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Candidates line up for School Board seats // DISTRICT 4

As the only incumbent running for the School Board this year, David Watson sees his role as an important one _ a necessary institutional memory.

If he doesn't win a fourth term on the board, the combined experience of the entire School Board and superintendent will be just four years.

"I don't mean for this to sound egotistical . . . but I don't want my role to be gone," Watson said.

But three other candidates want Watson's job.

On Sept. 3, Republican voters will choose either Watson, local businessman Bill Ladkani or community college instructor Patience Nave. If none of the three earns more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters will face off again in the October run-off.

The final winner will vie for the four-year job against Democrat Jackie Evans, who does not face a primary contest.

While Watson's status as incumbent means he has a lot more experience with the job than any of his opponents, it also presents a down side.

At a time when the School Board has been embroiled in controversies, Watson has been painted as a rubber stamp for the administration and has been criticized for allowing his personal feelings toward other board members to cloud his judgment.

Nave, 65, said she has seen Watson "just as furious" as the board members who he often finds himself opposing _ Janet Herndon and Sheila Whitelaw. "That just tends to inflame," she said.

Nave said that with her experience teaching communication skills, she knows there are "ways that encourage and there are ways to aggravate" when discussing a difficult issue.

Ladkani, 55, takes his criticism a step further.

He said Watson has been a rubber stamp for administration ideas. And he said that several board members need to spend more time before the start of a board meeting doing the research so they can vote on an issue.

"If there is anyone there who is not doing their independent research, it's Mr. Watson," Ladkani said.

Watson, 50, staunchly defends his record saying he has tried to set his personal feelings for other board members aside when making a decision. He also noted that he has disagreed with the administration over the years, but he has a different way to deal with such disagreements _ one that involves having administrators find solutions.

"I don't think that I'm a rubber stamp for the administration," Watson said. "If I see a problem, I like to give the administration the first shot."

Watson's campaign contributions indicate support from administration officials past and present including contributions from both current Superintendent James Hughes and his predecessor, Carl Austin.

The three candidates in the primary also have varying opinions on the top issues facing the school district, but each believes something needs to be done to deal with disruptive students.

Creating a free-standing alternative school should be a top priority for the board, according to Ladkani.

"We just have to put it in the budget," he said. "It's most important that we get an alternative school on line quickly. .

.

. The School Board should have done that a long time ago."

Nave also supports alternative schools but said, "I think they ought to be punitive. I don't think they should be attractive." She said she didn't want to see children misbehaving just to get into an alternative school.

She added that the idea of having a free-standing alternative school "is the ideal, but it may not be feasible because of the cost."

Watson has also expressed concern about the costs involved in establishing an alternative school. Although he has voted on the board to move forward in exploring the Lakeview School site for such an alternative program, he is worried that the monies the project would cost might be better spent for another of the district's many priorities.

Yet at the same time, school administrators have voiced their interest in a free-standing alternative school.

"I still haven't convinced myself," Watson said.

Another issue that Watson has been focused on has been the need to change programs such as the abstinence-based sex education programs to an opt-out approach. Currently parents must give permission to allow their student to attend the class, but Watson said that tends to close out the very children who most need the training.

Nave, who has been an adjunct instructor at Pasco-Hernando Community College, said she has seen recent high school graduates coming through her classroom who don't have the necessary skills for higher education.

"I'm deeply disturbed about the quality of graduates we turn out," she said. To attack that problem, she said the School Board needs to look both at the quality of its curriculum and the quality of instruction.

Another main issue for Ladkani is the district's record of making some bad business decisions, including problems in purchasing and in bidding the district's insurance.

He said that if every board member did all of their research before a board meeting, "then decisions would be easier and would make sense." As a board member, Ladkani also would be sure all buying rules are followed.

Each of the three Republicans also has pointed to their background as the reason they would be the best choice to fill the School Board job.

Ladkani touts his 25 years as a manager for Kmart and his last decade running his own carpet cleaning and upholstery business in Crystal River as a clear indication of his business sense. He also has been active in the schools attended by his children and completed a leadership in education course taught by school officials.

"I just felt that I could contribute in a positive way to the school system," he said.

In addition to instructing at the community college level, Nave also taught English to oil executives from Colombia and taught English and other courses in China. She ran for a school board position in Kentucky and was narrowly defeated and has been active in the Republican Party in Citrus for the last several years.

"I've been going to school or teaching school all my life," Nave said.

When Watson is asked why he wants another term on the board, he points to his years of service and his background both as a classroom teacher and a trainer and manager for Florida Power Corp.

"I feel like I have 12 years invested in the school system and it's one of the best school systems in the state," he said. "I really care a lot about the school system and I'd like to see the system continue to progress."

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