John Fischer is a Flagler County School Board candidate running from District 5, but all registered Flagler County voters are eligible to vote in the Aug. 24 election. Fischer is running against Peter Peligian and Raven Sword for the seat being vacated by Evie Shellenberger, who’s retiring. 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
I am running for the school board to improve accountability, make sure tax dollars are being spent wisely, and to ensure our children are receiving the best education possible. I am a business professional, working full time, who has managed to attend nearly 100 Flagler County School Board meetings over the past five years, as well as interacting with the children and the community as a whole. I am running for the school board because I care, I have made a difference, and as a school board member, I will continue to make a difference.
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?
To oversee the entire school system as a hands on person . Be active in the schools with the children, teachers, parents, citizens (taxpayers). Most decisions made by the school board are budgetary and contractual. My business background and the fact that I am a common sense person-thinking before acting-will make me effective in these areas.
Please describe your business background specifically, and explain how it relates to running a school district.
- School Board Candidates Tread Gulf Between Ideal and Reality in Chamber Forum
- School Board Candidate Peter Peligian’s Impersonation (and Tax and Claims) Problems
- Shellenberger, Steadying Voice for 8 Years, Will Not Run Again for School Board
- Rachael Kopec Withdraws from School Board Race
- Flagler County 2010 Elections Guide
My college degree is a BS in marketing and management from Kean University. Specific business background includes: Field insurance agent, financial advisor, business owner, union electrician. I cannot control mandates from state or federal agencies.
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, you’ve achieved.
- An expanded ESE Program (Exceptional Student Education). This program is for the gifted and for the challenged. Both ends of spectrum have to be addressed to help all children achieve their potential
- An expanded VO TECH Program
- An expanded Mentoring Program
How will you pay for the first and second goals? Please be specific.
Fischer did not answer the question.
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.
Fischer did not answer the question.
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?
I was in favor of a national search and I voiced that at the board meetings. I believe that was the way to go and I still believe that. Superintendent Valentine may be the best qualified, however there are many successful school systems and many qualified superintendents out there.
I have met with Superintendent Valentine and she has direction, focus and a plan and is doing a fair job so far.
Who on the board currently is the board member most closely aligned with your idea of a school board member and why?
If I had to choose from current members my choice would be Andy Dance, as he also has a business background.
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 would prefer running the school district without a teacher union so a new and fairer evaluation system could more easily be established for all teachers. Given that we currently have a teacher union, I will work with the union to develop better programs to assess student progress and teacher performance.
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?
I believe in the public school system. Charter schools have been successful in other areas of the country, but looking at the track record and recent grades for Flagler County, they are not working well for us.
But do you agree with Shellenberger’s assessment that Tallahassee’s goal is to shut down the public school system and to go to charters across the board?
I do not agree that it is the goal of Tallahassee to shut down public schools and go to charter schools. I think their goal is to take control of the entire school system. My belief is that the local people are best qualified to make curriculum decisions! I believe in the public school system. Regarding charter schools, they have been successful in other areas of the country, but looking at the track record and recent grades for Flagler County, they are not working well for us.
Is the notion of zero tolerance as a disciplinary approach effective?
I believe in strict discipline. Zero tolerance has its place, BUT each situation must be addressed with common sense. Some issues require zero tolerance but it is my opinion that, when dealing with young lives, you need some flexibility. You may not want to give a record to a youngster that would haunt them for the rest of their life. Rules are necessary, but must be enforced within reason.
Please be specific in explaining where zero tolerance fails and where it is successful.
Fischer did not elaborate further.
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?
I am not in favor of posting deputies in elementary and middle schools, however teachers and administration should always be alert to goings on. In High School I think yes, deputies should be in house, but should only carry weapons that would deter students, not hurt or kill.
Please cite the kind of weaponry you would allow as opposed to the weaponry you would not.
The current agreement is that they carry weapons, but not Tasers. At this point, I agree with this arrangement.
In a choice between raising taxes and laying off teachers and other personnel, what would you do?
I have heard for years that our children and education are our future, but it seems that government continues to cut education spending. I believe if we lay off teachers we hurt the children, if we raise taxes we hurt the taxpayer. We have to have a plan of compromise for the future. Administrative layoffs would come first, and classroom layoffs would be much more delicate.
The question relates to you and your priorities as a board member: Please specify, if given the choice, which would you do first between raising taxes and lay-offs.
Fischer did not elaborate further.
What is your understanding and personal opinion of the Sunshine Law, and how will you ensure that you are always operating in the Sunshine?
The Sunshine Law is the policy of this state, county and municipal-records are open for personal inspection and copying by any person. Providing access to public records is a duty of each agency. It is the law and I will adhere to it. All my files will be open to the public, and I will have no conversations with other board members. I recognize that in some ways it is hampering to a new person just learning about the working of the school system. This is why I have invested many, many hours attending school board meetings over the past 5 years.