Janet McDonald is one of five candidates in two races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 28 primary election.
The two school board elections–for District 2 and 4–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in the two races, whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party. (The District 1 seat was also up this year, but incumbent Andy Dance was re-elected without opposition.)
You may cast a vote in both races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 28 will decide the winner in District 4 between Trevor Tucker and Paul Anderson because that race has just two candidates. District 2 is a three-way race between McDonald, the incumbent (she was elected in 2014), John Fischer and Carl Jones. 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. 6.
FlaglerLive submitted 11 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 $33,447 a year.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Purpose and vision
- District’s B Grade
- District’s weaknesses and successes
- Half-cent sales surtax
- School deputies
- Student surveillance
- Term limits and charter schools
- Flagship programs
- Teacher unions
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: New York City, March 29, 1950.
Current job: Member, Flagler County School Board; Neurodevelopmental Specialist & Instructor
Net worth: $1.6 million. Click here for financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican
Websites and Social Media: Facebook; Twitter, @usa1mom; Webpage.
See McDonald’s 2014 Live Interview here.
1. What is your vision for public education in Flagler County and how are you uniquely qualified to help enact it within the limitations of the job? If you’re an incumbent, how have you enacted it in your previous years? If you’re a challenger, what have you done to prepare?
My vision: Flagler Schools provide quality opportunities for all students to achieve a well-rounded education preparing them to pursue successful lives. As an educator since 1972, I know that each student is unique and will be successful with the best opportunities to support learning, and I have expertise in knowing what enhances those possibilities for students. As a School Board member, I can contribute to the conversations around evaluating effectiveness of programs and the use of resources, advocate for new programs and partnerships that expand our offerings, and advocate that all programs are delivered within tenets of best educational experiences.
I have been a vocal supporter of sound educational practices for beneficial physical and cognitive development throughout the district: reviewing assets of trial initiatives to include in Flagler Schools culture and expectations, advocating for increased movement, art, music and project-based learning for higher engagement and learning outcomes, review and revision of best instructional opportunities for Exceptional Student Education, improving flagship experiences in all elementary and middle schools, expansion of high school academies: Aeronautics, Fire Leadership, i3, Teaching/Childcare, Agricultural Biotechnology, Culinary Arts, Health Science, Finance, and Law & Criminal Justice, increased opportunities for acceleration through industry certifications, AP, IB, AICE (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, the Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education), and dual enrollment with Daytona State College, Bethune-Cookman University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the University of Florida, and partnering with agencies to bring additional opportunities to Flagler students through the Flagler Youth Orchestra and the initiation and expansion of PAL MS sports.
I have successfully advocated in Tallahassee for Florida statute-aligned materials to be used in our schools and for community members to be able to contribute to the process for selecting best options for our students. Flagler Schools Executive Team has built on the foundation of Superintendent Jacob Oliva. I believe our hiring James Tager, to serve as Superintendent, has brought a team focus of looking closely at the success of each student, at every level, and using multiple supports from Early Warning Systems to mentoring to create educational safety nets to keep students on track and families engaged. The Graduate 100 program (initiated by School Board member Colleen Conklin) is an example of careful researching and focused planning (under Oliva and the school board), and team engagement and support (under Tager and the school board) of over 130 seniors, who started the year without enough credits to graduate, to successfully complete high school requirements an d receive their diplomas. The Flagler school district is focused on the mission of educating each child across the district. Aspects of this program will be embedded into the middle school culture and programs.
Flagler County Commission
Greg Hansen (Rep., Dist. 2)
Dennis McDonald (Ind., Dist. 2)
Joe Mullins (Rep., Dist. 4)
Jane Gentile-Youd (Ind., Dist. 4)
Flagler School Board
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
The Candidates on ESE
Palm Coast City Council
Jon Netts (Dist. 2)
Jack Howell(Dist. 2)
Eddie Branquinho (Dist. 4)
John Tipton IV (Dist. 4)
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: if you’re an incumbent, what do you consider may have been a mistake or a misjudgment on your part in your official capacity—something you’d do over, differently–in the past four years? If you’re a challenger, apply the question to your work or civic involvement.
I am a person who generously invests in activities that improve effectiveness of an organization or program and opportunities for individuals. I enjoy learning and experiencing a broad range of activities and appreciate the benefits of each for developing more well-rounded people, who can then contribute their skills and talents for the greater good. I believe each person has gifts and talents to develop and I enjoy supporting others on their journeys.
My shortcomings: I am interested in multiple ventures and tend to add more to my day than hours allow. I am a voracious researcher and am often more excited about sharing my findings than others are in wanting to know.
