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Michael McElroy, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview

| August 25, 2014

Michael McElroy is a retired police officer who spent much of his law enforcement career in Ossining, N.Y., before retiring in Palm Coast.

Michael McElroy is a retired police officer who spent much of his law enforcement career in Ossining, N.Y., before retiring in Palm Coast.

Michael McElroy is one of eight candidates for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 26 primary election. McElroy is running in District 4, challenging first-term incumbent Trevor Tucker.

The three school board elections–for District 1, 2 and 4–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in all three races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.

You may cast a vote in both races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 26 will decide the winner in District 1 and District 4, because each of those races have just two candidates (incumbent Andy Dance and Maria Barbosa in District 1, incumbent Trevor Tucker and Michael McElroy in District 4).  So this is it for those two races, but not necessarily for the race for District 2, which features four candidates–incumbent John Fischer, Toni Baker, Lynnette Callender and Janet McDonald. The race in this case would be decided only if a candidate wins better than 50 percent of the vote. Short of that, the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off, to be decided in the general election on Nov. 4. 

FlaglerLive submitted 15 identical questions to the school board candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Questions appear in bold, follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in bold and italics, and may be awaiting answers. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.

School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $31,640 a year.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

CANDIDATE: The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: New York City, September 24, 1951
Current job: Retired police lieutenant
Net worth: $423,590. Click here for financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican
Websites: Website; Facebook

1.     Why are you running for school board, or running for re-election, and what makes you the best person for this public service job? What is your vision for public education in Flagler County?

I am seeking election to the School Board because I want to serve the community. I am retired and have the time to devote. Both my son and daughter were educated in public schools and public universities. I care passionately about public education.

I am also in the race because I disagree with the current direction of the board. I believe that they were mistaken in supporting last year’s tax-rate increase referendum. I think they should have opposed the introduction of Common Core aligned standards and testing (now called “Florida Standards”). I do not believe that the Flagler Technical Center should have been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair which will now cost anywhere from $3 to $6 million to refurbish. I think the Board should have conducted a real national search for the outgoing School Superintendent position.

My own vision is an equal and excellent educational opportunity for every student. A district that is a good steward of public monies, and a board that is honest with all the members of our community.

The school board places repair costs of Corporate Plaza, where FTI was located, at between $1.7 million and $3 million, but it has no intentions of taking on those repairs, and is considering mothballing and eventually selling the property. What would your alternative have been, and how would you have paid for it as the board was in budget cutting mode in recent years? How does a “real” national search contrast with the national search the board did conduct for the superintendent?

I believe the engineering study quoted over three million as the probable cost of repairs. Most construction projects run well over the original estimate. In any case, my observations include that the district had only one study. I would like more certainty that the building is not worth the repairs.  Before we sell the building, if it is in such a state of disrepair, are we going to find a buyer? No matter the outcome, the taxpayers will have to pay-off the bond. This means spending dollars that we may never recover in total, particularly if the building sells at a reduced rate. If the building is left empty taxpayers still foot the bill .The most obvious question is why was the building neglected to this degree?   The building didn’t get this way overnight. The board had the time and money to plan repairs over any number of years, not just the several years of financial hardship.

The search for school superintendent was well covered in your reporting. When they received out-of-town candidates they refused to cover expenses for the interviews. Most districts seeking a national search hire a recruiting entity (Florida School Board Association?) that does a thorough vetting, reducing the candidates so that the board may interview a manageable number with the highest qualifications If the board felt, as they apparently did, that there was no need for such a search they could have simply stated that fact and saved the five thousand dollars they did spend. They also telegraphed their intentions to any potential outside candidate that they had a strong preference for the assistant superintendent. This may have suppressed the number of candidates for the position.

Note: the repair costs for the building were cited at $1.7 million. The $3 million figure refers to refurbishing and remodeling costs inside the building–having little to nothing to do with disrepair–in order to convert the structure from an office building to classrooms. The full assessment and breakdowns of both the $1.7 million and $3 million figures is available here

2.     Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring to the board, what your temperament is like: what would your enemies say is your best quality, and what would your friends say is your worst fault? Give is real-life examples to illustrate your answer.

