Marc Ray is a Flagler County School Board candidate running from District 3, but all registered Flagler County voters are eligible to vote in the Aug. 24 election. Ray is running against incumbent Trevor Tucker. Click here for an overview of the race, and here for a previous article on the candidates.
FlaglerLive submitted written questions to every candidate. The intention of the Q&A was not to enable another campaign brochure but to challenge the candidates to clearly state their positions on some–and by no means all–of the issues relevant to the position and responsibility they’re seeking. The candidates were asked to avoid generalities and the usual campaign clichés and answer as specifically as possible. They received follow-up questions where necessary. Some answered more directly than others. Answers not relevant to the given question were edited. Incomplete or lacking answers were noted as such.
Why are you running for school board, and what makes you think you are the best person for the job?
Flagler County School Board Candidates: The Live Interviews
As a parent of two Flagler County school students, the son of a secretary, the brother of two educators, the son-in-law of a kindergarten teacher, and member of a family that holds public service in high regard, I have seen first-hand the challenges educators and students face in the classroom.
As a business executive for twenty years, I have acquired an extensive knowledge of budgets, their preparation as well as execution, strategic planning, operations and capital modeling, forecasting, and hands-on business experience. I will utilize these skills to establish a comprehensive five-year Strategic Plan that instills fiscal discipline, includes all stakeholders, and requires a transparent and fiscally sound budget process that enables us to successfully navigate the troubled financial times ahead.
Please specify your business background-your actual job: what sort of executive, how large a budget were you directly responsible for, and how it relates to the district.
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I am the General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of Hammock Dunes Club in Palm Coast. I have 150 employees and run a $9.5 million business. I am responsible for all aspects of the club including its activities and the relationships between the club and its board of directors, members, guests, employees, community, government and industry. I coordinate and administer the club’s policies as defined by the board. I develop operating policies and procedures and direct the work of all department managers. I implement and monitor the budget, monitor the quality of the club’s products and services, and ensure maximum member and guest satisfaction. I am responsible to secure, protect, and enhance the club’s assets, including facility, equipment and reputation.
As it relates to the district, I believe I would be an excellent school board member. I am familiar with how a board should operate as I’ve worked with boards and volunteer leadership for over the past twelve years. As a past and current board member on several boards, I understand the role of a board member. A board member needs to know what questions to ask in development of a strategic plan related to the organization’s mission and vision, with clear objectives, timelines and action plans for their implementation. The board has to think strategically and ask the right questions to produce the desired outcomes, as established by the school board, and assign accountability for those outcomes. Staff’s responsibility is to develop these action plans with measurable metrics.
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 affect on a day-to-day basis? What is not in your power to do?
Budgeting and strategic planning that provides quality education and puts kids first is the most important responsibility of a school board member. The board should have no role in day-to-day operation of the schools.
Those two sentences are contradictory: budgeting is part of the administration’s day-to-day responsibilities, at the district level and at the school level.
For clarity, the board should not develop the budget. That is staff’s job. The board should set the strategic plan and the desired outcomes. These should be measurable objectives with timelines and accountability for their implementation. Finance and accounting are my background so it is what I gravitate towards. It would be disingenuous to say the Board should not take into account the limited funding available in making the decisions on goal setting and policy. While some objectives may be desirable (i.e. a laptop for every student) these objectives need to be stack ranked according to the criteria established by the Board based on the limited resources available and the objectives that most closely match the established criteria should be adopted first. The Board should be equitable and transparent in how these top level goals are established and there should be clear organizational alignment going down the line in how these goals are established, at all the different levels, at every school, which are consistent with the Board’s policy direction.
It is the school board’s role to set policy and the staff’s role to implement that policy.
Our challenge is that, with no comprehensive strategic plan in place, there are no established, measurable goals and objectives. We are, effectively, asking our people to hit a moving target, or worse yet, guess at desired outcomes.
Are you saying the school district has no strategic plan or established goals?
The school board strategic plan is a four and a half page document. If the critical elements to the strategic plan are in place, they are not readily identifiable on the website. A strategic plan, by definition, should include an evaluation plan, SWOT analysis [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats], a situational analysis, scenario modeling, objectives with action plans for implementation, timelines for completion and assigned accountability for implementation. I have not located that information. I do believe the School Board has a strategic direction and elements of a strategic plan but is lacking critical elements of the process.
In deference to the current school board, there may be more information on a strategic plan in place but I have not been able to locate it. Going forward, I would make sure that the strategic plan, in its entirety, is readily identifiable in print and on the website so that any student, parent, administrator, teacher or taxpayer can refer to it in a moments notice. The strategic plan should be transparent, easily communicated and easily understood. It is not a document that, once complete, gets put on a shelf but rather is used daily to guide the decision making process at all levels.
