Teachers’ pay, banned books and staffing shortages are among the many challenges that lie ahead for Volusia County School Board members.
The 10 candidates for the three open board seats on the Aug. 23 ballots were invited to a candidates’ forum Saturday in Deltona. Four participated. Voters did not hear from Jaclyn Carrell, Ginny-Beth Joiner and Georgann Carnicella in District 1, Jessie Thompson in District 3 or either of the District 5 candidates, Ruben Colón or Fred Lowry.
The event was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Volusia County and moderated by member Ann Smith. Questions came from league members as well as the public in attendance. A video of the full forum is scheduled to be posted to the league’s website, where voters can also access candidates’ responses to a questionnaire by clicking on the Vote411 icon.
Here’s a look at how the candidates who participated responded to challenging questions. Portions of answers are paraphrased.
1. Teacher and staffing shortages are a pervasive problem throughout Florida. Given the limited resources, what are two or three suggestions you have for the recruitment and retention of staff?
Jamie Haynes: The recruiting and retention department within human resources has held 31 job fairs, advertised in colleges and CareerSource sites. “We are looking into the J-1 visa program and looking at bringing in individuals specifically in the areas of math and science, which are shortages, that can come in and teach here in the United States. … We’re also looking at a HealthSource piece to bring in paraprofessionals and our nurses.”
Al Bouie: I was director of recruitment and retention for Volusia County for 12 years, and we provided “everything from job fairs, which were very effective, … we were aggressively advertising. We also had recruiters who were traveling to invite teachers or instructional staff to the district and then we had an incentive program where we offered signing bonuses.” Aggressiveness in recruiting teachers and staff has to be shown in our budget.
Kim Short: “We need to have an exit interview process. … Unless we have actual data to find out why people are leaving, it’s going to be very hard to fix this problem.” Exit interviews will probably result in 10 to 15% of staff staying “because a lot of times, it’s a simple fix. Somebody’s living in Port Orange and working in Deltona, and we can make changes.” The teachers’ union surveyed teachers and found behavior was one of the reasons for people leaving. “We definitely need to try to address that problem.”
Justin Kennedy: “In business, the way you succeed is getting new customers or saving the ones you’ve got. And if you’re having a hard time getting new customers, you have to look inward and how can we capitalize on the customers that we have ? … We have to focus on the existing teacher base, because we can’t afford to lose any of them.” The retention department must address “a sense of mistrust.” Also, consider a plan to employ education students as paid interns.
What is your position on banned books and would you explain that position?
Jamie Haynes: “I believe in children having access to books. Where we’re at, unfortunately, in society is we have some individuals that have taken some of our classic books … they’ve written them in a way that’s not age-appropriate for children. ” Anne Frank’s Diary showed up on a book list and was not appropriate for a child to read because it contains pornography.
Al Bouie: “It’s critically important that children have access to books that give them a variety of topics to read.” However, parents and curriculum staff should be involved — not just the school board — in book decisions. “Books that are not appropriate, the ones that are laced with profanity or pornography, I have an issue with.”
Kim Short: We can’t let elementary school children watch a PG-rated Disney film without a parent permission slip. “I wish we could have it that simple with books.” Some materials are disturbing. “There are graphic novels with sex acts in them that have been found in some of our elementary schools. I don’t think any of us would say that is something we want our children to be exposed to.”
Justin Kennedy: I think we can all agree that the books we have in schools should be age appropriate. “I’m a firm believer that the more you read, the more you know.” Parents know how to parent their kids. “What I do object to is certain groups coming along and objecting … I’m not suggesting that I want my kid to read what they described … but there’s literary value in some of these books.”
Veteran teachers with over 15 years’ experience are doing about the same as a beginning teacher. How will you begin to address salary compression?
Justin Kennedy: It is a problem and it is not fair. You’re there for 15 years and you’re doing the same as a new person and that hurts. “I would be willing to work with any resources we have to try to change that. Obviously, the state sets the budget. We do have a huge hurdle there,” but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring our budget down to zero-based budgeting and start looking for ways.
Kim Short: Flagler County uses a step system. Whenever Flagler has a job opening, “all they have to do is pilfer right from Volusia County. … It’s ridiculous that we aren’t trying to figure out a way to be like that. Honestly, it’s irresponsible of us.” We can task human capital audit companies with looking at the district positions and finding ways to make cuts so we can provide experienced teachers with raises.
Al Bouie: “We have to evaluate what is happening in other school districts around the state where they are retaining their teachers with experience.” We just need to adjust our structure, so that we make sure we’re making an effort and teachers know we value them. “We have to evaluate our current salary structure and do what is necessary, make the changes that are necessary to address the issues.”
Jamie Haynes: When I started on the board, the starting teacher salary was at $39,200. We are now at $47,500. “So, yes, a compression issue happened, but that’s because a separate pot of money was set aside specifically for teacher salaries. In that set-aside, 80% had to be teachers who were below $47,500 to get them there.” Our commitment now is to start at the top … and bring more experienced teachers up.
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