My strong qualities would include loyalty, the courage to stand for what I believe in, love of family and friends, and a thirst for justice. One example that might illustrate some of these qualities is that while in college, during a study-abroad semester, I became friends with a student from Kenya. When I returned home my friend contacted me. He told me that he was coming to the United States because he must enroll in college or go home. He had not been home for seven years and could not return without finishing his education. The college he was in closed. He arrived in the U.S with only a short visitor visa and stayed with me at my home. His Embassy and the United States Government insisted he return home. At this point he was desperate. With much persistence and my help, he did enroll in a school, gain acceptance from the U.S. State Department and his Embassy and we were even invited to a reception at the UN in New York.

Family and friends would most likely list my impatient nature as a weakness. Age, however, mitigates this fault.

Click On:


3.     Describe the scope of your job as school board member as you understand it: what’s your primary responsibility? What’s in your power to influence on a day-to-day basis? What is not in your power to do?

Board members must lead by example, be present in the schools and work with the Superintendent to ensure that the District provides the best education to each student. Board members must set policy, review the budget and work with the District Superintendent. Outside of the scope of a board member would be the daily administration of the schools.

4. What are the education gaps or weaknesses in the districts—in other words, where and who the district is failing most? What are the brightest successes?

We need to improve our record with the over 40 percent of students that fall below the standards. In order to do this we need to provide the resources for these students to thrive, yet at the same time we need to continue to support programs that challenge our most gifted students and allow the average student to be successful. The schools have taken a leap into the future with the implementation of technology. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that technology is ever changing and fundamental skills develop the mind for all challenges.

5.      Common Core has caused a good deal of controversy, much of it invented out of thin air, most if not all of it irrelevant to Flagler County. Define common core as you understand it. Explain your position regarding common core. And understanding that the Florida Standards have rendered it a non-issue for Flagler, tell us whether you are campaigning for or against common core, and if so, why. 

5) I respectfully disagree with the premise of your question. Common Core was hurried through with the help of large private corporate donations and designed by people from the testing industry. Large amounts of money were distributed to select groups to push an agenda. Major stakeholders such as teachers, parents, school boards and community leaders were left out. There was a lobbying effort behind closed doors with the help of the Arnie Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education. Two groups that received funding were the National Governors Association and the Chief State School Officers. These are Washington D.C. based entities. Those organizations advanced the agenda. The foundations and corporations that distributed this money stand to cash in on the standards. One example of such a company, Pearson Publishing, was convicted in New York State of giving money through its charitable foundation to benefit its corporate side.

The underlying principle of Common Core is that public education is a failure and the main reason is poor teachers. The narrative goes that if you eliminate all the bad teachers you fix all the problems. The future of students and teachers will not be decided by school boards, parents and students, but by testing bureaucrats in state capitals and Washington D.C. It is a massive experiment in education whose final results will not be known for at least ten years. It has never previously been field tested as recommended by educational experts. The two academics that were hired to validate the standards refused to do so. It is the responsibility of school board officials to make their voices heard. If you say there is nothing you can do, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are too many polemical rather than documented claims in your answer, but once central point, so that readers aren’t misled, should be clarified: Common Core and its Florida variant are curriculum-focused initiatives that say nothing about “bad teachers,” and public education, far from being seen a failure, is the only focus of either, leaving it to state school boards to set standards for their states, and to local school boards to implement the curriculums they choose within those standards. Please tell us specifically where you have seen the Flagler County School Board fail along those lines, and what you would do specifically, as a board member, to repair the failure.

