John Fischer 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 incumbent Trevor Tucker and Paul Anderson because that race has just two candidates. District 2 is a three-way race between incumbent Janet McDonald, 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.
While we ask candidates to answer their own questions, we do not object to their having some help writing them, but we ask that they let us know when they do. Fischer said his answers were edited by Kim Gridley before submission to FlaglerLive.
See Fischer’s 2010 Live Interview here.
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: Cleveland, Ohio, December 22, 1944
Current job: Retired, volunteer for the Flagler County School System.
Net worth: $414,416; Click here for financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites and Social Media: Instagram: fischerforfcsb. Facebook: John Fischer
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?
I’d like to see Flagler County build on the accomplishments we’ve already achieved like the flagship programs, the arts and our college prep classes by incorporating more opportunities for alternative education specifically in the vocational areas. There are good jobs for electricians, plumbers and other skilled workers that our students should also see as options. I’d like to see our school system pursue these areas so that every student that graduates from a Flagler County school is heading for a future that is best suited to their interests and abilities.
My situation is a little different than most others. I am a challenger who has also been a school board member. [Fischer served on the school board from 2011 to 2014.] My preparation has been to do what I am known for – to be everywhere but with a purpose. That purpose is to see and hear what goes on in our schools and our community and to provide support and encouragement for the students and all the staff members: the teachers of course, but the bus drivers, the support staff, the cafeteria workers, the janitorial staff and all the unsung heroes that make our schools work. I did that for the four years I was on the board, but I’ve continued to do the same thing during the past four years as well.
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.
People who’ve met me know that I’m a very upbeat person who is guided primarily by my faith. I try to be a positive role model, especially around the students who I believe benefit from having someone complimenting their work and their efforts. School board members do not have the power to affect salaries or state mandated testing. Much of what goes on in the schools is determined by the professional educators’ contract and state statutes. Therefore, it’s important for school board members to provide as much encouragement and involvement as we possibly can for our school system while at the same time, letting people do their jobs without our interference. Anyone who makes promises about what they’ll do if elected, is not aware of the limits of the position. My biggest shortcoming is that I tend to be too honest so there are times when silence is my only option. I’m also a pushover when it comes to my three dogs. I spoil them terribly.
Can you give us an example of your four years as a school board member when you made a mistake or a misjudgment in your official capacity, learned from it, and perhaps acted differently, and how?
In retrospect, my support for the uniform policy was something I would consider a mistake. The concept might have been fine, but I did not take into account the amount of extra work it would create for the teachers and the deans’ offices as well as the amount of time that the students would be out of class so in hindsight, I would have gotten more input from the people in the schools who would be dealing with the ramifications of a uniform policy before supporting anything like that again.
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 am not the incumbent.
The question was unfortunately truncated at our end and should have also included the following: if you’re not the incumbent, what do you in policies to spur the district toward an A? In your case, your first tenure as a school board member also saw the district at a B for three of its four years. It was the beginning of the streak–under your watch. Why then, and what now?
There are several factors that are impacting the school district’s grade, many of which include unacceptable gains by our lowest quartile. But the thing to remember is that the overall district grade does not measure who we are as a school system. Flagler has much to be proud about and we will continue to strive to achieve that A grade because there is always room for improvement. A school board member’s impact on school grades is directly related to the amount of time that member wishes to invest. School board members don’t hire teachers and they don’t write lesson plans – nor should they. What they can do is provide support and encouragement for teachers, work on school morale (which I believe directly affects learning) and provide someone to listen to their concerns in order to bring those concerns to the superintendent and others who are in a position to change what might be wrong. I think that’s the most effective way a school board member can actually improve what’s happening in the schools. It’s a matter of leadership by working with the teachers, not just telling them what they should be doing.
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?
