Paul Mucciolo is one of eight candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 18 primary election. Mucciolo is running in District 3 against five-term incumbent Colleen Conklin and Carol Bacha, also known as Mother Elizabeth.
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 race 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.
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: East Islip, New York, Jan. 15, 1968.
Current job: Attending Physician, AdventHealth Palm Coast Emergency Department, Medical Director, Daytona International Speedway, Physician Consultant, NASCAR, Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, FSU College of Medicine.
Net worth: $828,407. Click here for financial disclosure form.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites and Social Media: https://m.facebook.com/PaulMucciolo
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 for Flagler County schools is one where every stakeholder is given a voice. Decisions made by the school board and district leadership should always be informed by input from students, parents, guardians, instructional and support staff, and district employees. Solicitation of stakeholder input is not enough; we must incorporate the cares and concerns of our community when making decisions that impact our Flagler families. I will do my best to encourage collaboration during decision-making and to develop policies that benefit all our students in Flagler County.
Over the past several years, I’ve listened to input (both solicited and unsolicited) from students, parents, teachers, support staff, and school administrators. My professional development is an ongoing process, including continuing education, leadership, mentoring, management and strategic planning. As a parent whose two children are enrolled in Flagler County Schools, I have made it a priority to learn the policies and practices that impact our students.
You have not just one current job but a list of current jobs and responsibilities, none of light weight, at least two of them presuming some out-of-county duties, the third not without its unexpected demands on your time (you refer to “the unrelenting needs of patients 24/7/365 in the emergency department” in your next answer). You also have commitments to community and civic involvements. A school board seat is no small addition to your schedule. School board meetings alone require a considerable time commitment, let alone preparation, peripheral meetings and constituent responsiveness. There’s no doubt you’re up to the task, but how would your current duties enable you to fairly and with full commitment devote yourself to school board duties, without absenteeism?
Before qualifying for the school board, I carefully considered the demands of each of my obligations, most importantly my family’s. The practice of emergency medicine requires around-the-clock staffing, but therein lies great flexibility. By working a non-traditional schedule, my shift matrix can be adjusted to accommodate administrative obligations. When I was awarded “Physician of the Quarter,” one of the comments was: “He never misses a meeting.” The same would apply to the school board if I were elected to serve.
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.
My wife and children define me. Participation in both community and professional organizations has taught me the importance of earning loyalty and trust through consistency and dependability—with a good measure of humility.
In-person communication remains the mainstay of my practice. Personally, I have been reluctant to embrace social media, which I find replete with challenges obviated by direct conversation. I am open to exploring its utility further but commit to make myself available to the public. My temperament is enthusiastic. I enjoy interacting with and encouraging others to help them achieve their goals.
An esteemed surgical colleague once told me, “Every day is a school day.” Mine was not a professional misjudgment, but a personal one—I prioritized work over the needs of my family. Raising a special needs child can cause marital stress, and I compartmentalized this. I faced this squarely and learned to balance the unrelenting needs of patients 24/7/365 in the emergency department with the priority my family deserves. Through introspection and refocusing, I learned to bring my priorities back into balance. As a result, my wife and I arrive at solutions as partners, with equal consideration and respect for one another’s opinions. Lesson learned: Cherish and constantly rekindle relationships with your spouse and your family. Take vacations. Protect times we take for granted—dinner time, walks through the neighborhood and movie night. The little things sometimes have the greatest meaning.
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?
Flagler County Schools made the best of a difficult situation. Considering the immediate time frame (and on the heels of spring break) the teachers, students, parents, and staff showed amazing dedication and flexibility. However, distance learning highlighted inequities and shortcomings that the district must address. During the pandemic, under-resourced students struggled to access instruction and content at a higher rate and with more hurdles than other students. The pandemic exposed the need to provide more robust training for teachers and support staff utilizing online instructional platforms. These challenges will not disappear when schools reopen and should receive special consideration.
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?
This response requires balancing my responsibility as a parent with my role as a physician—I approach “full resumption” with caution. There are many special considerations: Can the home environment support distance learning? Can the child’s instructional needs be met via distance learning? How will accommodations on IEP’s be provided? What safety precautions are in place, both at home and in the school to protect the students, teachers and families? Do high-risk individuals (cancer, diabetes, advanced age, etc.) live in the household? As a community we must remain open-minded and supportive of our district and anticipate change.
Obtain input from all community stakeholders and consider recommendations from the CDC to collaboratively ensure that next school year is as safe and productive as possible. The health and safety of the students, teachers and families are of paramount importance. Our students are our future.