Common Core standards do not meet the criteria required for certification by the American National Standards Institute. But they are much more than just standards. In order to receive the money and waivers from the U.S. Department of Education all of the states had to adopt aligned testing and teacher evaluations. This is being done by many companies that supported the standards in the first place. The data based evaluations are formulated and will be tied to student performance on high-stakes testing. Teachers, in turn, will be rated depending on their students’ performance on the tests.  In locations where the tests have already been administered there is a serious drop in scores. This will earn districts and teachers skewed ratings. It will encourage districts to “teach to the test”. Early childhood educators have already given it poor grades.  The illusion that this is local is just that. I regard it as significant that the two academics hired to evaluate the standards refuse to do so. Readers wanting to know more might want to look at the Washington Post’s blog The Answer Sheet. Valerie Strauss, the Post’s education editor, creates the blog. Another noted scholar and researcher, Diane Ravitch, has been a severe critic of Common Core.

6. School taxes: Do you consider them high, low or just right? How much do you, as a school board member, control the setting of school taxes, and if you’ve been campaigning against high taxes, explain your position, and how relevant it is given your very limited powers as a school board member in that regard. 

The importance of keeping a stable tax rate cannot be over stressed. The School District Budget is over 160 million dollars. Of course, as you have noted in your own reporting, much of those dollars are mandated by State and Federal programs that include such things as Common Core. However, it is the responsibility of the board members to balance the budget and keep taxes affordable for people that must live on fixed incomes. Last year’s attempt, by the school board, to pass a special referendum was roundly defeated. As a consequence, a portion of the tax that had been previously approved by voters was eliminated. A good deal of this was because of anger, in part, due to the Board’s inability to adequately communicate the need for and timing of this request.

7.      Name your three specific priorities you intend to achieve as a school board members within the scope of the doable—not pie-in-the-sky stuff, not generalities. That is, three priorities you’ll be able to say, four years down the line, that you’ve achieved.

Priority number one is to improve educational services to students at risk of falling below standards. Priority number two is to keep the cost of a good public education affordable to the taxpayers. Priority number three is to oppose Common Core and any other unfunded mandates that special interest groups lobby for in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. You can accomplish this, as a board member, by making sure your voice is heard by our representatives.

Can you be more specific about affordability? If you face the sort of budget crisis the district went through after the Great Recession, what are two programs or initiatives you’d cut to balance the budget?

The assumption in your question is that you must cut programs or initiatives rather than find other ways to save money. I respectfully disagree. The district needs to examine deployment, staffing, and other savings to assure tax stability. The district also maintains a healthy reserve fund, which in an emergency, may be utilized to avoid tax increases.

The two years previous to this one, the district was faced with serious shortfalls and had to do a combination of cuts while dipping into reserves. The cuts included staff cuts, but also cuts in programs or entire schools: the alternative school was scrapped, for example. The question aims to keep candidates from doing what they usually do: punt by suggesting, in generalities, that avoiding certain cuts is always possible. It also goes to your knowledge of the district. The fact is that “deployment, staffing and other savings” were all part of this district’s cost-cutting strategies, which also included cuts in programs. So let’s try again: what programs or initiatives would you cut, should it come to that again?

My first preference, after nonessential staff, would be to consolidate buildings. I believe Janet Valentine mentioned the potential closing of two schools that the District could absorb. If programs needed cutting even after that, I would want to look at those with the least impact on instruction.

8.      The IB program at FPC is the district’s most academically rigorous and accomplished program, serving a small but high-performing class of students beginning with the pre-IB program in 9th grade. What is your opinion of the program, how committed are you to its continuation, and would you support its expansion, or an expansion of a similarly themed feeder program, at Buddy Taylor Middle School, as is being considered currently?

The IB program is one of several academically rigorous opportunities for high performing students. IB, internationally benchmarked and designed with global objectives, fits well with some students. If there are parents and students who feel this is the right choice it should be available.

9.      Evaluate Superintendent Jacob Oliva, based on what you know, specifying how supportive—or not—you are of his administrative approach. 

Superintendent Oliva is brand new to that position. I don’t think it is possible for me to make an objective evaluation of his performance at this point. I would need more data. My impression is that he is a very smart and is a respected leader. I note that he has some challenges ahead which include developing a district-wide plan for hazards/emergencies, dealing with declining enrollment as well as the impact of the new testing. I would have preferred the board do a real national search, I believe this would have strengthened superintendent Oliva’s position had he still been selected.