Temperament: I do my best to be present without judgement in order to be an active listener, receive information in neutral fashion, and understand where others are positioned and to ask for clarifying information. I tend to encourage communication through respectful exchanges and I’m a huge cheerleader for those who work to accomplish their goals and those who are on their way.
Mistake or misjudgment in the past four years: I know now how to revisit inappropriate counsel and insufficient information that were involved with voting on Corp 1 demolition and a fund raiser.
In that last part of your answer, you are referring to the old Corporate One property off Palm Coast Parkway–the old ITT building that was demolished, and the 7 acres the school board has tried to sell, twice rejecting bids–a $1.8 million offer last year, a $2.5 million offer in June. Your intervention was key in June to prevent the sale at that price, though two board members wanted to sell and use part of the proceeds for needed capital such as school buses. But where was the mistake or misjudgment on your part, and what was the “inappropriate counsel” in that regard? Can you specify what fund-raiser you are referring to?
I was not referring to the current transaction.”Inappropriate counsel” was given during the demolition conversation when a different board was in place. The question was abruptly “moved” without a second, though Ms. Conklin questioned board counsel for need of a second, yet was told it wasn’t needed. And action swiftly went to a vote before all members had their questions satisfied.
The fund-raiser being referred to was Wheels and Keels.
3. The Flagler school district earned a B for the seventh year in a row. If you’re the incumbent, how do you defend your tenure from reflecting a middling performance, at least in the state’s eyes and in the eyes of families or businesses looking to relocate to Flagler?
I think it is important for the community to understand that due to legislation from Tallahassee and the use of the District Cost Differential formula (never intended by its creator to be used as it is) Flagler has been an education tax donor county since the system was started. I started asking questions about funding and budgets since my first year on the board. I have lobbied, along with other school board members across the state, our state representative, senator, and those on the legislative education committees to revise the unfair funding scheme. We are a “donor county,” providing funds to larger districts with larger tax bases and economies of scale, yet we need to provide the full complement of services that they do in order to be accredited to give diplomas. With that we have a “required local effort”(RLE) tax expectation set by legislation. Last year we were one of the lowest (#65 out of 67) counties in dollars received from the state and among the highest (#6 out of 67) in required local (tax) effort. Thanks to year-round advocacy by Flagler County School Board members, Superintendent Tager and Chief Financial Officer Tom Tant, and the work with Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson, this year’s compression funding has brought us $1 million closer to the state average funding amount (we are still short by about $3 million). We now rank #62 out of 67 in funding with RLE being #11 out of 67, for the 2018-2019 school year.
District executive, administrative, professional and support teams have kept improving services, opportunities, and improving results, while working with more underfunded mandates and other legislative limits with 2007-2008 dollars, without accounting for inflation. As Tom Tant shared in his budget presentation (see it here), “What company is working with that same constraint?”
Since our state has had a negative funding system, providing more monies to failing schools, I’ve encouraged Sen. Hutson and Rep Renner and other state legislators to consider a reward system for districts like Flagler, which has continued to increase students’ opportunities and grades and is regarded as an educational leader and innovating district across the state.
Though the grading formula continues to change each year and, thus, make it look like the Flagler district is not making progress toward an “A” district grade, looking below the “stable B” surface one would see the improvements. Areas of gain that are not included in this year’s grade are high school graduation rate and industry certifications. There are many “A” areas across the schools. Our executive and administrative teams have analyzed the data and have identified a few key areas that have kept us points away from achieving a district “A.” Plans for focused attention on learning gains for those subgroups throughout 2018-2019 year, along with gains achieved in the 2017-2018, yet not included in this year’s “B” data, will most likely put us comfortably within the “A” range. Beyond the “A,” I must also interject that the testing system we have has never been shown to be reliable and valid assessments of the standards…and a grade on a proprietary test can never tell the whole story of an education. Let’s remember engaging learners academically and through extracurricular activities is important for the overall development of well-rounded students.
How would more state money effectively work to improve the district’s grade? What would you tell critics who’d say that you’re seeking to throw more money at the problem, such as it is?
As a relatively small school district serving 13,000 students, we do not benefit from quantities of scale, yet must provide all of the services that other districts do in order to be accredited to issue diplomas. Every service – academic, support, maintenance, transportation, etc – must be provided from those funds. They can spread their costs over more students’ FEFP [Florida Education Finance Program] dollars. We also are the 62nd lowest funded district in the state – lower than all our surrounding counties- Volusia, Putnam and St. Johns- and wealthier counties benefit, as we are a donor county, receiving $.95 for every $1 sent to Tallahassee. With each year of new mandates most are not fully funded and we have little latitude to dip into the appropriated $.47 boost in education funding that was allocated this year. Additional teachers, paraprofessionals, professional trainings, materials and educational opportunities for addressing student unique needs would result in better first learning opportunities to avoid the remediation loop and increase engaging educational opportunities for better learning, retention, and success to diploma receipt.
