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School Board Candidates Tread Gulf Between Ideal and Reality in Chamber Forum

| July 27, 2010

For an hour, most looked more than they sounded like board members. (© FlaglerLive)

“All of us on the board,” Peter Peligian let slip in his closing statement, as if he and the four other candidates to his right and left were already members of the Flagler County School Board. He quickly corrected himself, rephrasing to something along the line of “all of us up here.” He meant to say that they all cared. But they might as well have been board members tonight, some more convincingly than others.

The candidates’ forum, the season’s first by the Flagler Chamber of Commerce, was held in the chambers of the school board; the candidates were seated on the dais, where board members sit; one of them—Trevor Tucker—is an incumbent who sat where he usually sits, and they were made to respond to questions designed to bring out the board member in each of them. The one difference was the audience of 80 to 100: it was much larger than most audiences that sit through school board meetings.

Except for one (an obscure question about rules controlling local development and school construction that Peligian and Raven Sword wouldn’t answer because they didn’t understand it, and John Fischer didn’t answer even as he pretended to), the questions were straight-forward and relatively undemanding: What new policies would you bring about? What are your priorities for the coming year or the next four? How would you grade the district? How will you ensure that the district remains financially sound and students “keep receiving the best educational environment?” Answers revealed as much of what the candidates didn’t know as what they did–which, with some exceptions, wasn’t overwhelming.

The questions were culled from the various memberships of the chamber, the county’s Realtors association and the Flagler Homebuilders’ Association, who sponsored the event. A chamber of commerce subcommittee rated the questions and narrowed them to the half dozen or so that were pitched at the candidates, with WNZF’s David Ayers doing the pitching. No clapping, booing or cheering was allowed, and candidates were limited to two-minute answers.

After an hour or so, here’s the slightly less blurry picture that emerged from each of them:

Peligian and Marc Ray are business types who speak the language of fiscal responsibility and “strategy.” A long-time retail manager who at one point oversaw some 126 Bells stores, Peligian said: “We need to operate within the budget. It’s a matter of mathematics. You can only operate within what you have coming in.” (State law requires that the board stay within budget regardless, and the district is carrying a $7 million reserve this year, in preparation for expected shortfalls). In Peligian’s estimate, the district has a way to go before it’s fiscally disciplined, though no specifics were offered. (Few ever are at these events.)

Ray, the general manager at the Hammock Dunes Club, is big on strategic planning and goal-setting, which he says the board should develop. “We have an opportunity to do some great things,” he said, “but right now we’re doing it by gosh and by golly. There is no strategic plan in place.” What specific goals or strategy Ray has in mind isn’t clear. (Actually, the district has an abundance of strategic planning, goal-setting and district- and school-improvement plans, and its top staff has just returned from a two-day vision- and goal-setting retreat). He declared himself and his wife “very happy with the level of education that our children are receiving.”

Fischer, a Knight of Columbus field agent who ran against Evie Shellenberger and lost in a run-off in 2006, read from prepared remarks whenever he could, and brought up issues contemporary with that race or predating it: overspending in construction at Matanzas High School, staffer uses of cell phones, opposing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, and using warm, unassailable but not quite revealing or substantial phrases: “We have to be a family again. We have to have family values.”

Tucker, the incumbent, should have been armed with the most current numbers and ammunition to describe the district as it is and as he’s experienced it since he’s been on the board; he was in the same chair two hours before the forum, sitting through a budget hearing that, among other things, summed up the district’s colossal loss of $11 million in local revenue just this year, which the state will make up (making the district far more vulnerable to state budget cuts in the coming year). But Tucker had the briefest answers. Asked if he knew of a “negative” in the district, he couldn’t. Think of one at first, then mentioned poor transitioning between elementary and middle school. His goal in coming years, if money were available, is to install wireless internet and television capabilities in school buses to keep students entertained on rides to and from school. And he suggested cutting back on staffers attending conferences to save money (and costs of substitute teachers.)

Sword—with mentor Jim Guines, the long-time school board member, sitting in the closest row below the dais—used the phrase other board members have been using lately, but none of her fellow candidates dared use: “We’re already operating on bare bones.” Her solutions: more grant-writing on a national scale, more lobbying of state lawmakers for more funds, and more creative partnerships with Palm Coast in using recreational facilities and possibly sharing programs instead of being forced to cut them. (Today’s budget meeting by the Palm Coast City Council, itself a bare-bones affair, suggests that cost-sharing of any sort is not in the works.) But Sword’s grasp of immediate budget realities was the most informed and up to date, as were her treatment of questions about the controversial class-size amendment (an ideal unsupported by evidence, she said) and a modest school tax voters will be asked to support come November (the continuation of an existing tax, Sword said, rather than a new tax).