Oliva has effectively been the superintendent almost a year, since last Thanksgiving. Since you’re running for this position, have you not attended numerous board meetings and functions and met with administrators, including Oliva, enabling you to make a fair assessment of his abilities?

I have met the Superintendent and I have talked to people in the schools. I have attended board meetings. I gave you my impressions of the superintendent. He seems professional and the current board thinks very highly of their choice. He was acting Superintendent and replaced the outgoing superintendent just recently. To what degree he is carrying out policies and programs that are the boards and the previous superintendent I cannot be sure.

10.      Who on the board currently is the board member most closely aligned with your idea of a school board member and why?

No board member comes to mind. I disagree with the direction of the current board or I would not be a candidate.

You’re avoiding the question. Are you familiar with the five board members, four of whom could presumably be your colleagues, and do none of them have qualities that resonate with your philosophy?

I don’t think I am avoiding your question. You asked me which board member fit closest to my philosophy. Each board member has many qualities and certainly are to be commended for their service.  To the extent that their philosophy involves excellence in education I think you could pick any name. If you force me to answer with a specific person, my understanding is that John Fischer is often in the schools. I believe that is a vital part of being a school board member. In order to be diligent in the performance of board duties it is very important to see policy translated into action. That alone does not mean that John fits with my philosophy. Other board members have traveled to Tallahassee to lobby for the district and that is also important. A good board member needs to do that and more.

11.  If you had a choice of running the school district with a teacher union or without one, what would that choice be, and why?

I believe in collective bargaining. It is the responsibility of the school board to make sure that when they sign a contract with unions that it is one the District can afford. Too often when public officials are overly generous with taxpayer dollars they blame the employees. It takes two parties to sign the contract.

12. Charter schools have had a very checkered history in Flagler, with pronounced failures—Heritage, Outreach Academy—several rejected applications, and sharply contrasting growth and success for Imagine School at Town Center, and this year’s remarkable turn-around, from F to A, for Palm Harbor Academy. How do you see charter schools fitting in public-school equation, and what are the most important criteria by which you’d approve (or reject) a charter school application? Also, what’s your position on vouchers in public education. 

Charters are here to stay. Parents want the choice. Often it is the most economically disadvantaged that choose to leave public schools. If we want to keep these students in our schools we need to convince them we are serving their needs. The same applies to vouchers. Minority students in poor schools looking for a way out often use vouchers. We should worry about why they are leaving. By the way, a most recent study of charter schools showed that 29 percent were rated superior to public schools, over 40 percent were rated as no difference, and 31 percent were rated significantly worse.

You are referring to Stanford University’s 2013 Center for Research on Education Outcomes study, but you are somewhat misrepresenting the facts. The study does not rate charter schools “superior to public schools,” or inferior to them. The number you cited refer specifically to “learning gains” in math being 29 percent significantly stronger in charter schools than in traditional public schools, and so on. In reading, the learning gains were not as impressive: 25 percent, with 56 percent showing no significant difference and 19 percent showing significantly weaker gains. The study did not look at science, art, extra-curriculars and all the other programs that a public school education entails. Regardless of the details behind the numbers: how does improvement in less than a third of charter schools–or, alternately, no difference or worse outcomes in 70 percent of the schools–argue for the charter school approach? And again, given the Flagler-specific context of problematic charter schools and charter applications in the past, what are the most important criteria by which you’d approve or reject a charter school application?

Stanford’s research is the closest study we have making the comparisons with the educational product of public and private schools. My answer is not to suggest that Charters are better. As I previously stated, it is the students and their parents that are making the choice. In many cases because they feel that they are not served by their public school. Many that leave are minority students. Public schools can stop this drain by convincing students and their parents that the local public school is their best choice. I am all for public schools being the first resort.

13.  Explain zero tolerance discipline as you understand it. Explain whether it is effective, whether the approach should be reformed, and how. 

