Vincent Lyon is one of eight candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 18 primary election. Lyon is running in District 1 against Jill Woolbright.
It is in effect a special election necessitated by the decision of Andy Dance to resign his school board seat in November, as he’s in a race for a County Commission seat. The winner will serve just two years, and will have to run again in 2022 to retain the seat.
The three school board elections–for District 1, 3 and 5–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 all three races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 18 will decide the winner in District 1 between Vincent Lyon and Jill Woolbright and in District 5, between incumbent Maria Barbosa and Cheryl Massaro, because both races have just two candidates each. District 3 is a three-way race between incumbent Colleen Conklin, Paul Mucciolo and Carol Bacha, known as Mother Elizabeth. 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 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 $33,950 a year.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Purpose and vision
- District’s Covid response
- Schools’ reopening
- Successes and failures
- Half-penny surtax
- School deputies
- LGBTQ rights
- Social media
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: Oklahoma City, June 23, 1971.
Current job: Attorney at Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant
Net worth: See Form 6 filed with the SOE
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan):
Websites and Social Media:
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?
Flagler County School District is an excellent public system. It received an overall A rating last year. Unfortunately that rating really only was achieved in three schools and only among specific large demographics. All of our schools need to rise to that level of excellence and we can do that by focusing efforts and resources in the classroom, on the traditionally underperforming groups. There is no reason Flagler schools can’t be the best in the state. We have the ability to attract wonderful teachers and staff. I see the schools as a haven for teaching equality of opportunity and full access to the best future for every student. I am myself the product of a public school education. My school was Northwest Classen in Oklahoma City. It was one of the lower-rated schools in the system, though not the worst. I came from a “traditionally underperforming group.” But there were good teachers and opportunities for growth and I went on to an ivy league college and eventually to a law degree and a reasonably successful career in the law. I know what a school that cares can do. I know also what inclusiveness means and how it will benefit everyone. And I know how to work with people and with numbers. Having served as a member of the Palm Coast City Council during a period of transition, and overseeing the budget process, I know what kind of work is involved and how to focus on what really matters.
How have you prepared for a seat on the school board, specifically?
My past experience as a member of several deliberative bodies, be it a condo association, a bar association, or a city council, have prepared me in many ways for being on the board, since being part of a deliberative body has a steep learning curve. For the school board specifically, I have been watching the board workshops online, and attending board meetings initially online but in person for the last few. I have been reading about the school district’s recent history, reading the school’s publications about its services, talking to people who work in or have worked in the school system, talking extensively to parents who have children in the schools, and familiarizing myself with the issues before the board. I have also looked into the history of the votes of the current board members to determine what issues have been difficult. Then, if you have been watching vincentlyon.com or my facebook page you will know I’ve been researching those difficult issues and developing ideas to address them, which I explain in those videos.
Jill Woolbright, District 1
Carol Bacha (Mother Elizabeth)
Colleen Conklin, District 3
Paul Mucciolo, District 3
Maria Barbosa, District 5
Dave Sullivan, District 3
Donald O'Brien, District 5
Bob Jones, District 5
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Ed Danko (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Cornelia Manfre (Dist. 3)
Zack Shapiro (Dist. 3)
See The Observer's Speedy Candidate Interviews
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.
A friend of mine once commented that I was the only friend he had who got along with every other friend he had. I would say I’m adaptable. I can work with people I disagree with in a collegial manner and I want to find consensus when possible. I am not at all quick to anger. I apply reason and give careful thought to whatever I put myself to. I am an animal lover. I have two dogs and two cats. I help my wife with Community Cats of Palm Coast in fostering rescued cats until they find homes. I defeated Flagler County government when the County wanted to declare a family’s Labrador dangerous. As a member of the community, I am very involved. I am president elect of the Rotary Club of Flagler County. I am vice president of the Estate Planning Council of the Fun Coast. I am a past President of the Flagler County Bar Association, I was a committee chair in a sub-group of the Chamber of Commerce, and as I stated above, I served as a member of the Palm Coast City Council. I never thought I would get into politics, but I always thought I would try to give what I can. When I was a child I came up with a prayer I said every night and every time I was alone in my thoughts: Help me make this world a little bit better than I found it. I still aspire to that.