I believe our Flagship programs; our arts and athletic programs and our college preparatory courses are all outstanding. When I visit the schools and see the kind of innovative teaching that’s going on, or attend a performance or an athletic contest, I am enormously proud of our students and their teachers and coaches. They are motivated, dedicated and inspiring. I don’t know that we have actual failures in our county, but I do believe there are areas in need of improvement. I think that we can continue to work harder to help our students with disabilities because as I visited the classrooms again this summer, I was reminded of how wonderful these children are and how hard it is for them to sometimes do what we would normally take for granted. These children provide us with extraordinary gifts: their enthusiasm, their desire to please and their natural innocence and it’s important that we support them. We need to provide greater counselling opportunities for students who are suffering so that they never feel so alone or desperate that they act out with tragic consequences. And finally, we must offer better remediation to help students do well on the state mandated exams. Regardless of our feelings toward these tests, they are not going away, and they have significant impacts on our students and our schools, so we need to make sure our students have the best preparation possible to succeed.
Four years from now I want to be able to see an increased focus on alternative educational opportunities. Specifically, we need more training in vocational and skilled occupations that complement college so that students who prefer to work with their hands have the ability to get a good job without massive college debt, something I’m sure parents would appreciate.
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, I would support the renewal. Currently the surtax funds technology and can also be used for capital improvements. Depending upon the circumstances in 2022, those determinations would be made if any changes were needed or expansions were necessary.
The district takes in upwards of $4 million a year from the half-penny sales tax and spends it on technology. But there are current needs. Understanding that this is a few years off, you would be asked to make the decision on the scope of how to use the tax revenue. Would you support shifting some of that money to vocational education, security or such capital expenditures as much-needed buses?
The first thing I would need to find out is how are we actually spending those funds currently. I think it’s important that any school board candidate exercises due diligence and knows exactly what the facts are before making statements about a topic. For this reason, I went to the school district’s finance office and obtained the resolution being discussed. The resolution that was adopted states in part:
“…the proceeds of which shall be expended by the school board for fixed capital expenditures and fixed capital costs associated with the costs of retrofitting and providing for technology implementation, including hardware and software for all school sites within the district: and for the construction, reconstruction or improvement of school facilities and campuses which have a useful life expectancy…”
Clearly this provides for a certain amount of leeway in the spending, but several questions must still be asked such as: Are we replacing computers each year? What are the costs of software improvements and the district’s telephone system, which are also part of the spending? How will the future bill be written, and will it be limited to specific technological improvements or are we going to be able to include options like vocational education (which I strongly support) or new buses or whatever capital expenditures are needed? Perhaps the bill might include more flexibility and areas like counseling and vocational education will be included. Once we see how the bill is written I would entertain ideas as to how we could shift those funds to other areas whose needs might be greater, but as I said before, I won’t make a statement about it until I’ve done my homework.
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?
I’m completely against arming teachers and staff. They have enough to worry about without having weapons in the classroom and the stress that they might be called on to defend their students from an attack. Like the question about the half-penny surtax, this is a “what if” situation and I don’t want to speculate on possibilities and unknowns. When we see what the fiscal situation is, they we’ll know what funds we’ll have to work with and how to best allocate them. There are alternative programs available which are less expensive that we could investigate to see how they could be implemented in our schools should the need arise. The Sheriff has indicated that his staff will be offering training for all school employees to prepare for a severe threat scenario before the start of the new school year.
What are the “alternative programs” you refer to?
There are lots of possibilities that deserve consideration. The Sheriff’s Dept. will be offering training for teachers and staff early this school year as to what to do in a crisis situation. They will also be working with students in very carefully thought-out age appropriate lessons on what to do. We have many retired police officers, retired veterans and security guards in our community who might be willing to work with our schools and Sheriff’s Dept in this area. Perhaps most importantly, we need more mental health and guidance counselors in our schools and we need to prioritize those positions so that problems can be dealt with before they become tragedies. And lastly, we need to build upon the “see something, say something” philosophy so that students can help each other, recognize signs that something might be wrong, and know they can go to a trusted adult for help. These are the alternative programs I referred to and I’m glad you asked me for clarification.