I personally do not want to forfeit any programs or activities that benefit our students; however, should those decisions become necessary, they should be collaborative, including the students, teachers and on-site personnel. If an activity compromises safety and increases the risk of transmissibility, it may require pausing the program until we have a better grasp on the science of covid-19 or a plan to mitigate the risks associated with the activity.
You raise many questions we wish had actually been answered by the school district despite the plans presented so far. A few have, but not thoroughly. Are you–both as a parent and a potential board member–satisfied with the transparency and detail of the school-reopening plans that have been presented so far in Flagler, and with the school board’s surprisingly limited involvement in those plans, even at the workshop level? The CDC guidelines issued since you first submitted these answers are very different from the CDC guidelines initially drafted. The CDC revised them under pressure from the president. Are they a trustworthy guidepost on which to hang the “paramount importance” of the safety of students and staff? Colleen Conklin at two recent meetings asked whether standards are in place that would “trigger” moving to all-online education, in case the district were a hotspot (though by every current measure, it has been one for weeks). The administration had no clear answer. Are you comfortable with the absence of such a standard?
The pandemic has highlighted both strengths and weaknesses in Flagler Schools. The determination and commitment of the district and site- specific administrators to accommodate the needs of Flagler’s children, families, teachers and support staff under trying circumstances are commendable. Transparency and dissemination of information remain problematic, however. Information is released to social media by a board member prior to this information being circulated or finalized to school-based personnel. This unofficial use of social media created bedlam. The information presented was not consistent and replete with inaccurate information and negative comments. This sets a bad example for our students—and our community. Messaging should be clear, factual, easily accessible and single source: Flagler Schools. The school board should set the example and promote safe practices by remaining a voice of reason. Encourage our community to identify and harness our strengths to support our students and Flagler Schools. Now is not the time to let up.
The approach to modeling serves as a learning opportunity. The proposed plans were unsettling because of the shifting nature of the pandemic. The process could be improved by assembling a task force to formulate recommendations. The task force should consist of all stakeholders, not just district level staff. Recruit experts in medicine, public health, process engineering, computer science and communications. Distill a complex decision-making tree down to three or four easy-to-understand plans by leveraging this panel of professionals. Turn reactive into proactive to avoid stepping forward and having to pull back.
The CDC issues guidelines, but they are just that—guidelines. The guidelines must be tailored to each community under the auspices of the local Department of Health. CDC guidelines are generally trustworthy, but they proved problematic with coronavirus because of the unanticipated numbers of asymptomatic carriers, complicated by unclear modes of transmission and the lack of reliable testing platforms. Volumes of information were released in a short period of time, and some of the data conflicted as science progressed. The flu has been with us for over one hundred years, whereas COVID-19 entered the stage seven months ago. We have a lot to learn.
I am comfortable with the absence of a standard for the following reasons: accurate and reliable testing remains limited; “current” data may be one to two weeks old; viral shift and drift can occur; the percentage of asymptomatic carriers remains undetermined. Identifying a trigger may prove elusive, if not impossible. Utilize a team approach when analyzing data prior to making determinations to replace start-and-stop with stop- and-start.
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 recommend following the advice of local health officials, who are committed to improving the safety and well-being of their communities through educational initiatives and utilizing safety precautions.
Local health officials–your colleague Stephen Bickel, the medical director at the Flagler Health Department, Bob Snyder, the chief administrator at the department–have been advocating universal masking and mask mandates: their advice is clear and has been reiterated weekly. Yet despite even municipal mandates, the district is not following their recommendations, but merely “encouraging” mask-wearing. You’re not by any means unqualified to weigh the issue yourself: You’d be the first physician to serve on the school board. Especially now, you’d be the go-to person for key insights on health issues, masks being one of them. So given the health department’s advice, what would be yours, and how would you contend with the district’s more voluntary approach?
I concur with our local health officials regarding masking. Clear and convincing data are available to support the practice of mandatory masking if social distancing is not possible.
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?
Critical elements include instructional support for teachers and campus safety and security. Those cannot be sacrificed. Look closely at the organizational structure to see where it can be streamlined, placing priority on personnel that have direct contact with our students. This is a good business practice to ensure that our priorities and resources align with students’ needs. If any cuts become necessary, they should be made based on minimal negative impact on students and classrooms.
Is it fair to detect from your overly general answer–compared to your previous ones–a lack of familiarity with the school district’s budget?
As a first-time candidate, my exposure has been limited to reviewing the budget items and observing workshops online. Participation in the budget process would confer in-depth comprehension of its workings. I understand the FTE (full time equivalent) student count to determine the amount of FEFP (Florida educational finance program) and that Flagler’s funding formula ranks somewhere in the bottom five of the sixty-seven counties. This needs to be a priority.
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?
- Graduation rate. It’s improving, with increased rates of minority students receiving diplomas. The target remains 100%.