We are currently working with a budget that mirrors our 2007-2008 budget, and we are addressing 10 years of unfunded/underfunded legislated mandates and increased costs across our supply streams. Mr. Tom Tant, the district’s chief financial officer, posed a very good question to conclude our Budget Meeting that reflects on this question best: “Is there any company, family, person, or other governmental agency in Flagler County currently working from a 2007-2008 budget [with the lowest millage rate in 25 years for (RLE)] ? Or any able to provide more quality and variety of underfunded mandated services as the district is required to do and accomplishes~ ALL due to incredible personnel in all departments and tight accounting? I know the district could more successfully address the issues Flagler schools would like to resolve with targeted funding and attention. The district has demonstrated it is a good steward of tax dollars, very transparent with use – before in planning, during through project and after via results – and always focused on doing the best for Flagler County students…and would demonstrate focused return on investment, if given the opportunity!
4. What are the district’s three brightest successes and the three failures that affect students most? What will be your chief priorities regarding student achievement, within the limits of the doable—that is, four years from now, what can we look back to and say: you were responsible?
Brightest successes: Intra-county collaboration to create our hugely successful Fire Leadership Academy; District dedication to valuing the visual and performing Arts as critical components of best education- annually ranking Superiors in band competition; the Flagship concept of bringing experts and interesting learning to all students in a variety of high interest fields, and currently in line to be enhanced for more impact on learning success.
I would not consider these ‘failures,’ yet these provided many Challenges needing adjustments: Extensive/exclusive use of the one-to-one computer initiative as primary learning/working/assessing mode without evidence of sound educational practice and monitoring impact and gains or challenges in a trial group before full district roll out, other than technology links which had or have challenges; full inclusion model for exceptional education students without sufficient preparation and support staff, or professional training; Communication that engages more families to become partners in all aspects of their student’s success, though many new informational links and avenues are now available for use from the district and each school.
Priorities over the next four years: The state formula for grades is actually lagging in reflecting current school year data. The increase in 2017-2018 graduation rates, for example, will not be reflected until it is captured in the next (2018-2019) year’s data. This year’s successful (130+ students) Flagler Schools Graduate 100 concepts and practices are being used across both high schools to get all students on track to graduate within their four years comfortably with some acceleration credits. These practices and expectations are also being embedded in our middle school programs to posture students for more success in middle school and for more possibilities for high school engagement and acceleration. The next is embedding sound educational practice throughout the district as the district culture and expectations. And the district is beginning a pilot at the beginning end of our system, focusing on ways to enhance VPK, K & 1st graders’ readiness for learning and future learning success.
5. In 2022, the last year of your tenure, should you win, the district’s half-penny surtax on the sales tax expires. The district will all but certainly seek to renew it. Do you support its renewal? Would you alter its scope and fund different items from those funded now?
Yes, because it is a way to have local taxes used for identified purposes determined important by Flagler County citizens. We are operating with a budget less than that of 2007-2008, when considering inflation, increases in consumer prices, salaries and a considerable number of unfunded state mandates since then, yet we provide a greater range of high value experiences for students K-12+. This surtax is a way to expand our offerings to serve our learners in different ways.
Would I alter its scope and fund different items from those funded now? Yes, our teaching and learning focus was shifted to a heavy focus on technology needs in machines and personnel which directed educational materials to be delivered through that mode, such that ‘IT’ has become a primary focus rather than a tool for learning. I believe more balance with authentic, project based learning and performing opportunities, supported by selective use of technology, will engage students and develop more essential (formerly named ‘soft’) skills that companies, businesses, and institutions of higher learning are seeing a need for and are demanding.
6. The County Commission through the sheriff pay for half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. If Amendment 1 passes and county government revenue drops next year with the expansion of the homestead exemption (which would not affect school revenue), the county may retreat from its 50-50 commitment. If it does, how do you propose making up the difference? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you?
Every legislated state mandate comes with no or insufficient allocated funds. It would be a terrible value statement if the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners would not support contributing to protecting our greatest asset, our children, housed in the most concentrated numbers on any given school day, while the children were engaging in the most vital service the county provides. Simply because the quickly created legislation does not include any County Commission-obligated participation, it should not be inferred that it is not the right thing to do to invest in one of our community’s highest priorities – helping to create safe environments for our children while gathered to learn. One thing I would like to encourage is school district and municipal boards to do more seamlessly is work in concert with each other. We all serve the same body of taxpayers.