3. Evaluate the way the district handled the Covid pandemic so far: while the order to close in-person instruction was handed down from the Department of Education, remote instruction methods were up to the districts. Did Flagler schools pass that test? Where was the execution best, where did it fail?
From the discussions I have had with teachers, the district did not do well. It did not have a plan in place. I found that surprising. While the specifics of the pandemic were unique, the inevitability of a pandemic has been known for years, and in many places has been part of policy. I was especially disappointed there wasn’t a plan because we are in a hurricane zone. A massive shut-down can occur from storms as well as disease. Several of the court systems around the state simply implemented their hurricane plans. I think the school needs a plan in place for next time there is a massive shut-down. Now, I do think there’s enough flexibility in the system that we can step up to the demand. I do believe we can do better when schools re-open. We will have to, because you can tell everyone they need to go back, but if infection numbers and deaths continue to rise, the people won’t want to go back. We will have to make arrangements so people are comfortable sending their kids back, or where their kids can learn remotely without falling behind.
The district was proud of putting its technology initiatives (a tablet or laptop for every student) swiftly to work when it went to universal remote instruction. Like any district switching that way, there were problems, but the previous superintendent at one point said there were only a few dozen families, out of 13,000 students, who hadn’t been connected (the west side has connectivity issues). How can that not be seen as a plan executed even if not premeditated–and what district in the country ever foresaw a 1918-style pandemic when not a single state, let alone the federal government, was prepared? In that context, isn’t the disappointment about Flagler’s response a bit unfair?
Not at all. It is realistic. First of all, just saying there are connectivity issues is not good enough. We can’t divide our students into the haves and the have-nots. Second, while you describe this as a “1918-style pandemic,” we have had pandemics in the past frequently. HIV around 1986, SARS starting in 2002, H1N1 starting in 2009, Ebola starting in 2014, are all recent pandemics. If you follow medical science news you will know pandemics are inevitable. The others were not as deadly or as disabling for many reasons, not the least of which was we used to have a pandemic task force that coordinated a national response. The key is planning. Our school district could not have known when or to what extent a pandemic would disrupt our lives, but they should have had a clear plan for prolonged closure of schools. We live in a hurricane area, and storms are growing more frequent and more intense. School shut-down is always a possibility. The next time may not be by a disease, but something will cause a shut-down and we know it and should be better prepared. The district deserves accolades for keeping up with the times as far as providing technology, but needs to be more forward thinking. Let’s put our school district ahead of the curve.
Clarification: The 2014 ebola outbreak never reached pandemic proportions, and the HIV pandemic, so declared in 2006, had by then infected 65 million people and caused 25 million deaths. In total, the United Nations estimates 33 million AIDS deaths as of 2020, making it the single deadliest pandemic since the 2018 flu. The American response to HIV was especially wanting, as President Reagan did not officially recognize the existence of the illness until 1985, though it had been identified by 1981.
4. How comfortable are you with a full resumption of school in the fall? As a policy maker, you’ll have to approve the district’s reopening plan. What will be your guiding principles in making that decision? What programs or activities are you willing to forfeit next year, should that become necessary, as part of the plan?
I am open to all possibilities. I’ve been watching what some surrounding districts are doing, from increasing virtual learning opportunities to installing physical barriers on desks. I am not comfortable with the schools trying to go back to normal. We need a new normal that puts prevention of health risks much higher.
We don’t actually know the risks. When “non-essential” workers were originally told to stay home, school children were sent home. That environment of many people shut in a limited space for a long period of time was removed. The children weren’t forced to take the risks that hospital workers and grocery workers were. When school re-opens, we may be creating those risky environments. We don’t know what the infection rate among students in school will be. Fortunately the mortality rate among children seems to be very low, but those children go home to families, sometimes multi-generational families, sometimes families with already compromised health. If pre-symptomatic children have a high infection rate in school it will result in a high mortality rate among their families. That is why we need to take reliable, science-based steps to limit infection rates while school is in. And school has to be in. Homeschool is not an option for everyone.
The district developed a three-pronged approach, with options for students to learn through iFlagler, the virtual platform, through remote streaming, and with in-person instruction, without as yet any triggers for when (or if) all instruction would be remote. What’s your evaluation of that approach, and has the district–and the board–been as reassuring and clear as you want them to be?