- As a tool already in place to assist students, it facilitated rapid deployment of distance learning and provided the necessary support infrastructure during the early phase of the pandemic.
- Competitive salaries help attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers.
- Health insurance. This is a common complaint from district employees. Currently, the district is self-insured, but further inquiry into the economy of scale of the county’s largest employer could be leveraged to offer better plans. This would help increase the quality of teachers and staff that Flagler County can attract and retain.
- Disunity of the School Board. A common, unifying vision is integral to maintaining focus and consistency within the district. Infighting and conflict distract from Flagler Schools’ guiding principles: “Children First; Trust and Respect for All; Empower Others; Teamwork Excellence, Quality, and Consistency; Commitment to Individual Needs; and Get to ”
- Resources and Support for ESE Learning and Achievement. Although efforts have increased, special needs students still lag behind their peers on achievement tests and graduation rates. While teachers and support staff make valiant efforts to increase ESE services, the district has failed to appropriately support and staff these departments to meet the needs of this population.
- The first priority is to increase services and facilitate the success of ESE students, which will be evidenced by increasing the graduation rate and raising growth and achievement scores on state tests.
- I also want to bring unity to the school board to work as a collaborative unit to increase the success of our students and teachers.
- Four years from now, I would like to see our district increase the number of A- rated schools. It’s not enough to be an “A” district. We also need to have our schools recognized as the top performing schools in the state.
The school board should oversee a district which allows students to build on their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and live lives of independence and dignity upon graduation. Whether the student excels in the classroom, a vocational training program or an industry-specific academy, all should graduate with a sense of pride in their achievements in their school system. Perhaps the diplomas will be different, but the recognition of the successes of our students should be the same.
Surely you’re not suggesting that an effective board is one that operates in the lockstep of exclusively 5-0 votes? There have certainly been sharp disagreements on policy in recent months–vaccines, prayers at meetings, the LGBTQ issue, even the hiring of the superintendent–but not necessarily a lack of collegiality among board members. Can you be more specific about the school board’s “disunity”?
I am not suggesting lockstep. Dissenting from consensus opinions maintains the fidelity of the voting process.
Collegiality aside, unity is essential, especially when the voice of the board is concerned. Grandstanding and leveraging agenda items and positions regarding them for political and personal gain should never be part of the equation. Encourage the team concept by open dialogue in a workshop regarding the school board, including graduates, teachers, support staff and the superintendent. Review the following questions: What is the role? What is the mission? Are members on-task? Is there a unified voice? When I walk through the double doors at the start of my shifts, I leave my agenda behind and focus on my patient’s. The same should hold true for the school board: The only agenda which matters is that of our students.
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 unequivocally support the renewal of the surtax. Our one-to-one technology initiative was instrumental in improving instruction and its value was amplified by allowing for flexibility due to the changes and challenges brought about by COVID-19.
While the inaugural half-penny sales tax was instrumental in creating the foundations of technology, there are many programs that would also benefit from an injection of funding. I would not make a unilateral decision about how these funds are spent, but rather seek input and guidance from schools and community stakeholders to determine where and how those funds can make the biggest impact for our children.
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?
When students are dropped off at school, parents need to know that their children are safe and secure. Tragedy often drives policy. The policy of the school board should be to encourage candid and meaningful dialogue with our law enforcement professionals to increase awareness and to improve community relations. It is essential that we keep deputies in our schools to build and maintain positive relationships with the children they serve in our community. By providing ample opportunities for all students to cultivate trusting, and even mentoring relationships with law enforcement, they can increase the feelings of safety and security on our campuses.
Let the teachers teach and let law enforcement fulfill its roles in our community.
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?
In the recent Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the court said that the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. All students should feel safe, welcomed and accepted at school. Flagler Schools employees should model acceptance, compassion, and respect.
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 for offering Gardasil. Parents and students have the right to choose whether or when a student gets this vaccination with informed consent.
It is very likely that a covid vaccine will become available during your tenure, should you win, likely sooner than later. Would you make a covid vaccine a requirement, as are a few other vaccines–except for the opt-out on religious or health grounds–or leave it voluntary, as Gardasil would be and flu shots are?
The efficacy of vaccinations is a subject of protracted discussion, especially when the uncertainties associated with COVID-19 are concerned. I would neither recommend requiring a vaccination nor offering one without informed consent.
The Flagships have enabled us to build community partnerships. Schools are also able to offer industry certifications to students in most Flagships programs. In order to consolidate efforts and resources, more attention and energy should be focused at the secondary level where Flagships have a significant impact on students’ future college and career readiness.
There is no difference between public and digital communication, so there should be no difference in accountability.
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.