Two candidates with classroom and business experience are running for the District 5 School Board seat vacated midterm by Janet Herndon.
B. J. Collins has tried for the post twice before, once as a Democrat and once as a Republican. Collins, who had no opposition in the primary, is running as a Republican.
He faces local businesswoman Sandra "Sam" Himmel, who easily won a majority in the September primary over two opponents. The winner of the race will complete the last two years of Herndon's term and earn an annual salary of $22,305. Herndon resigned to run for school superintendent but lost in the primary.
Collins, 61, taught for 31 years in Citrus and Polk County schools before retiring. He operated Lecanto 44 Nursery before turning it over to his sons.
Collins has worked with a variety of community groups, including serving as president of the Deerwood Civic Association and a member of the board of the Florida Conservation Association.
His platform has focused on discipline issues; providing the basics in education for students, including technology education; and making the school system more financially accountable.
Collins supports the district's pay-as-you-go policy on construction but thinks other creative ways of staggering classes or mixing school with work experiences could save money and better prepare students.
Collins would like to see schools explore possibilities such as sending disruptive children through conflict-resolution classes or marching them in close-order drill. "I think you'd see some attitude adjustment after just one time," he said.
Students, he said, need to know what will happen if they step outside the boundaries of good behavior. "This is where we're hurting as far as the school system is concerned: The students don't know the consequences," he said.
Collins said the board also needs to demonstrate its support for principals as they follow through with discipline plans.
He would also like to see school advisory councils consider student uniforms and have teachers push simple values: "Do what's right. Do the best we can. And treat others the way we would like to be treated."
Collins is also concerned about teachers' salaries. To resolve discrepancies between teacher and administration salaries, he suggests that a statewide assessment be made to determine where Citrus teachers and administrators rank in comparison with other counties.
"After the assessment has been broken down, then a level playing field will be created. If teachers rank 37th in the state and staff is 17th, then teachers' salaries should be raised until they rank 17th," he said.
"I have no desire to take anything away. Only to create a team effort."
Himmel, who taught several years in the system before taking over the office supply business owned by her father, Walt Connors, has had three sons in the school system. She said those experiences make her want to have a role in making decisions for the school district.
"I've always loved the school system . . . and been concerned about education," she said.
A 41-year-old Florida native, Himmel has been active with the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Fair Association Board and has served on school advisory/enhancement councils.
Himmel points to her background as an educator and businesswoman as qualification for the board.
"Being in small business management, I think I have an advantage," she said. "A lot of things the school system does, I have to ask why."
Himmel said she thinks the district needs to make wiser buying decisions. She acknowledges that state auditors have pointed to the school system's dealings with her business as an example of how not to do business with tax dollars. But Himmel said that is not her fault, it is the fault of the district's past buying practices.
Including Xerox, for which Himmel serves as the only local representative, Connors and his various business interests have done approximately $2.5-million in business with the school system since 1990. Nearly all of the office supply business was done through small purchases with no bidding. Himmel said that is wrong and the district should consolidate purchases and bid purchases according to its policies.
She has also said that, if elected, her business would not bid on School Board contracts. In order to comply with the law, she could no longer handle the Xerox business for the district.
Himmel has also said that she would scrutinize the budget, examine the roles of various administrators in the district and involve teachers and staff in discussions about various issues.
She also favors finding more vocational training opportunities for students not going to college and putting more of the responsibility for education on parents.
"It's time that our parents quit saying, "My kids can't read and write.' We need to ask them, "What are you doing at home' " to prepare them for school, Himmel said.
School Board District 5
Where the candidates stand
Question B.J. Collins Sandra "Sam" Himmel
Do you favor Supports They should be
charter schools? looked at
Do you support Opposed Opposed
Does the district Look at other options Disruptive students
need alternative before creating an should be removed from
education programs? alternative school. the classroom.
How should Pay as you go, but Pay as you go but
construction be expects more help explore other options
Should students Opt out Opt out
opt in or opt out of
such as sex education?
Source: The candidates