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The field speaks out on advisory councils, vouchers

Here's how candidates for the Pinellas County School Board answered questions sent out by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area.

How much authority or power do you think school advisory councils should have regarding the operation of schools and school improvement as recommended by Blueprint 2000?

WARREN A. ANDREWS, Republican candidate for School Board District 2: School advisory councils should have virtually complete control over school operation with the following provisions:

(1) Classroom teachers must have a strong voice on councils.

(2) The School Board must establish and control curricula.

(3) The School Board must establish major policies of discipline.

LINDA LERNER, Democratic candidate for School Board District 2: School advisory councils need more opportunities and resources to make decisions on how to best meet the needs of their students and work toward the goals of Blueprint 2000. The district has a process in place for the School Board to consider waivers to policies. However, the School Board needs to more clearly define its responsibilities related to school-based management.

LUCILE O. CASEY, Republican candidate for School Board, At Large: School advisory councils should have the authority set by the Accountability Law as long as compliance to law is met. This includes adequate representation of stakeholders, adoption of improvement plan to benefit students in the particular school, accounting of all funds allocated to implement plan, adequate reporting of progress and decision-making power by consensus. I support local control and SAC empowerment.

MAYME W. HODGES, Democratic candidate for School Board, At Large: SAC has the authority to assist in the preparation and evaluation of the school improvement plan and shall provide assistance in preparing the school's annual budget and plan.

What would you do as a board member to lower the teacher-pupil ratio?

ANDREWS: (1) Reduce the bureaucratic hierarchy in the system. There are currently at least eight levels of authority between the classroom teachers and their ultimate employer, the public.

(2) Require all managers to reduce their budgets by 5 percent.

(3) Eliminate need for useless reports.

LERNER: More money needs to go directly to schools for site-based decisions related to resources needed for the implementation of school improvement plans. Schools should decide whether to use increased funding for such priorities as lowering the TPR, hiring more teacher assistants or creating a technology position.

CASEY: Vote for a budget that allocates more funds directly to classroom. Ensure adequate reporting of each class per teacher (not total number of students divided by total number of teachers in district). Vote to increase staffing model to fulfill legal mandate. Lobby to change laws to allow smaller class size with proper funding. Investigate technical/paraprofessional aides for larger laboratory settings.

HODGES: The only way to lower TPR is to hire more teachers and add classrooms. I will strongly recommend both.

As a board member, what would you do to improve student performance?

ANDREWS: School performance could be improved by:

(1) Increasing TPR.

(2) Instituting a system of immediate discipline for troublesome students.

(3) Demanding that families become involved.

(4) Raising academic requirements from the students.

LERNER: I will continue to stress the cost-effectiveness of prevention and early-intervention educational and support programs in our schools. Investing early in children reduces subsequent educational and social problems, and will improve student performance.

CASEY: Enhance learning environments: safety-strict discipline supported by parents and law enforcement; motivation _ providing opportunities for all abilities with increased vocational/technical courses and role-model/mentors demonstrating relevance of skills to real life; smaller class size continued competent/currently trained teachers adequately compensated; increase achievement/proficiency measurements and standards by studying data from high-performance areas.

HODGES: To improve students' performance is a teacher's responsibility. As a School Board member, I will monitor students' performance in the classroom, making sure standards are met, which defines goals so progress can be measured and improvement accomplished.

What is your position on allowing committed felons to attend public schools?

ANDREWS: If felons are committed they cannot attend public schools. After their release, however, there probably is no legal way to keep them out of public schools, but their presence must be made known to the school system and the public.

LERNER: The Safe Schools Task Force, an effort organized by school Superintendent J. Howard Hinesley during the 1993-94 school year, successfully recommended changes in state statutes enabling the sheriff, police chiefs, HRS and the school system to share detailed information about juvenile offenders. Pinellas County schools have a process in place to evaluate if a particular juvenile offender would pose a threat to our regular school population. The option of home instruction is available. There is a need for funding to provide more alternative programs that provide effective discipline and help for juvenile offenders.

CASEY: I would like to see more alternative schools properly change behavior of disruptive students while continuing to provide them the educational skills needed to become productive citizens without posing a serious threat to other students. The current law mandates that the teacher be informed that a felon is present, but the teacher cannot identify or in any way intimidate the felon.

HODGES: I do not approve allowing committed felons to attend public schools. However, I advocate providing educational opportunities for the students.

What is your position on vouchers and school choices that involve private and public schools?

ANDREWS: I am opposed to vouchers for private schools, but I support the concept of charter schools that could be funded (in part or totally) by public monies and that would be completely controlled by the School Board. I also support the idea of income tax relief for families who send their children to private schools.

LERNER: I support choice within the public school system. I am against a public voucher system for private schools.

CASEY: I oppose vouchers that would use public tax dollars to supplement private school tuition, thus encouraging "creaming" or removal of brightest students from public schools. Data confirms that role models enhance success for all students. Public schools would be in danger of becoming mediocre and broke! I support choices offered by magnet and theme school programs that provide special opportunities for students.

HODGES: I am against vouchers because of their discriminatory overtone and taxpayers' possible entrapment. School choices in public schools are accepted as long as they deal with special programs that will enhance one's educational pursuit.