For years, Citrus County's school system has operated like a well-oiled clock. Long-term debt is virtually non-existent, operating expenses justifiable. Students score high on standardized tests and most employee problems are resolved quickly. A great deal of credit for that success can go to two School Board members who served for the last two decades but who are not seeking re-election this year. A third position also is up for grabs, which means three of five slots are open _ a possible new majority.
The system's past success is all the more reason for voters to choose carefully in the Nov. 6 election. By good fortune, three outstanding candidates are vying for the three positions: Democrats June Black, Patricia Vitter and Karen Johnson. The Times strongly recommends that voters support them.
Johnson is the only incumbent seeking re-election. Continuity of the present programs could be reason enough to keep her in office.
But there are dozens of even better reasons: Johnson's more than 20 years of dedication to school and community service; her understanding of school needs; and her concern and obvious fondness for students, parents and school personnel.
Johnson's involvement in schools started in 1969, when she became active in the PTA. She's been on the Key Training Center Board of Directors, held several offices in the Altrusa Club and been membership director for the Family Resource Center.
Her priority for the past eight years, though, has been Citrus schools and their students. She has stood steadfastly for separation of church and schools, even though she personally remembers with fondness the days when spoken prayers were okay. She repeatedly has advocated cessation of school paddling.
Her current goals are consistent with thoughtful school management: reducing dropouts and increasing vocational courses, among others.
Johnson's opponent, Lennie Berger, seeks office with a decidedly disturbing agenda. Berger seems more interested in making converts to his own particular brand of morality than he is in teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. In fact, until he decided to run for School Board, he apparently had no involvement in school matters at all.
For the District 3 spot, Vitter brings outstanding credentials and service. An honors graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, Vitter has been a practicing lawyer since 1976. She has served on many boards of directors of professional, social, civic and educational institutions They include the Board of Trustees of Central Florida Community College for six years, where she was chairman for three, the board of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, the advisory board of First Florida Bank, the United Way board and the Hospice of Citrus County board.
The mother of two young children, her reason for seeking office is simple: "I want my children to receive the best possible education available here in Citrus County."
Vitter's considerable business experience and her ability to understand and make sense of complex issues would be invaluable to the Citrus school system.
Her opponent, Sheila Whitelaw, is a fine candidate with good ideas and obvious devotion to children. If Vitter were not so exceptionally qualified and prepared for School Board service, Whitelaw would deserve voter support.
Black's edge over her opponent is not so pronounced, but it is enough to earn her voters' support.
Black, at 28, is the youngest of the candidates, and her youthful enthusiasm and ideas would add a new dimension to the Citrus board.
Particularly interesting isBlack's "Saturday Scholars" proposal, where volunteers from the community would help pupils falling behind in their school work.
A former teacher, Black is familiar with the problems teachers and students encounter in the classroom. She knows the value of teacher-parent interaction and says she'll encourage conferences at all levels.
Her opponent, Merrill Osterhout, also shows genuine interest in school matters, but his ability to articulate his ideas is not as compelling as Black's and would hamper his ability to gather support for them.
The trio of Johnson, Vitter and Black, with the two remaining board members, will assure that Citrus schools continue to have fair, thoughtful leadership.
Citrus County School Board members serve four-year terms at an annual salary of $17,370. While they represent the districts in which they live, they are elected countywide. Candidates on the Nov. 6 general election ballot are:
District 1 _ Merrill Osterhout (R) vs. June Black (D).
District 3 _ Sheila Whitelaw (R) vs. Patricia Vitter (D).
District 5 _ Lennie Berger (R) vs. Karen Johnson (D).
Candidates not recommended for election are invited to respond to this editorial in letters of 300 words or less. They must be received at the Times by noon Thursday.