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 one-to-one technology initiative was initially paid for by a half penny sales tax that the citizens of Flagler County generously approved. (Thank you, citizens of Flagler County!) Students in the high schools and middle schools receive a lap-top or iPad for use with school work which is signed out annually. Elementary students have access daily to a computer device. The success of the initiative is evidenced by the kinds of learning innovations seen in many of the schools. Students have access to far more information from all over the world that would not be available without the Internet. However, computers and laptops must be used as supplemental tools for education and should not take the place of differentiated classroom instruction. I’ve seen wonderful teachers including the computers for research in a lesson which I believe was the original intent of the technology – not that students would be on their computers excessively.
Board member Janet McDonald–one of your opponents–said, regarding the one-to-one initiative, that “we have not set any parameters to measure to determine our return on investment.” Do you disagree? If so, what actual measurements can you cite, other than learning innovations, that show a direct connection between technology and learning gains? If you agree with McDonald’s assessment, how defensible is it to continue a $4 million-a-year program without such evaluations of its effectiveness?
Once again, rather than simply speculate, I went directly to the source to answer this question – our district technology department. I was told that at this time we do not have any definitive means by which to weigh the direct effect of technology on students’ grades. But, you know, FlaglerLive, you can’t always look at value in tangible measurements. Some things, like art, creativity and innovation are intangible. You, of all people understand the value of technology as Flagler Live. We have elementary students working on coding – in third and fourth grade! I’ve seen them; it’s amazing! We’ve got students learning about robotics and using the Internet for all kinds of work in the Flagship programs. Students are creating documents and projects that would have been unheard of years ago and they need to be doing this if we are to prepare them for the world they will eventually enter and compete for jobs in. We can’t really put a price on this kind of training and I believe we’d be shortchanging them if we didn’t offer them all of these opportunities. When I visit students in the classroom and see the kind of well-rounded experiences they’re having, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to provide and I’d vote to continue it.
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.
The Flagler County Code of Conduct is a collaborative document that requires input from many different stakeholders and it is offered as a proposed, rather than ratified document for public input before it becomes school policy. Therefore, I agree with what is written in that handbook. Free speech is one of our basic rights as Americans. But our First Amendment rights do have limitations – the most obvious is you can’t yell “Fire!” in a theater. Similarly, students should not be allowed to threaten or bully other classmates through social media as this inhibits their right to a safe education. Recent tragedies in schools across the nation have completely changed how we measure free speech. But students need to remember two things: First, the computers are school property and they are on loan to the student, and second, students should realize that anything they post online has the potential to become public knowledge. With these two facts in mind, students need to be very careful about using an educational tool for something that could be damaging to another person or themselves. I believe the acquisition of Social Sentinel needed to be more transparent. It seemed to be a done deal before the public had any input.
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’m in favor of term limits but I also know that there are some negative aspects of term limits as well. For example, if someone is doing a terrific job as a school board member and wants to continue, term limits would prevent that. All in all, though, I do believe in term limits.
Charter schools have not been successful in Flagler County with the notable exception of Imagine. Heritage Charter School in Bunnell and more recently Palm Harbor have both performed poorly and have cost the district thousands of dollars with little to show for it. I think having the state oversee charter schools in the county is a bad idea. Just look at how the state treats Flagler in funding. We consistently get shorted by the state legislature with unfunded mandates, increased testing and statutes that don’t help our students. The board has pulled the license for both charter schools mentioned so I think they are doing an adequate job. What I would like to see is a flagship that partnered with local industry to provide our students with apprenticeship programs to get good paying vocational style jobs right out of high school. Even better would be to attract some of the local philanthropic organizations to participate in trade schools that would provide more opportunities for our students.
The flagship programs are a wonderful way to give students real life experiences in such varied areas as culinary arts, banking, fire-fighting, law enforcement and aeronautics as well as others. The students who are involved in these programs are more engaged in their educations and although I don’t have the statistics readily available, I would be willing to bet that their absentee and discipline rates are likely to be lower. The programs also give them an advantage in the job market after they graduate from high school because many of these programs offer internships with clear paths to professional employment. If there is a weakness it is that we don’t offer a program that specializes in skilled trades that would be useful in the housing industries. FTI [Flagler Technical Institute] is doing an excellent job with the different companies in the community and I’d like to see us expand upon that.
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.
No, I have not.
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|