The school board only has the ability to address two positions – the superintendent and board attorney. It is essential that we be a participatory school board and work within our community to develop relationships to obtain increased resources, not just money, but intellectual capital to help our teachers and students.
What resources, what capital? Who would pay for it, in time and resources?
We have tremendous intellectual capital in this community in that we have captains of industry in Flagler County who have retired here, literally in almost every discipline. We need to create conduits to reach these members of our community and make it easy for them to contribute their vast knowledge and expertise. Many of these individuals would like to do more, but just don’t know how to get involved. A recent example would be the “Hire Flagler” initiative where different members of this community were asked to lend their expertise, in a structured setting, for idea generation on how we can build sustainable jobs in Flagler County.
As it relates to additional resources, there is opportunity through additional grant writing and similar to enhance revenues for our school. As far as paying for it, there is a cost/value equation that we would need to determine if the effort/monies required to produce these grant requests are worth the output in contribution back to the schools and community in time, effort, money and impact.
We have limited financial resources, a school student population with 57 percent on free or reduced lunches, and the highest unemployment rate in the state, which means parents of these children are dealing with difficult issues on a day-to-day basis. The board must be mindful of, and understand, the needs of our children as individuals and not just adopt a rubber stamp attitude.
Not quite relevant to the question, unless you’re willing to say specifically, with examples and naming names, how the board has had a “rubber-stamp” attitude.
Specifically, I am referring to consent agenda items that are routinely placed on the agenda with no public vetting of the issues. At one recent School Board meeting there were five pages of consent agenda items that were never discussed in a public forum. With 57 percent of our students on free or reduced lunches, there are many families in this community that may not have access to a computer, much less internet access, and will never see what was passed on “consent.” In one instance, the consent agenda added three administrative positions that were on the consent agenda. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t have added these positions; my issue is with the transparency of the process. These items require thoughtful, public, discussion so that every voice may be heard.
Name three specific priorities you intend to achieve as a school board member within the scope of doable-not pie-in-the-sky stuff. That is, three priorities you’ll be able to say, four years down the line, you’ve achieved.
First, the development of a comprehensive five-year strategic plan is paramount to our future success, and more importantly, the success of our children. The development of such a plan should include dialogue and input from all stakeholders.
Stakeholders is a cliché that could apply to any number of people while excluding others. Who do you mean by “stakeholders”?
Stakeholders include direct and indirect stakeholders. Anyone who has a vested interest in the outcome of the process is included. This means: students, teachers, parents, administrators, taxpayers, the school board, the cities, the county, etc. All of them should have representation in the process. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it front end loaded? Yes. You must have the interested stakeholders involved so that decisions are not made in a vacuum otherwise it becomes a process that true innovation can never find. It is hard work, but at the end of the day you get a shared vision with everyone tugging on the same end of the rope.
It must have specific, measurable goals that show whether we did, or did not, meet our stated objectives. It should have outlined action plans on how to meet these objectives and accountability for their achievement. This plan is a living, breathing document and should be revisited and adjusted annually based on achievement of the objectives.
Second, we need to become a model employer. The school district is the largest employer in Flagler County. Did you know our teachers will not be paid until after the third week of the new school year? Our teachers deserve better. For the second year in a row, through a glitch in the school’s accounting system, our teachers will not be paid until after three weeks into the new school year, and after no pay for the entire summer. One of my first acts as a school board member will be find the solution to this problem so it never happens again and our teachers can begin the education process on the first day of the school year without worrying about when they will receive their paycheck.
Third, we need to develop strategic partnerships within our community. State and federal money is tied to State and Federal goals, which is fine; but we need to have our own local goals as well. I am not willing to just accept what the state hands us as an allocation and say “we need go no further”. That is shortsighted and limits our children’s options. I want to take it further and create and enhance local partnerships which give us the ability to further maximize our abundant local resources. We have tremendous intellectual resources in this community that, if asked, would gladly help make our processes, our systems, our training programs, our entire system more effective. This will enhance our ability to more effectively maximize our limited dollars while having a huge educational impact on our students.
It’s January, 2011. State revenue is tanking. Flagler schools must cut 5 percent of their budget. Salary cuts are off the table, but eliminating positions isn’t. Name three specific programs, curriculum areas, or activities you’d cut.