Sword, Peligian and Fischer are facing each other in the District 5 seat being vacated by Evie Shellenberger, who’s retiring after eight years. Ray and Tucker are facing off in the District 3 seat. Andy Dance, the District 1 incumbent, drew no opposition. He was in the audience, as was board member Colleen Conklin

No forum enabling a handful of questions and brief answers does full justice to a candidate’s profile, even less so a paragraph or two in an article that sums up lives in sentences. But it’s just as true that for many voters (at least the minority who do vote), and absent personal connections, judgments are made based on the briefest impressions, making these forums (which are broadcast locally on WNZF) disproportionately valuable to the interested voter.

The school board candidates’ forum followed one that presented five candidates for judge in the seventh judicial circuit—Matt Foxman and George Pappas in Group 3, Scott DuPont, Don Holmes and Eric Neitzke in Group 10. That forum will be summed up on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening  at 6 in the same chambers at the Government Services Building, a second forum will feature Flagler County Commission candidates Nate McLaughlin and Bob Abbot (the incumbent) and the six candidates for the seventh circuit in Group 5—Dennis Craig, Ed Haenftling Jr., Joe Horrox, John Selden, and local Bunnell rivals (and former partners) Sid Nowell and Marc Dwyer.

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13 Responses for “School Board Candidates Tread Gulf Between Ideal and Reality in Chamber Forum”

  1. PCer says:

    The best Tucker could do was to offer entertainment on buses? Is he serious? Is this what our kids need?

  2. Charlie says:

    It seemed to me, that the “better ” answers came from the lesser known candidates. Two of the people, that I thought, should have shined, were inadequate/shallow in their responces, as if they did not know what was happening. I think the questions, were produced too hard, to perhaps challenge, those who were not real candidates, but just trying to get through the night. But to me, the biggest disappointment, …No Pledge of Allegiance to open the Forum. But I agree with PCer, ….entertainment?? Maybe a courtesy/manners video, would be more appropriate.

  3. Peachie says:

    Peligian has shown himself to be a sneaky liar. Did you see what he did at Flagler Online? Posted under an assumed name and when asked if he was Peligian, he claimed he was not. However, when he joined the forum there (as SATCH) he set up his profile with his name and e mail address and made it public. What kind of candidate hides behind a false internet name to promote himself? Not any kind that I will ever vote for.

    I’m pleased with Raven Sword. She seems best qualified for that seat.

    Tucker disappointed me. If he can’t do better than TVs on buses after serving on the school board, Marc Ray will get my vote.

  4. Truth Traveler says:

    That’s interesting, Peachie, because I have seen Peter Peligian post right on this online paper with his real name. Do you have proof to your claim?

    Of the 5 candidates, only two had a real understanding of what is going on with our current board and superintendent, and one of the biggest budget issues that need to be addressed.
    Both questioned the current boards practice of voting without discussion or verbal disclosure to large chunks of “constent items.” For instance, the last board meeting the board without question approved 5 pages of consent items and NONE were pulled for discussion. They were all about positions in the county, some newly filled. AFTER Sue Dickinson motioned that they be approved, and after the board approved all the consent staffing items did someone on the board speak up and saying they needed to see how these items affected the budget. WHAT? In the counties financial condition, you approve 5 pages of consent items without public discussion. Of course, some of the positions were to further bolster the County Office administration.

    Only two candidates mention these block approvals of consent items needing to be pulled for public discussion. They were Marc Ray and Peter Peligian. THEY know what is going on. They know about being physically responsible and how to manager budgets in the millions.

    Trevor Tucker is a yes man and goes along with Sue Dickinson in whatever she thinks. He does not have the skill set to think for himself.

    Raven Sword is an attorney. She is a very intelligent woman and her skill set is in law. The SB already has an attorney. In her answers, it was clear she does not have a true feel for our school system, but as an attorney, knew how the talk convincingly. You just had to look past her performance and listen to what she said.

    I believe it is time for the school board and superintendent to fund schools starting with funding for the students of our county. Unfortunately, this years budget was done funding the county office administration and support positions to help the super. IMHO, funding needs to be done from the bottom (students) up instead of from the superintendent down as it is being done now.