It is good that the Board developed options, but I have not heard that they have a plan for what to do when (not if) students, teachers, or staff become infected and the disease starts spreading in the schools. Much seems to be left to the individual principals, and to an extent that is necessary. They are far more familiar with their facilities than the board members. But the parents need to know the school board is taking their children’s health risks seriously and has a fall-back or failsafe, but the board has not communicated such to the community.
5. Would you approve or disapprove of a school board policy requiring mask-wearing on campuses and on district properties, where students and staff gather in any group? Explain your position either way.
I would support a policy requiring masks. I wear a mask every time I go in public now. I have immunocompromised family. Two of my close family members have been infected, one hospitalized for a week. The science behind masks is developing, but the trend is that masks of some kind are more effective than even originally thought in preventing the spread of this aerosolized virus. Is it hard? Yes. It is a cultural shift. It will be very hard with young children especially. But we’ve seen it work elsewhere and I think we can do as well if not better than those places. We made a cultural shift away from smoking on buses and airplanes. We can make the shift to wearing masks in crowds.
6. Finances will be a challenge at least for the next two years as the state experiences a significant economic recession and its aftermath. Budget cuts may be necessary. What program areas, aside from instruction, would you cut, and what areas would you consider too critical?
I would not want to cut if we don’t have to. I believe significant savings can be accomplished by reorganizing and reprioritizing. Possibly rezoning. We need to look at every level of the system for inefficiencies. Too many decisions have been made because that’s the way it’s always been done or because someone wanted to jump on a trend. I believe we need to view the school system as an investment and to evaluate each expenditure based on the return on investment. Also, we can explore other opportunities in cost-saving such as reaching out to other districts to form cooperative purchasing contracts. And I would investigate the advantage of expanding the iFlagler program enrollment.
Typically employees account for around 80% of a school system’s budget. The quick cost solution is often to cut full time staff. I applaud the decision to expand the qualifications for early retirement so that those who can may choose not to return. But this economic down turn is the worst time to cut staff. It would only add to the downward spiral to put more people out of work. Cutting staff to save a few dollars is the last thing I would want to do right now.
7. 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?
First of all, the position I’m running for is only a two year term, which means any improvement I put in won’t be measurable during my tenure, unless I get re-elected in 2022. I say that because I firmly believe the greatest indicator of later success is the opportunity and resources you have when you are young. I would prioritize the VPK program. The full fruits would not be seen for at least 12 years, and because evaluations come in third grade, they wouldn’t even be tested until after my term. But that’s no reason not to do them. Like I said, I didn’t plan to go into politics. My aim is not the short-term project that will get me re-elected. My aim is to provide for the next generation so that their world will be a little bit better than how it started.
Now if we can truly improve VPK, then in four years if I get credit, even if I’m not in office, well that will be a legacy I can be proud of.
Another legacy I would like to look back on is improved performance among minorities and students with disabilities. If you only looked at children with disabilities, our school system would be a failure. We spent years raising graduation rates by focusing on the easiest problems to fix. The low-hanging fruit has been picked. We need to raise the tide for everyone, especially those who learn in non-traditional ways. So if I could look back and see that every group scored an A or B, that would be wonderful. In two years, I think we can raise those Ds at the very least.
You set out two worth goals but without examples of how you’d expect the administration to accomplish them either financially (with what sources of revenue) or logistically (more teachers? expansion of VPK’s schedules?). Earl Johnson, the senior administrator who applied for the superintendent position, made an expansion of VPK a central plank of his platform, but two fair questions were asked: having been in the district all these years, why did he not present the idea previously, and how did he propose to pay for it? The first question doesn’t apply to you, except perhaps as an indication of the challenge it poses even to those who’ve been in place for several years. But the second question seems to apply fully.
In the format you reference, I set forth ideals. Aspirations. Right now everyone is looking at budget crunches, not expansions. So expanding VPK may not be immediately possible. However, it also becomes even more important when budgets are tight. We need to spend resources wisely, where they will do the most good. Studies that have been conducted for decades now (see “Effective Early Childhood Education Programmes: A Systematic Review”) have shown that comprehensive programs in pre-K have lasting effects such as lower welfare dependency, lower teen pregnancy, and increases in employment and educational achievement. VPK is a very high return on investment program and when funds are limited you want to get the most for what you have. Plus we should be aggressively pursuing PDG B5 grants and pressing the state to provide greater funding options.