My understanding of Zero Tolerance is that students found guilty of violent crimes are given the most severe penalties available in the school code. This maintains a safe environment for all the other students. To the extent that it removes violent individuals from the school it is effective.

14.   Do you find the Flagler County School Board accountable to the public on student achievement and school performance over time? If not, how should it become so? And how should the district address underperforming schools?

The Flagler School Board is accountable for their performance and student achievement. That is done with an election. If the community is dissatisfied with their course they may vote out their officials. If they are happy with things as they are they may continue with the incumbents. The district should not tolerate underperforming schools. If management and leadership is the issue, the district should make changes. It should also provide professional development and guidance to the teachers.

15. Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies? If so, please explain, including cases where charges did not lead to conviction.

No, no and only in my capacity as a police officer testifying in a civil actions.

16. Opponents’ questions. 

Trevor Tucker asked the following questions of Michael McElroy:

1. How does the Florida Education Finance Program work?

The Florida Education Finance Program is the formula for state aid reimbursement to the local schools. This past fiscal year the total budgeted amount, for Flagler, was somewhere over sixty-six million dollars. It is an allocation amount based on actual student enrollment. Weighting is added by the state in the formula to take in consideration students with higher needs. There is also the required local contribution.

2. What organizations have you been involved in Flagler County?

I am currently a member of the Flagler County Kiwanis Club. This organization is very active in helping education in our schools. I am also a member of the Flagler Republican Executive Committee and the Flagler County Ronald Reagan Assembly.

3. Which specific Florida standards are you opposed to and why?

As previously stated, my objection is not to standards. The problem with Common Core, which is what the questions means, is that the early learner goals are not in sync with known educational research. Data based questions for 3rd graders may deter, not encourage learning. The high-stakes tests are even more crucial than No Child Left behind testing which is widely viewed as a failure. Many teachers have not even been adequately prepared to teach the standards. In part, this is due to the fact that curriculum development is still in the works.

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13 Responses for “Michael McElroy, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. Joey Joe says:

    Lots of general answers, not a whole lot of “personal” specifics. If you are running for school board I would expect you to be extremely present in all board meetings and school related events. It sounds like he was pissed about the .5 mil and decided to run for board, knowing nothing else besides “that campaign was bs, I’ll change everything!”.

  2. Stacey says:

    Thank you for understanding and seeing what Common Core really is. The new ‘Florida Standards’ are repackaged CC. Children are more than a test score. Teaching should not be to a test, but to make children successful in life.

  3. Binkey says:

    I have to agree with Joey Joe. He does sound angry. Stacey what makes you think teachers teach to the test. I think the tests are based on the standards (curriculum) and if you teach the curriculum then the students will do fine.

  4. Steve Wolfe says:

    The man has resolve and conviction. He is sure of his approach. He is guided by principle, which provides the sound footing from which he will operate in his board position. He has demonstrated a grasp of major issues which he will respond to from his life experiences and his determination to improve education in Flagler County. He contributed to his home town in the most significant way possible as a blue collar worker. Most of us are familiar with the qualities of the first responders of New York (not just from TV dramas). We would be well served by a man of Mike’s caliber and I am impressed that he still wants to perform a public service. He embodies the qualities many of us wish for in a concerned citizen: potent, knowledgeable, fast learner, well suited for problem solving. And who has worked with a greater diversity of people than a New York cop?

  5. Lin says:

    This choice between challenger and incumbent is a difficult one
    I wish I could vote for both these men — vote for the best 3 of all the candidates

    As far as testing goes, how will we know if the student has the skills necessary to have a fulfilling and successful life if we don’t test them to see what skills they need?

    I see Mr. McElroy as committed — by the way, it was great to hear that the safety of our students is a concern to him. I was at the forum the other night. Nothing here in his responses nor on Monday sounded angry to me.

