Several topics took center stage in the long campaign that ended last week in the election of three candidates to the Pinellas County School Board.
Among them: the district's budget woes, a proposal to give principals, teachers and parents more control over individual schools, and middle and high school reform.
As the seven-member board prepares to reconstitute on Nov. 18, St. Petersburg Times education reporter Donna Winchester asked newcomer Nina Hayden, who won the District 2 at-large seat, to share her views on some issues that didn't get as much attention.
If the question ever came before the School Board, would you support expanding vouchers to allow struggling children to attend private schools?
I do not like the vouchers. I've been pretty clear on that. I think we need to support our public schools. The way to do that is to make sure money is going to them.
We already have an issue with less money coming from the Legislature. At this point, we have to stay focused on making Pinellas County public schools better, making them schools where people want to send their children. We have to make them places that provide education for children who are not achieving the way they should.
Some people say, "Instead of focusing on public education, let's put the money into the private schools because they have better opportunities for our kids." I think the focus should be on public schools.
There's a place for private schools, but the majority of our youth go to public schools. Saying vouchers force public schools to be competitive with private schools is an interesting way of looking at it, but to me, it's not a motivating factor to make schools better.
How would you tweak the new student assignment plan to make it work better?
I think we have to see how the plan is playing out before we can get any more specific in terms of what we can do as a board to improve on it.
The school year has just started. We need to do more observation.
What is your view on elementary and middle school students riding the same bus in order to save money on transportation?
I'm definitely in favor of looking into all the options we have for saving money on transportation.
That's the biggest chunk out of our budget right now. I'd have to see what our constituencies' concerns are, but allowing elementary and middle school students to ride together to save money is something I would definitely look into.
Do you think that teachers who work in high-poverty schools should get paid more to work there?
I think it would be a good motivating factor. That would be something that I would look into. I would look at the statistics and I would ask around, "Does this make sense?"
It appears the state Board of Education may have to adopt new academic standards by the end of 2011, including a new set of science standards, even though we recently went through a science standard adoption. If Florida has another crack at this, do you think the standards should be worded to include equal time for the teaching of intelligent design alongside the teaching of evolution?
No. I've been very clear about that. I do not believe that the science curriculum should include intelligent design.
I heard some of the other candidates say, "You have religion courses," but those are more on a college level.
I heard some of the candidates, even board members, say it could be an elective. I can't give you a definite answer on whether I would support that, but I definitely would not offer it in science class.
Obviously it's an issue of separation of church and state and bringing faith-based principles into the public school system. Our country was founded by individuals who had religious beliefs, but they also looked at when government should not support religion. Intelligent design has its place in faith-based organizations, not in our public school system. I stand pretty firm on that issue.