If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would I? No, I prefer the trained guardian team approach, consisting of qualified, trained personnel, aligned with an education orientation. Our teachers already serve many roles, as education professionals and in personal support capacities, in their daily service to our students.
Just to clarify: when you say “trained guardian,” would you then be willing to see an armed presence other than that of sheriff’s deputies, such as trained but armed volunteers, as in a few other districts–assuming for argument’s sake that financial arrangement with the sheriff and the County Commission proves less affordable in the future?
Yes, the most popular option other districts are using is former military, police or other trained service members, so safety and response procedures/protocols are generally known. The additional screening for appropriate personalities/acumen for various school populations along with the specifics of Flagler County/ Flagler District processes and expectations would be the add-on that is important. It will be beneficial for us to monitor how those programs work in other districts to reflect on the benefits of maintaining our contract with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office or considering an alternative when we are up for renewal.
7. Explain Flagler County’s one-to-one technology initiative and how it’s paid for. Is the district spending too much on technology? Too little? By what objective measure would you say the initiative has been a success—or has fallen short?
The district provides 1:1 laptop access to high school and middle school students (meaning one device to each student), who can choose day-time use at school only or 24/7, take-home use; upper elementary students have 1:1 iPad use, and lower elementary have classroom share options; computer labs are options for elementary school-wide use; media centers have equipment that fits their needs and space; special fully equipped large work areas in each high school-middle school building are outfitted with individual work stations and flexible furniture to customize work spaces for various groupings or whole group experiences (uniquely, as buildings have designed). All of this initiative is paid for out of the half-penny sales surtax, except for salaries for the district’s Executive Director of Instructional and Operational Innovation and his office secretary (8200 code) due to additional duties they provide for the district.
To quantify and evaluate the monies spent thus far cannot be determined because we have not set any parameters to measure to determine our return on investment. We can count success where students have access to remote experiences and real-time virtual engagement while studying an almost limitless variety of topics, connecting with information and expert sources beyond Flagler County.
We seem to be using technology for substitution for print materials, procedure and learning tutorials, and science experiences that could have more engagement if experienced in real time 3D.
My concern for an over-reliance on technology use is based on research on its effectiveness as a learning platform for delivery, understanding and retention of learning, and my knowledge of the impact on physical health and development from overuse of screen time. No more than 2hrs a day total screen use(instruction & social/recreational) is general guideline from American Pediatric Association, though they have modified it for older students due to extensive use in our culture. I suggest Reset Your Child’s Brain by Dr. Victoria Dunckley, a pediatric psychiatrist, or her website, for easy to understand information about the broad impact of electronic screen use.
You say “we have not set any parameters to measure to determine our return on investment.” Isn’t that a problem for a program that costs upward of $4 million a year and has drawn $20.5 million in revenue from taxpayers so far? Should there not be such parameters?
Yes. I’ve been attempting to with each renewal of equipment. The district and Board definitely need to establish what elements to measure, as we only have “exposure/use” data, rather than specific improvement/gain markers, and no quality indicators from internal performance, professionals, or the community, and we have no “control” group against which to measure gain or loss, as you would in a pilot.
8. Define the limits of a student’s free expression in and out of school not necessarily as the district’s Code of Conduct sets them out, but as you would craft them, including what a student may or may not say on social media. Evaluate the district’s use of a contractor such as Social Sentinel to monitor certain social media activities on and off campus.
I favor civil, common decency standards – say nothing that you wouldn’t want said about yourself or someone most dear to you …The Golden Rule – use respectful behavior and speech with others that you’d like to receive…or that you’d be proud to see on a prominent billboard for all to see with your picture or on interviewer’s notes taken from one of your posted offerings. The impression you leave on social media is lasting.
Responsible limits of behavior, including speech, come from within, not from a Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct is to define responses to guide one back to appropriate respectful practice when in company of others. “Free” expression is not without limits when in the company of or intended for others.
Since the new legislation has made districts “point” agency for various services outside their field of expertise, the district has engaged various expert providers for services we are not able to provide within time limitations. The district’s contract with Social Sentinel is a very economical service, scanning public information on social media for imminent threat and personal harm indicators. Phrases or ‘hits’ have been researched and cleared. So we know that the system is working for the items we’ve identified as primary safety topics. It is an attempt to be present on the level that the exchanges are taking place, since communication is happening in person and everywhere there is “service.”
