Deborah Laury, who usually goes by Debbie, is one of four candidates for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 14 primary election. She is challenging Colleen Conklin, the three-term incumbent, in District 2. Laury has not held elected office before.
The two school board elections are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in both races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.
You may cast a vote in both races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. The election on Aug. 14 will decide the winner in both races. Since there are just two candidates in each race, there will be no run-offs, no general election. This is it.
FlaglerLive submitted 14 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. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics, and may be awaiting answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Why are you running?
- Explaining the scope of the job
- Three priorities you’d accomplish
- What and where would you cut the budget?
- The IB Program: yes or no?
- Replacing Superintendent Janet Valentine
- Standardized testing
- Sex education
- School prayer
- Who would you emulate on the school board?
- Teacher unions
- Charter schools
- Zero tolerance
- Cops in schools
- Sunshine Law
- Income and school board salary
Place and Date of Birth: Did not answer.
Current job: Did not answer.
Political affiliation: Republican.
Net worth: $739,829. Laury’s financial disclosure form is available here.
For consistency’s sake I am providing precisely the same answer to this question as I provided to the News Journal: I am running for the School Board because I believe I can make a significant difference. Based upon the background I would bring to the position both as a consequence of the executive level staff positions I have held in the colleges and universities I have served and the voluntary board positions I have held, I believe I have a firm understanding of the policy-making responsibilities that boards should exercise. Having said that, however, I am concerned about the lack of autonomy that School Boards have across the State of Florida as a direct consequence of the legislative and regulatory mandates that limit the independence and decision-making in which our School Boards can engage. It does not help, for example, that the Flagler School System is given a list of more than 20 unfunded or partially funded mandates which by State Law or Regulation must be included within the School System’s budget.
Your opponent and the rest of the board members have been complaining about unfunded mandates for years, so you’re in sympathetic company. But those are, as you’ve stated, statutory and regulatory matters school board members have no authority over. Since you’re not running for the Legislature, what can you hope to accomplish on the school board within that scope?
Has not answered.
2. Describe the scope of your job as school board member as you understand it: what’s your primary responsibility? What’s in your power to influence on a day-to-day basis? What is not in your power to do?
As understand, it the School Board has three functions.
(1) The Board is required to set policy.
(2) The Board controls (or tries to control) the budget in keeping with the legislative and regulatory mandates established for the Board by both the Florida State Legislature and the Florida State Department of Education.
(3) The Board exerts hire/fire power over the Flagler County Superintendent of Schools.
If the Board is carrying out its functions properly it should not be insinuating itself in day-to-day administrative matters. Instead, our job is to set policy designed to encourage excellence, to hire the very best people we can find; to encourage them to do the very best jobs that they can; to reward those who accomplish this; to strongly encourage those who are under performing to improve; and in keeping squarely within legislative, regulatory and contractual constraints controlling both the Board and the Flagler County School System, to rid the system of those who are failing to do the jobs entrusted to them.
You mentioned the board’s power to hire or fire the school superintendent–and the board attorney–but you speak of ridding the system of those who are failing to do the job: given the constraints on the hire-fire power you clearly understand, who else do you mean, beyond the superintendent and the attorney?
Has not answered.
The Live Interviews:
Flagler School Board
Flagler County Sheriff
3. Name your three specific priorities you intend to achieve as a school board members within the scope of the doable-not pie-in-the-sky stuff, not generalities. That is, three priorities you’ll be able to say, four years down the line, that you’ve achieved.
According to information published by the News Journal, we have learned that 83.3 percent of Flagler County’s children are receiving diplomas from Flagler County’s high schools. We need to find out why almost 17 percent of the young people attending our schools are failing to graduate and we need to commit ourselves to improving that statistic. We also have learned that the some of the schools within the Flagler County School System has recently been downgraded from “A” to “B.” We need to commit ourselves to finding out precisely why this happened and we need to take immediate steps to fix what is broken in order to attain “A” status for all of our schools. Finally, as I indicated in my answer to question (1) I am concerned about the lack of autonomy and decision-making independence accorded our Board and our top level school administrators as a direct consequence of the restrictive legislative and regulatory mandates within which both our Board and our top level administrators must function. As a primary component of the “homework” I have done in preparing for this campaign, I have met with and talked in depth with those who are charged with the administration of our School System. I have concluded as a result that those currently in charge are more than competent to do the jobs assigned to them. However, the underlying premise of much of the restrictive legislation and regulation within which our Board and administration must operate presumes just the opposite. Therefore, I intend, as necessary, to commit myself to meeting with those in Tallahassee and/or Washington, D.C., who are crafting these restrictive rules and regulations in an effort to try to encourage them to accord to our Board and administrators the critical autonomy and decision-making freedom they must have to do the jobs we as a community have entrusted to them.
Can you name one restrictive rule with tangible effects on Flagler County students that would compel you to travel to Washington D.C., and could you explain who you’d contend with, and how, to change it?
Has not answered.
