In this series before Tuesday's election, we are giving opposing candidates an opportunity to answer questions about Pinellas issues. In today's installment, the candidates are seeking the District 2 seat on the Pinellas County School Board, which is voted countywide. The questions were prepared and the answers solicited as a public service project of 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 Linda Lerner, Democrat: I support five School Board seats voted on by district and the two at-large seats voted countywide. I consider this a reasonable compromise to provide all segments the opportunity for representation on the board.
Bruce H. McDowell, Republican: As a political newcomer, I find campaigning outside my own district challenging. Without campaign experience or name recognition the at-large candidates and district aspirants face the same obstacles. I respect all candidates who enter the countywide election process.
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 Lerner: Working for better schools is not a partisan issue. School Board members should be elected on a non-partisan basis to ensure decisions are not influenced by party politics.
McDowell: Although educational problems and issues are non-partisan, I believe the philosophical differences of each party help voters to some extent. The competitive aspect of party affiliation should in theory provide the electorate with the best possible candidate after primary victories.
Q What are the risks involved in the movement toward "partnership schools" in Pinellas County? Do you endorse this movement?
A Lerner: I cautiously endorse the movement toward "partnership schools" in Pinellas County. Careful planning and detailed contracts need to be implemented to establish clear guidelines concerning the responsibilities of the private company and school system.
McDowell: I strongly endorse the "partnership schools" in Pinellas County. The only risk I am aware of is the potential of losing control of the natural school environment and operational functions.
Q Discuss your views on the benefits and drawbacks of year-round schools.
A Lerner: There is not agreement about the concept of year-round schools and their impact on parents, children and the community. They can provide for a more efficient use of facilities with a subsequent reduction of capital outlay expenses. However, if such a change is to be successful, the planning and implementation of year-round schools must be a joint effort of school personnel and parents.
McDowell: Benefits: Utilizing facilities all year, avoiding the building of new schools, eliminating double sessions, and 12-month teachers. Drawbacks: Acceptance by the business community, problems with the athletic programs, family vacations and the social acceptance.
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 Lerner: Research has demonstrated that the federally financed pre-school Head Start program is successful. Pre-kindergarten education for our disadvantaged children is probably the best dropout-prevention program we have.
McDowell: I feel that pre-kindergarten education is essential in today's society. The formative years are so important that the earlier we reach children the better they will gravitate into society's mainstream.
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 Lerner: The community as a whole should address the complex issues concerning our low nationwide rating. Pinellas needs evening School Board meetings so that parents, teachers, other school personnel, community leaders and concerned taxpayers are able to be part of the decision-making process. My goal is to make working for better schools a true community effort.
McDowell: Florida's low national grade is a concern to me. I contend that we need to get back to basics. Identify those children in need of redirection at an earlier age, improve vocational educational programs and expand the Project Help and teen parenting programs.
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 Lerner: Under the court order, busing is the law. Busing certainly is not a perfect solution, but it is the best method we have to achieve racial balance and equal educational opportunities for all our students.
McDowell: Student busing continues to be a most agonizing issue for most parents. Until there is a new solution or direction to achieve racial balance we must obey the court order.
Q Would you support a proposal to establish high school-based health clinics. Why? What health needs might these clinics address?
A Lerner: I support the establishment of high school-based health clinics initially in schools with a large number of at-risk students. Preventive health care, as well as services addressing the serious problems of teen-age suicide, drug abuse and pregnancy, could be addressed by these clinics.
McDowell: I would not support high school-based health clinics. I feel the health clinics should be run by another government entity.
Q Do you believe that dress codes are a necessary and proper aspect of School Board policy? Why?
A Lerner: I do not believe dress codes are a necessary and proper aspect of School Board policy. Each school, in a site-based process including principals, teachers, other school personnel, parents and students, should decide dress code regulations.
McDowell: I believe dress codes are a necessary aspect of board policy that should include guidelines for students. Dress codes are directly related to self-esteem and confidence. The School Board should not belabor the dress code issue. They have greater problems and concerns to resolve.
Q What would be your top priority as a new or continuing member of the Pinellas County School Board during this next term?
A Lerner: My top priority would be implementing better prevention and early-intervention educational and support programs in our schools. Investing early in children is a cost-effective approach to reduce subsequent educational and social problems that contribute to our high dropout rate.
McDowell: Bring to the board an open mind, with honest leadership and political independence. Deal with growth in the next decade with prudent spending. As an elected School Board member, I will be committed to establishing a school system that would reach for an excellent rating and be the pride of each Pinellas County resident.