All of the past tragic incidents have pointed to words, threats, behaviors, and more that were shared in person or electronically, and discounted as important to share. We can’t afford to miss public information that is easily captured by services like Social Sentinel for examination by key district and sheriff’s personnel, that may be discounted or excused away by others. Many other districts ~ Seminole, Osceola, and PAEC Consortium which includes Calhoun, Holmes, Taylor, Jackson, Wakulla, Franklin, Jefferson, Walton, Gadsden, Liberty, Washington, Gulf, and Madison Counties ~ have engaged Social Sentinel to provide another perspective on public information within areas of focused concern that is available on the broadly used social media platform.
Our contract is annually renewable and will be revisited for status of effectiveness for renewal during the beginning of next calendar year.
This is the first we hear of so many counties in Florida having contracted with Social Sentinel. Can you document the assertion beyond hearsay?
Yes, this is current information directly from Superintendent Tager and Social Sentinel. I gave you the information, yet would appreciate your generally sharing Osceola, Seminole, and PAEC consortium (rather than naming individual districts).
Editor’s note: we have found Social Sentinel, and to some extent the Flagler school district, to be more opaque than transparent with information relating to who is and is not on contract with the company. We believe it improper of any public agency to be spending tax dollars on a contract that is not publicly and readily known. We would not comply with a request to dissimulate such information.
9. Amendment 8 stacks three proposals into one, in hopes of winning a 60 percent majority. Let’s break it down as if it were separate parts: Do you support term limits for school board members? Explain your answer. Explain the potential effects on the district of that portion of the proposed constitutional amendment that would shift charter-school oversight to the state, from the local district, and analyze for us how effectively you think the board has overseen existing or potential charter schools in the past five years.
I am voting NO on all combined amendments, as this is sloppy legislative and legal practice.
Let’s break it down as if it were separate parts: Do I support term limits for school board members? Yes. I think it takes about two years to have familiarity with all aspects of being a Florida school board member and time to build consensus for community needs and best educational direction, then focused work to achieve initiatives beyond state mandates, for two terms at most. Yet, I do think it is up to the community to determine term limits – local voters should be making those decisions. What works in one county may not work for others.
Charter school oversight: As in any relationship, closer is more authentic with the potential to be more effective, more accountable and responsive. Distant and possibly overwhelmed (the Florida Department of Education’s Charter Office has a staff of how many to interface with “A-F” charters schools directly or electronically?). The Flagler district has always been focused on encouraging charters within our county to focus on providing quality programming for all their students to achieve success. District professionals have assisted every charter, as was needed within state requirements, with some charters working to succeed and others, less so.
The district has responded to all charter requests for assistance, professional development, support services and links to agents of best practice, and has offered assistance to charters without waiting for request from them, when the need was demonstrated during regular contact. We enjoy a good working relationship with Imagine School at Town Center.
We have had limited success with charters in Flagler. Legislative leniency for charters only allows the county school district to take a leading directive role when aspects of the charter contract to serve students within state education guidelines or other state laws have been violated.
Flagships have been selected to expose students to fields of interest that they might not experience within the Florida curricula. Those are industries or fields expected to have local growth potential. Exposure to interesting topics, vocabulary, stories, inspiring leaders, new discoveries and ways to interact on an elementary or middle school level is a great way to engage students now and possibly with visions of longer term goals.
Weaknesses: Staff at each building have been evaluating their flagships and in many cases adjusting aspects for better experiences. I believe anything should evolve as success or need is realized, and our Teaching and Learning Department is now suggesting enhancements that dovetail experiences in the flagship areas with curricula demands and requirements. So students will now experience interesting activities while building knowledge and skills appropriate for their grade levels that support, applies and extends what they are learning in their classrooms.
11. 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.
2018 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|County Commission District 2||Greg Hansen, Incumbent (Rep)||Abby Romaine (Rep)||Dennis McDonald (NPA)|
|County Commission District 4||Nate McLaughlin, Incumbent (Rep)||Joe Mullins (Rep)||Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)|
|School Board District 1||Andy Dance, Incumbent||Unopposed|
|School Board District 2||Janet McDonald, Incumbent||John Fischer||Carl Jones|
|School Board District 4||Trevor Tucker, Incumbent||Paul Anderson|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Jack Howell||Jon Netts|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 4||Jose Eduardo Branquinho||Corinne Marie Hermle||John Tipton|
|Florida House District 24||Paul Renner, Incumbent (Rep)||Adam Morley (Dem)|
|Congressional District 6, Democratic Primary||Stephen Sevigny||Nancy Soderberg||John Upchurch|
|Congressional District 6, GOP Primary||Fred Costello||Michael Waltz||John Ward|