8. In 2022, the district’s half-penny surtax on the sales tax expires. The district will seek to renew it. Evaluate its worth, explaining how you see where it’s paid off, how you see where it has not. Do you support its renewal? Would you alter its scope and fund different items from those funded now?
I would support renewing the tax. If you think the shut-down was hard on our education system, just imagine how it would have been if we had not been able to expand the number of computers to which our students had access, to implement electronic school books, to expand iFlagler, etc. I have said and will continue to say that a good school system is foundational to a healthy community. A school system keeps families together. Our community saw that it was worth it to invest in our school system and it has paid off. The tax has enabled us to be flexible in the programs we offer. And while our student population may not be growing like it was back then, it isn’t going away either. Those facilities and resources need to be maintained and the tax is how our community chose to do that. I would like to think we are still up to that investment in the future.
9. The County Commission through the sheriff pay for roughly half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. This year, some school board members grumbled about the cost of the contract with the sheriff and suggested alternatives could be sought. What is your opinion of the district’s relationship and contract with the sheriff’s office? In light of the Black Lives Matter movement’s directions, are you comfortable with the presence of deputies on campus? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you?
I am in support of any system that has been proven to work. The presence of deputies in the schools has not been proven to work. School shootings account for about 1% of firearm fatalities every year, and that has not changed with the addition or removal of police in schools. In a study by the Texas State University criminology department, armed officers stopped only 1/3 of active shooters (2/3 of the time the shooter either quit or took his own life). Of those, none was in a school. Of the school shootings in the study, none was stopped by an armed officer or teacher. Just ask the people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
But reducing shootings is not the only reason to have officers in schools. My high school had a police officer assigned. His name was Byron. He wore Micky Mouse sunglasses. He also wore a gun on his belt and stood about 6’5” tall. Students need to feel safe in order to learn. I felt safer having officer Byron there. But I am a white male. I can’t say my experience is universal. Studies are coming out now showing that police in schools can create a hostile environment, particularly for minority students. The National Association of Psychologists says armed guards only increase student fear. Our students may be ultimately paying a life-long price with lower performance and lesser success because of the presence of armed officers in the schools.
I do not approve arming teachers. It has not been tested, and I don’t want our schools to be an experiment. If police officers can harm students, like the reserve officer in Seaside California who accidentally fired his gun, injuring three students, then can we expect better from arming teachers?
Your 1 percent figure is startling but appears to be inaccurate. Between 1992 and 2016, a span of 25 years, there were 1,137 violent deaths on school campuses involving students, staff and others, with half or a third of the numbers involving youths, according to the National center for Education Statistics. The figure deaths by all means, not just firearms, and includes deaths of students on the way to and from school or traveling to or from a school-associated event. That averages out to 45 deaths a year overall, an overstated figure given the parameters. The Guiffords Law Center against gun violence places the number of firearm fatalities at just over 36,000 a year, with 12,800 of those homicides and over 22,000 of them suicides. If the claim of 1 percent of firearm fatalities taking place on school campuses were correct, we’d have 360 people killed a year in our schools–eight times more than the actual figure. If suicides are excluded, we’d still have almost three times as many homicides by firearm as the figure you claim. There’s evidence, as you point out, that the presence of police on campus doesn’t quite deter gun violence. But isn’t the more salient point that gun violence on campus has been vastly overstated, even by you (not to mention us in media)? Jill Woolbright, your opponent, is suggesting that security guards rather than deputies could be hired in elementary schools, keeping deputies in middle and high school, in part as a cost-saving measure. Do you agree?
10. Of course you support all rights for students. But LGBTQ rights were at issue this year, and may be at issue again during your tenure. Evaluate the way the district handled the matter of “gender identity” this year, keeping that wording out of its non-discrimination policy. Would you revisit the issue? If a student identifies differently from what’s on the student’s birth certificate, with regard to biological sex, what should the student’s school do, or not do, with regards to accommodate that identity?
