, which has improved over time.
"We have to find and supply some type of tutoring," Crumbley said. "I want us to be prepared for that."
King said she would continue to work as sales director for the Homewood Suites in Port Richey if elected, but that she has scaled back her volunteer hours to make time for serving on the board. Crumbley, who is the marketing director for her family's real estate firm, said she would devote herself full-time to being a board member.
The winner will serve the last two years of the term of Kathryn Starkey, who resigned to seek election to the Florida House.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.