The budget is all lumped together with no delineation by curriculum or activities. This must change. The budget needs to be fundamentally modified so that we can have a reasoned, rational discussion on the costs associated with each individual program/curriculum and the number of children and teachers impacted specifically identified.
That’s not accurate: every program, at the district and at the school level, is delineated. The question is specific and goes to your understanding of the budget, as well as your ability or willingness to recommend specific directions in a crisis.
I would disagree with your assertion that the school curriculum or programs are delineated. In the budgets I’ve reviewed, there is no delineation of costs for programs. For instance, I cannot find the costs that are specific to, say, student services. For the record, I am not saying we should cut student services, I’m just saying we should know the costs associated with each program. The costs for books, other materials, labor, overhead, etc. are not clearly defined. If the board is to make educated decisions on cutting programs or curriculum, we need to specifically define the costs associated with a program or curriculum so that we can make an informed decision.
Should the board be required to cut curriculum or programming it becomes even more essential that we stack rank our curriculum in order of importance, and stack rank our programming in order of importance, with the true costs associated with these programs, the teachers impacted, the students impacted and the impact on the community. We would need to know what the “must haves” are, like those required by statute. We need to know the “need to haves” as well as the “like to haves” as well, as defined by the board, hopefully at open workshops where every member of the community can have an opportunity to provide further transparency to the process and provide input. In the future, if we are forced through budgetary restrictions to cut programs or curriculum, we should have this process already in place to facilitate these difficult decisions.
The school board split on hiring Superintendent Janet Valentine, with two board members arguing that a national search should have been conducted first, rather than sticking with an internal choice. How would you have voted on the matter? How do you rate Janet Valentine as a superintendent, understanding that she’s only been in the job a few months?
First, let me say that I will support Janet Valentine. It’s the process that got us here, with which I take issue. The Flagler school district is the largest employer in Flagler County with an annual budget in excess of $159 million. It is big business. Two weeks after Bill Delbrugge submitted his resignation, the board hired a new Superintendent, for more money than we were paying Bill Delbrugge. We may have ended up hiring the same person but where was the due diligence? There was none. I was incensed by those board members who voted for this and abdicated their responsibility to the taxpayers, the parents, and the children of Flagler County.
A model employer probably would have done its due diligence so you could have put her candidacy forward without reservation or doubt, as she does not deserve to be doubted. The process recently followed did a disservice to both the residents of Flagler County and to Janet Valentine.
Who on the board currently is the board member most closely aligned with your idea of a school board member and why?
I look at each individual board member as an asset in bringing their vision, goals, and objectives in development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the Flagler County School Board. That being said, if forced to choose, I would say Andy Dance. Andy and I sit on the James F. Holland Foundation board, and I have had the opportunity to work with him for several years. I find him to be fiscally conservative, thoughtful, and active in the school community. While I know that when I become a school board member I will be able to discuss school board issues with other school board members in the sunshine only, I have had conversations with Andy in the past and found him to be educated on the issues and accessible and open to dialogue, including on opposing viewpoints.
If you had a choice of running the school district with a teacher union or without one, what would that choice be, and why?
I have actually worked with a unionized workforce in St. Louis and in Detroit and a non-unionized workforce in Louisiana and now Florida. I can honestly say it does not matter. It is still about people. It is about open and honest communication in achieving a shared vision. The only way you get to that shared vision is through the development of a comprehensive strategic plan with clear goals and objectives and action plans to achieve that vision, which is currently lacking.
We need to be a model employer regardless of whether there is a union or not. Communication is a key element in this process and we need to engage our teachers on the best way to achieve our shared objectives. We need to work with the union representatives to make sure our teachers, and in turn, our children receive the best education possible by providing a positive environment for our educators.
That’s fine. But you did not answer the question. If you had a choice, and especially with your experience with both systems, which would you choose?
I would choose to have a union. It is what we have and I have no issues working with the leadership of the union towards a shared vision. Transparency is the key here. We must have honest dialogue regarding priorities, kids first, everything else stack ranked behind this. If we can agree on the ranking of items of priority, the decisions, while not always popular, become easier with this shared vision.
Outgoing school board Chairman Evie Shellenberger said in May: “The folks in Tallahassee, to me, their goal is to shut down public schools. Shut down public schools and go to charter schools.” Do you agree? How do you see charter schools fitting in public school equation, and how successful has that fit been in Flagler?
Charter schools are part of the public school system. The entire school system needs to be accountable and transparent to better educate our children. Ninety percent of our charter schools are elementary, which puts us in the position managing these schools. These children will come into the public schools at some time in the educational process, and there needs to be a codified plan for assimilation, which only comes through a shared vision that is translated into a strategic plan with measurable goals and timeframes. Commentary that argues for or against charter schools is just divisive and does nothing to further the dialogue that can help our children. We need to continue to develop ways to reach all of our children because none of them are disposable.