I am a lawyer, and that puts me on slightly better footing when evaluating the recent Supreme Court decision that ran parallel to our district’s decision. The Board decided not to change the policy because they believed sexual identity was already covered by the current language. Similarly the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ students from discrimination based on their sexual identity. From a coldly legal point of view I think they got it right. But the fact that they had to go all the way to the Supreme Court shows just how many people disagreed on the way up. It was not obvious to many. It was not obvious to at least three of the Supreme Court justices.
Had I been on the board then, I would have voted to approve the change. We need to make it clear, expressly, that all students are protected from harassment. Making the change would send a message that we aren’t going to tolerate people wiggling around the edge of legality. I make my living in the law and I’ll be the first to tell you that if you believe because it’s legal it must be moral, then your moral compass is broken. People should think to themselves, if they were writing a policy from scratch and that language was proposed, what would be their reason for wanting to keep it out? So I believe the issue should be revisited.
As to how to “accommodate” someone’s identity, I really don’t think I have any place asking what’s inside a student’s pants. If someone identifies as female then I believe that person should be treated as female. Whether that matches the checked box on the birth certificate or not is not my concern. Now I could change that position if there were evidence of a reason for it, but so far I have never heard of anyone getting brutalized for using the bathroom of their expressed identity. I can point you to countless stories of people getting beaten severely because they were forced to use a bathroom they did not identify with. I will always stand up for the victim, never for the bully.
11. Last school year the Flagler Health Department sought to add the HPV-suppressing Gardasil vaccine to the other vaccines it already provides on campus, free, on a voluntary basis. The school board split 3-2 against. How would you vote should the issue arise again and why?
I would vote to add an HPV vaccine to the provided regimen. Again, I will follow the science. The HPV vaccine is effective at preventing the spread of that disease. That disease is a known cause of often fatal cancer. Even if not fatal, the effects of HPV can be devastating. I studied microbiology in college and you do not want to see an out of control HPV infection. We should include it in the options available because it saves lives. That should be enough.
And I said “options” because as the question clearly stated, it is voluntary. The parents have the option to decline the vaccines. They are provided with relevant information on which to decide what is right for their children. The vote to exclude this vaccine denied parents the freedom to choose that option to protect their children. I am in favor of more freedom, not less.
For a while I considered teaching as a career. I obtained a Masters Degree from the Museum Studies Program at the University of Central Oklahoma because I was exploring an alternative way to reach people and share the passion for learning. I think the Flagship program is a wonderful opportunity because it provides students with an alternative way to explore learning. The program is a success because it provides students with the option of pursuing a field of study in a different way, and many students do better with that type of learning. I wish there were more fields available, but the fact is it is more market-driven, mainly because of the need for outside funding. That is good because it makes more resources available, but bad in that it limits how those resources can be directed.
I know what inspired this question, though I can’t say the question makes sense. Why would a statement on social media be different from a statement in a public place? We should be accountable for everything we say and do. What accountability looks like depends on the circumstances. If you said something 20 years ago that was wrong, if you acknowledge it was wrong and changed your mind because of new information, then you should be judged by what you say now, more than by what you said then.
I use social media more than I probably should. I have said things that I’ve been called out on. But if I post something that is shown to be wrong, I take it down and apologize. I want to believe as many true things as possible and disbelieve as many false things as possible. I want my statements, whether written in a tweet or said on the street to be as true as I can make them.
We appreciate your calling out the presumed difference between a public space and a Facebook page, but the question applies specifically to an elected official, who is a public figure by definition–not to private individuals whose Facebook page may be as public as it gets, and for whom standards of accountability may be different. To put it more explicitly: assuming the school board you sit on in the coming year does revisit the vaccine issue, would you consider material your colleague Janet McDonald has posted on her twitter feed, from the anti-vaccine sphere, fair game to bring up, discuss and, if necessary, discredit, if the material is part of her evidence in the discussion, and thereby part of what’s influencing her public policy decisions?
14. 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, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
I have never been charged, or sued. I have been a lawyer for 15 years and have not received any discipline from any of the several bar associations to which I belonged. No client has ever complained. Once an attorney on the other side of a lawsuit filed a complaint against me during the litigation. The Florida Bar initiated an investigation as the rules required, but it was determined no discipline was needed.