4. Budget cuts are now a routine part of board members’ duties. Assuming that salary cuts are off the table, but eliminating positions aren’t, name three specific programs, curriculum areas or activities you’d cut. Please be specific, citing actual programs or areas you’d cut before others.
As I indicated in my answer to question (2) the job of the Board is to set policy. It is not to insinuate itself in the day-to-day administration of our schools. That function belongs to those whom we have hired to administer and manage our schools. If budget cuts are necessary, we should turn for advice and counsel to our administrators and academicians to make those recommendations to the Board. Once those recommendations have been put forward, it is then the Board’s responsibility to review those recommendations and to decide whether we concur or to disagree with what has been put before us. If we disagree, then it is the Board’s responsibility to ask those administrators or academicians to amend those recommendations and/or to submit new recommendations to us. Within the framework of that process it would be my hope that we could come to consensus in keeping with the reality that we cannot spend what we do not have. However, in my opinion, within the framework of that process, the Board would make a serious mistake if it presumed to make any unilateral efforts to set or craft academic and/or program priorities without appropriate input from both the administrators and the academicians whom we have hired to design and set those programs and priorities for us.
The board does little to nothing without input and guidance from its administration. That’s a given. But the board does get into the details of the budget, and the administration has relied on the board, for guidance over what to cut, after providing long lists of options. The question goes to your understanding of programs and the budgetary process, beyond generalities. Can you give examples of areas of the budget you’d cut?
Has not answered.
5. The IB program at FPC is the district’s most academically rigorous and accomplished program, serving a small but high-performing class of students beginning with the pre-IB program in 9th grade. What is your opinion of the program, how committed are you to its continuation, and would you support its expansion, or an expansion of a similarly themed feeder program, at Buddy Taylor Middle School, as is being considered currently?
I firmly believe that the Board should be doing whatever it can to promote academic excellence and achievement, we should encourage as many children as possible–even those who are struggling to–seek entry into advanced programs. We need to tell children, “Yes you can,” not “No you can’t!” and, moreover, to stipulate that our firm policy is to encourage every child to accomplish all that he or she can. I do have some serious concern, however, with allowing those outside the United States to set educational priorities for this nation’s children. I do believe based upon all that this nation has accomplished in the arts, the sciences and in technology that we are more than capable of setting our own educational priorities.
Again, we need some clarity: are you saying that because the IB program is an international program based in Geneva, you would be less inclined to support it, and more inclined to continue to support, say, the Advanced Placement program?
Has not answered.
6. Superintendent Janet Valentine will retire during your four-year tenure, making her replacement one of your top responsibilities. Explain how you’d go about replacing her: would you favor an internal candidate ahead of an external one? Would you conduct a national search? Also, explain your assessment of Jacob Oliva, now the deputy superintendent, and whether you see him as the next superintendent.
We need to do all that we can to ensure that those to whom we delegate the authority to educate our children are totally qualified to be in that position. Therefore, it would be my strong recommendation at the time it becomes necessary to name a new Superintendent that we commence a national search. While I have every confidence that Jacob Oliva possesses the necessary background and experience to handle the job to which he was just appointed, and while I am also sure that if a national search had been instituted he certainly would have emerged as one of the most qualified candidates to seek the position he now occupies, I do believe for the good of the community and the well-being of our children, it would have been better for him to have emerged as such as a result of a national search and interview process.
For the sake of continuity and consistency, I will answer your question about standardized testing in precisely the same way I responded to a similar question from the News Journal: Standardized tests are a reality of life. I cannot think of a job, no matter whether we are talking about becoming an electrician or a plumber or a doctor or a lawyer, that does not carry with it the expectation that standardized testing will be involved both to secure those jobs and/or in some instances to retain those jobs. Coping with standardized testing, including either the SAT or the ACT, is also a reality no matter into what college, university or technical school a young person is seeking entry. Standardized testing is also one way to measure and diagnose what sort of learning is taking place in our K through 12 system. It is true that there are other methods of evaluation. Classroom observation is certainly another way of evaluating teacher effectiveness. One could also take a look at college entrance and retention statistics as a way of evaluating certain numbers of our teachers and our administrators. We could also require our young people to demonstrate academic achievement (and hence, teacher effectiveness) by asking students to prepare documented research reports or to create portfolios containing their work product, for example. But those methodologies of evaluation are cumbersome. I suspect they would be far more expensive to implement. And, perhaps a further difficulty is that evaluation via these sorts of tools carries with it the risk that the resulting evaluations might tend to be far more subjective than objective. So, bottom line standardized testing is probably the most cost effective and, for the most part, the fairest and most objective way to measure what is being achieved by our students, our teachers and our school administrators. The challenge is to make sure that the tests are valid and fair and that they are an accurate measure of precisely what it is these diagnostic instruments were designed to measure or evaluate.
8. Sum up your position on sex education: is abstinence-only education scientifically sound? Is it sufficient? Would you support an expansion of sex education, as was considered last year, to include broader information about and access to contraception?