Please address specifically the ideological contention Shellenberger raised in her statement, and address, specifically, whether charter schools in Flagler have been effective academically.
I support Charter Schools. Every child is an individual and some learn differently than others. No child can be thrown away because they don’t “fit” the model in place. It’s our jobs as adults to reach them not their job to reach us. This is a “Pay me now, or Pay me later” equation. If we don’t find ways to educate our children, particularly those that may not “fit” in traditional schools, we need to find a way to reach and educate them to be productive members of our community. Charter schools are not for everyone. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that we are being forced to adopt a “Charter School System”. We need to continue to apply our resources where they provide the greatest good for the greatest number of children in the system. That, by sheer numbers alone, supports the traditional school system approach.
Is the notion of zero tolerance as a disciplinary approach effective?
Zero tolerance in the Flagler County school system has been debated for some time. Zero tolerance is not an effective policy. Children are individuals and need to be treated as such. Instead of teaching zero tolerance we should be teaching tolerance. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be strong disciplinary policies in place to protect our children and the integrity of our schools. Rather, it’s to say that dealing in absolutes when talking about children is a poor substitute for common sense. There are many circumstances where creating an individual education program would allow us to determine what each child is dealing with at home, in the community, and in the school system and then better address these behavioral issues as they arise. We need to prepare our students not just for advancement to the next grade but the transition from childhood to adulthood. None of these children are disposable and to not work with them now to help them develop into adulthood could prevent them from developing the skills to be positive contributors to society as adults.
What is your position on sheriff’s deputies in schools-in elementary, middle and high schools, and what weaponry should these deputies be allowed to carry in schools.
My children’s safety, and the safety of all the children, is a high priority. The deputies’ presence provides a safer environment for my kids, and your kids; and I support it. Why wouldn’t we allow our Sheriff’s staff to have at their disposable all available resources to be able to provide the highest level of safety? These deputies provide another outlet for our children to reach out to an adult on occasions when they may feel threatened, or may just need to talk. In today’s technological age and the fast pace at which society is moving, I am supportive of providing our children with another resource, in trained deputies, who can have a positive impact on our children’s lives.
Please specify what weaponry you would allow school deputies to carry: guns, Tasers, nightsticks, pepper spray?
I would want ALL options available, including guns, tasers, nightsticks and pepper spray available to our school deputies. These are trained deputies with the education and experience to deal with the challenges that may present themselves in our schools. Right now, a school resource officer’s only choice in an elevated incident is to physically wrestle with an individual, or the use of deadly force with a firearm. There is no in-between or “step” choice. I would much rather give a deputy the opportunity to exercise their trained judgment to apply the tool that best fits the situation at hand.
In a choice between raising taxes and laying off teachers and other personnel, what would you do?
It is not a decision between raising taxes and laying off teachers and other personnel. It is about creating a comprehensive strategic plan in which every employee will be attached to the implementation of a shared vision and overall objectives within the school system.
For me to specifically speak to cutting programs or curriculum would be just as irresponsible as looking at this generalization without having a comprehensive strategic plan. No other question better illustrates why we must have a strategic plan in place. Without clearly identified goals and objectives, how are we supposed to make these decisions. Without a strategic plan in place, there is no clarity on our desired goals and objectives. If the work is done on the front end to establish the strategic plan, before we get into this predicament, we can effectively model several different scenarios to see which option, or combination thereof, more closely follows the schools shared vision.
You’re evading the question, which goes to your philosophy about taxes and education, and which you may be facing as early as December.
Raising taxes should not be the first choice, but the last option. I am not opposed to raising taxes for education for the right reasons. This falls under the “pay me now or pay me later” philosophy. If we don’t properly educate our children, we will have an uneducated, or undereducated, workforce that does not attract and retain business in this community and becomes a downward spiral of low paying, menial job availability. Conversely, if we educate our children and foster an environment of innovation, we become a beacon in the region to attract and retain business now and in the future.
What is your understanding and personal opinion of the Sunshine Law, and how will you ensure that you are always operating in the Sunshine?
My personal opinion on the Sunshine Law is that it is a state statute that all elected officials must follow, not just the rule of the law, but also the spirit of the law. I believe strongly in following what has been stipulated to us. I will ensure that any meeting I have where school board issues will be discussed is properly publically noticed and follow all requirements of the Sunshine Law. I take the law very seriously.