    THAT is the real issues that face us and the two finance/businessmen that have managed multi-million dollar budgets before are the men to vote for.

  5. Peter Peligian says:

    I have never blogged.
    The comment I leave here is only the fourth time I have responded to a media site ( other than “friending” on Facebook) and I am proud to state my name.
    This concern has prompted my daughter to come forth and admit the she is Satch ( a nickname).
    With ready access to my campaign email – an always open application on my home desktop – she wanted to “help her father”.
    Well-intentioned; ill-conceived; it will not happen again.
    My direct email is
    Thank you to Truth Traveler for keeping this campaign focused.

  6. BW says:

    Sounds like the meeting had a good turnout and thanks FlaglerLive for covering it so well.

    It’s obvious that it’s time for Tucker to go. I’m all for establishing a better technology foundation in the schools to enhance the educational environment and better prepare our students for the future. But wireless internet and TV’s on buses to keep kids ‘entertained’? Talk about out of touch. The technology road he started down was a great opportunity to talk about utilizing grant opportunities to establish better technology tools in our classrooms and he just totally missed it.

    Not impressed with Fischer either who apparently was not prepared at all and had nothing current as well as going the cliche’ route (i.e. ‘family values’).

  7. Peachie says:

    I sure do TruthTraveler. This link

    Goes to a topic that SATCH started on the forum criticizing and misrepresenting the new tax. Satch is then asked if he is Peligian- and he claims not to be. Satch is then challenged again about who he really is. On page three of that thread a screen shot of Satch’s Flagler Online profile is displayed and it shows Peligian’s e mail address (the same used on his campaign website) as Satch’s e mail address.

    That was on Monday and SATCH (I mean Peligian) has not been back to defend himself. Of course, his behavior and outright lying is indefensible so there’s really no point.

  8. Lin says:

    Disappointed in the candidates last night for school board.

    If running for school board, they should have known that the Concurrency legislation enacted by the Florida Legislature 2005 (Chapter 2005-290) mandates a comprehensive focus on school planning by requiring local gov’ts and school boards to adopt a local concurrency system which ensures coordination between local governments and school boards in planning & permitting developments that affect school capacity & utilization rates. from Florida Dept of Consumer Affairs

    Ok, they should at least have known what concurrency is.

    Mr. Tucker is a sitting Board member. To suggest “entertainment on the school bus”? And give the grade “A” without noting any challenges at all?

    Ms. Sword is an Attorney licensed in other states. Surprised she did not know what concurrency means. I think these candidates need to study before putting themselves out there for School Board.
    Ms. Sword was knowledgeable about the class size study but her answer to the budget crunch to look to Tallahassee and also grants from government is looking for handouts all over again. The handouts are coming from the taxpayers ultimately, federal & state. Usually, that comes with the pricetag of control & mandates.

    Ray and Peligian look most knowledgeable to me.
    Thanks to WNZF & flaglerlive

  9. Erin Masters says:

    raven sword is my candidate!

  10. Truth Traveler says:

    Peachie, did you read two posts above your last? He explained and I believe him.
    Peachie, are you one of the owners of flagleronline?

  11. Peachie says:

    I am not one of the owners of Flagler Online. In fact, I do not even live full time in Florida.

  12. JW says:

    I think that Raven Sword is going to bring a fresh new perspective on the board. She may not know all the laws on the books, but who really does? Did anyone read all the thousand plus pages of the OBAMACARE bill? I know our Senators didn’t. I think she has the capability to do well and you should select candidates based on previous experience and potential. She has both. That’s my two cents worth…..Now please vote when the time comes, otherwise if you complain later, then it’s your fault for not voting… Good luck to all.

  13. Fred B says:

    From what I can tell, Ray seems far more solid and knowledgable than Tucker, who seems more enamored with the position itself than actually making plans to improve the schools with the budget problems we have.

    TV on school buses? Surely, he’s joking? By and large, kids watch far too much television as it is; rather than adding severe expense to the budget and pure chaos to school bus transportation by Tucker’s suggestion of adding TV on buses, he should come up with real solutions which focus on education (not entertainment) and budget care (not frivolous expenses). Tucker’s signs read “Re-elect” but he was never actually elected in the first place, so that tells you something. He seems lost.

    As of right now, Mark Ray easily gets my vote.

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