With regard to issues relating to sex education, I would certainly look first to our parents for their advice and counsel. In addition, I would also look to our science and biology faculty members and the curricula being taught in our science, biology or health classes. I would hope that the curricula in those classes would include clear and concise information concerning human anatomy and physiology and that it would include precise and dispassionate information about procreation and various methods of birth control including but certainly not limited to abstinence, for example. I would hope that our young people are being given clear warnings about the dangers inherent in engaging in unprotected sex. I would hope as well the course work would include a very realistic discussion concerning the responsibilities of parenthood and the risks and challenges inherent in taking on the role of a single parenthood as an uneducated and unprepared teenager. I do believe that any such education must be age-appropriate and I would reiterate in that connection we need to seek the advice and counsel of our parents in that regard.
9. The Legislature just passed a law enabling school boards to grant students permission to conduct prayers or their variants, such as “inspirational messages,” at public events. But the burden is on you as a school board member to enact a policy allowing it—or to leave the matter silent, as it is now. Understanding that private and personal prayer has never been forbidden in schools and may not be, do you think public prayer should be permissible? What will you do regarding the new law?
I would strongly suggest that we would need to seek the advice and counsel of our parents and an ecumenical task force of the clergy in this community before we come to any decision concerning the issue of prayer in our schools.
Although I have been pleased to meet informally with each of the Board Members with whom I would serve, were I to be elected, based upon the limited interface I have had with each of them, it would be both premature and inappropriate for me to come forward with any evaluation concerning their philosophies concerning the educational policy or the management of our School System.
You’re evading the question: You are not being asked to evaluate the board members, but to name one, based on your observations from many meetings, with whom you find particular affinities.
Has not answered.
While I was disappointed with the position that the teachers’ union took with regard to the newly-crafted teacher evaluation program that will be put into place this year, which will result in “unsatisfactory” teachers being allowed to remain in the school system for at least the next three years, the reality is that the union is in place and as a Board we are responsible to cope with “what is” not with suppositions as to what “might be” or “might not be” in any hypothetical you or someone else might wish to put forward concerning the teachers’ union.
As a board member, you’re also going to be dealing with the union from a certain perspective. It’s that perspective we’re seeking to understand: The question is whether you’d prefer to have a district with or without the union, and why.
Has not answered.
12. Understanding that charter schools have been the only schools to experience substantial growth in Flagler County, how do you see charter schools fitting in public-school equation, and how successful has that fit been in Flagler, with heritage’s closure and Palm Harbor Academy getting an F this year?
I believe that competition is healthy for every sector of our economy. Competition encourages all who compete to strive for excellence. The existence of the charter schools in this community provides both parents and children with choices. That is healthy. By the same token, however, it also behooves our children and our parents to do their homework and to make their educational selections with care based upon the results produced by those alternative school choices.
Zero tolerance makes sense. Our schools must be safe and nurturing for our students and equally safe for the educators and the administrators who work within that environment. However, what I worry about are the ramifications of simply suspending those who have committed serious infractions. If these young people are not in the classroom, the chances are very great that they will be continuing to commit their mischief in our community at-large. Therefore, I would like to see whether it would be feasible to ask our administrators whether it would be possible to design and implement some sort of an “in house” suspension system which would insist that these troubled children are placed in a closely supervised and controlled environment and that within that environment those troubled students were strongly encouraged to continue their studies within that controlled and closely supervised environment.
It is truly sad to believe that we need a police presence in our schools, but given the terrible events that have occurred in a number of schools throughout our K through 12 systems in this nation, regrettably, I do not believe we have a choice. We simply must do all that we can to insure that our children are educated in a safe environment. With regard to the weaponry that our law enforcement agents carry, I would hope that our law enforcements agents would carry only as much as the given situation would warrant. I would also hope in most situations, that their simple presence in the schools would be deterrent enough, but if lethal force were necessary to forestall the carnage that took place at Columbine, for example, then regrettably our law enforcement officers should have the necessary tools at their disposal to carry out their primary responsibilities to protect and save the lives of the innocent in those unthinkable situations.
The Sunshine Laws have been crafted to ensure that the deliberations and decisions of those who are elected to public office are conducted in the open, not behind closed doors. Therefore, as a Board Member any discussions I have with other Board Members regarding school policy must be conducted in public.
Please tell us your opinion of these laws.
Has not answered.
16. You’ll be making roughly $31,000 a year as a school board member. What proportion of your income does that represent, including all salaries, retirement income, annuities etc.? Former school board member Jim Guines argues that school board members should not be paid. Do you agree? Should salaries be reduced?
As a candidate for the School Board pursuant to Rule 34-8. 002(1), F.A.C., I was required to file Form 6– full and public disclosure of financial interests with the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections. That is a public record, and if you wish to do so, you may request the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections to provide a copy of that document to you. I agree with former School Board member Jim Guines; it would be my wish not to be remunerated for my service. I agreed to run because I believe based upon my background and my experience I can make a significant contribution to the welfare of the children in this community. I did not decide to become a candidate Seat 3 on the Flagler County School Board because of the remuneration associated with the position. More importantly, I would assure you that I am not dependent in any way upon the monies that will be forthcoming to me in the event I am elected.
Note: Laury’s financial disclosure form is available here.