    • Response to Lin says:

      You should know how students are doing based on their grades that they earn in each subject on a daily basis. Tests are normally given in each subject throughout the grading period. Students take tests in every subject so why is there a need for any special specific test such as an FCAT–there’s not! Teacher’s should be tested and if students aren’t passing then this should be used as an indicator that the job that the teacher is doing isn’t up to par. If the students aren’t learning, the teachers isn’t teaching. There is no child that can’t learn. We don’t just ignore this and move on and let certain students struggle or fail or as an end result dropout because the struggle is just too tough.

  6. Stacey says:

    Binkey, we are at a time when we are teaching how to bubble answer sheets in kindergarten. Education has become test score driven. One test, 5 hours of a child’s life determines what classes they are allowed to take. I would love to see a school board member like in Lee County who opted out of testing and is encouraging others to do the same. We need leaders with a voice. I have no issue with testing yearly to see preogress of students. I do however, care what we are doing with these scores instead…labeling children and pitting school against school for scores. If you look a little deeper, you will see the standardized test makers also create curriculum all the while funding those who push standards that align. Together, parents, school board members and teachers need to say enough. I want someone on the board willing to recognize this. It seems as though Mr. McElroy understands this, as he was the only candidate I have seen who has spoken about Common Core as it truly is.

  7. Binkey says:

    Stacey,

    What test does kindergarten take? Since the kids are just learning to write, I could see that someone would have to teach them to bubble in (or X out) an answer. I would think most K tests are individual tests, not a lot of attention span in 5 year olds. What labels are students getting from these tests? Is that how they determine who gets special classes. If it is then that’s insane.

    Lin,
    Thanks for posting about Mr. McElroy not sounding angry at the forum. It helps to know that. Just reading posts can certainly be misconstrued by the reader.
    I would think safety is the number one quality standard (that’s right not teaching but safety) of all school staff. Teaching effectively would be number 2.

  8. Brad says:

    I agree that we should not have schools that “teach to the test”, and there is a lot of that going on, but I think this person is running for the wrong reasons. I don’t hear someone truly interested in the local schools, but moreso wanting to make a more national level statement. Our School Board isn’t the place for that. That is what political action groups and whatnot are for. Our School Board, County Commission, or City Councils shouldn’t be used for the purpose of national level political soapboxes. And I truly get the feeling that is what this man and the whole Ronald Reagan/Tea Party group wants to do.

    We need school board members that recognize the problems with graduation rates, future opportunities for students, and being good stewards with our tax dollars. Here, again, we see someone so focused on these larger national issues and political agendas that he isn’t truly aware of the situation and details regarding the Technical Institute building he brings up.

    Again, I just see another position that the Ronald Reagan.Tea Party group as a whole want to secure with one of their people. I don’t get any sense that any of them truly want to make Flagler County a better place but rather simply use those positions as some sort of political soapbox and self-serving political experiment.

    • Bob Hamby says:

      Brad
      You were a member of the Ronald Reagan Assembly WHEN you directed the campaign of a candidate for Supervisor of Elections (Trey Corbett) and sought our endorsement for him. Being a former member of our organization you should know that our evaluation of candidates is against values and principles for all political offices local, state, and or federal. As Tip O’Neill said “All politics is local.”
      Our Values:
      Respect for the Constitution
      Respect for Life
      Belief in Limited Government
      Belief in Individual Responsibility

      • KMedley says:

        Mr. Hamby:

        Have you noticed that most of your retorts begin with, “you WERE a member of the Ronald Reagan Assembly”? Amazing what happens when folks witness your group’s true values. They run in the opposite direction!

  9. Genie says:

    I’d like to recommend that you each get to know this man. He is terrific. The fact that he is a member of Republican Clubs shows me he is interested in his community. He is in the minority here.

    The fact that he is interested enough to run for public office makes him outstanding, in my book. He has a clear understanding of the needs of the school board and has clearly stated what he expects to do.

    If joining local clubs and being informed is now a deterrent for holding public office, no wonder this community seems to be in so much trouble.

  10. Nancy N. says:

    You lost me at “Ronald Reagan Assembly”. I would vote for my daughter’s pet rock before I vote for anyone associated with that group of extremists.

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