Fourth of Five PartsIn this series before Tuesday's election, we are giving opposing candidates an opportunity to answer questions about Pinellas issues. Today's candidates are seeking an at-large seat on the Pinellas County School Board. The questions were prepared and the answers solicited as a project by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.
Q How would you respond to charges from certain segments of the county that at-large election of School Board members has the effect of denying representation to those segments because their candidates have little chance of being elected?
A Frank X. Pesuth, Republican: The key words are "little chance of being elected." Many, or even most candidates who seek election for the first time and lose, tend not to run for office again. Might part of the solution be persistence?
John Sanguinett, Democrat: I agree that this is a valid complaint. Our system of countywide election of our School Board members does dilute a community's representation. It is felt most significantly in areas with a large minority population. I support changing to a system that has five members who run in and represent specific districts and two who run at large and are voted countywide. As a board member, I will recognize my responsibility to represent all of our citizens. My background in human services helps me to be sensitive to the special needs of minorities.
Q Similarly, how would you respond to concerns that the current practice of partisan election of School Board members is inappropriate because education problems and issues are non-partisan in nature and should be above party politics?
A Pesuth: I have no problem with non-partisan elections per se. But one could carry this hypothesis to an illogical conclusion; i.e., many problems facing other elected officials are non-partisan and therefore their ideals should be non-partisan and above party politics. Idealistic, but realistic?
Sanguinett: The partisan election of our School rong. Such a system too often results in a school board in which members serve party rather than people. Our experience in Pinellas also has shown that partisan elections may prevent a large segment of our population (Democrats) from having a voice in the decision-making process. I support a political process that includes rather than excludes voters.
Q What are the risks involved in the movement toward "partnership schools" in Pinellas County? Do you endorse this movement?
A Pesuth: I endorse and have supported this concept. The concept is helpful and should be encouraged. This approach is educationally and financially sound. There are no known drawbacks.
Sanguinett: The School Board does encounter some risks when entering into a partnership agreement. The business partner may try to influence or direct school policy, or a business may suddenly choose to close a partnership school, returning that group of students to the county system. Another problem occurs when students leave the partnership school and must adjust to a new setting and new classmates. Overall, I feel the benefits outweigh the risks and I support the expansion of the partnership school program. Besides saving construction costs, partnership schools also provide an excellent way for parents to become involved in their child's education at an early stage.
Q Discuss your views on the benefits and drawbacks of "year-round" schools.
A Pesuth: Better use of buildings and student knowledge retention over a shorter vacation are the two major benefits. The biggest drawback is time to study the concept before installation, along with family-vacation coordination.
Sanguinett: The benefits and problems of year-round schools is a complex topic difficult to discuss briefly. My experience working with parents of handicapped children helps me to understand the regression that occurs over summer break. Year-round attendance will help students avoid this regression. Pinellas is experimenting with a year-round schedule at Campbell Park Elementary. I will follow this experiment and will support adopting its successes into the county system. As a board member, I will make decisions related to year-round scheduling according to the students' needs, not according to economic needs, such as overcrowding.
Q Support for pre-kindergarten education in the country is growing. How do you think pre-kindergarten education programs might address some of the problems facing our schools?
A Pesuth: Better preparing the child socially and educationally are two major benefits. Pre-kindergarten also helps identify and possibly solve a child's problems early, while allowing the disadvantaged to start at the same point where other classmates start.
Sanguinett: Pre-kindergarten programs have been shown to be effective in preparing handicapped and at-risk children for school. Children who have participated in these programs have a lower dropout rate. Reducing our dropout rate of 8.5 percent is a critical need and I am a strong advocate for expanded pre-kindergarten programing.
Q Florida's "grade" on education is unfortunately quite low. What proposals do you have for improving test scores, dropout rates and other factors that contribute to our low nationwide rating?
A Pesuth: More business involvement through the work-link program would go a long way to reducing the dropout rate. The program calls for more cooperation between education and business to determine business needs and student's qualifications. The recent drop in SAT scores is alarming, but the increase in CTBS scores is encouraging. A long-term solution is early identification of problem children.
Sanguinett: I support several strategies for reducing the county's dropout rate and increasing our academic standing, including:
Pre-school programs for all handicapped and at risk 3- and 4-year-olds.
Implementing an ungraded primary school for kindergarten through third grade.
Developing the "full-service school" in which children have access to support services. . . .
Q Busing of students to achieve racial balance continues to be a source of controversy in this country. Give us your views on this complex issue.
A Pesuth: Few like the solution to this "complex issue." However, some of the inconveniences of current action is the price we must pay. To set aside the court action would result in a return to segregated schools _ a solution few desire. I support the court order.
Sanguinett: I am opposed to segregated schools and I support busing to achieve racial balance. The magnet school concept also can help high schools to achieve racial balance and I support these programs.
Q Would you support a proposal to establish high school-based health clinics. Why? What health needs might these clinics address?
A Pesuth: As proposed in the past _ no.
Sanguinett: I support school-based clinics developed as a cooperative effort between the school system and the local health department. Such clinics can help students succeed in school by providing immunization, counseling in the areas of abuse or disease, and nursing care. The goal is to help students to maintain good health and to remain in school. Placement of such clinics should be based on individual school and community needs.
Q Do you believe that dress codes are a necessary and proper aspect of School Board policy? Why?
A Pesuth: Dress code per se is necessary. However, I would question the substitution of a "shorts" code for the words "dress code." We must resolve the "shorts" issue and move on to more important education issues.
Sanguinett: I believe that a school dress code should be established at the county level but should be stated as simply as possible. Students should wear attire that is appropriate to their age and setting. Since I support school-based management I would ask that each school establish a committee of students, faculty and administrators to deal with violations.
Q What would be your top priority as a new or continuing member of the Pinellas County School Board during this next term?
A Pesuth: The top priority will be the "restructuring" of the education system as proposed by the national NEA and the local PCTA to include more (a) teacher/parent involvement/empowerment in decision-making to increase student learning and reduce costs, (b) business partnerships and business-built schools, (c) improvement in test scores and dropout rates and (d) volunteers.
Sanguinett: As a first-term School Board member I will focus my efforts on three areas. First, I will advocate improved state funding for education. The lottery was proposed as a way to enhance education; however, this is not happening. A recent state Chamber of Commerce report demonstrated that the percentage of revenue has decreased over the past two years. Second, I will work to begin implementation of dropout prevention programs (see No. 6). Third, I will work to increase school-based decision-making with parents participating on a management team with teachers and school administrators.