Carol Bacha, also known as Mother Elizabeth, is one of eight candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 18 primary election. Bacha is running in District 3 against Paul Mucciolo and incumbent Colleen Conklin.
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.
Carol Bacha’s follow-up answers are still pending. She said they’d be provided.
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: Aug. 31, 1954, Harrisburg, Pa.
Current job: Monastic woman (nun); Director of New Tikhvin Skete of the Holy Mother of God and Christmas Monastery School of Music and the Sacred and Creative Arts.
Net worth: Not provided.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
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?
My Vision for Flagler County is for us to become worthy of the name The Education Coast and do it through engaging multiculturally and intergenerationally through the Arts and project based Gifted Education approach.
I have pioneered programs of the Arts within Major Medical Institutions adhering to all the safety concerns, and risk management factors of these hospitals, schools, care facilities, juvenile rehabilitation centers, city recreation and more while giving a sense of belonging to the marginalized, and those with special needs who in turn became leaders and my teachers of what works. From 1993-2004 I went back to school at Florida International University, Rollins College and the University of Central Florida, resulting in two additional degrees–a Bachelor in Business with a Major in Video Arts, a Bachelor degree in Liberal Arts in which I designed half or more of the programs to suit my own needs and benefit the community, and 62 plus graduate credits in Gifted Education, Exceptional Education and in Music Education, awaiting a return of a program that then disappeared. My doctoral plans with it did not then weather the four hurricanes of 2004 in Central Florida.
My earlier work in a major Miami Hospital and the restructuring of its Volunteer Department led to Educationally supported changes with the excitement of the level of volunteer training I gave at initiation (30 hours) and oversaw in the time period of my tenure to lead all of Dade County with the outcome of a Nursing School within the Catholic Nun Supported Hospital Board. This is pioneering work I did as a nurse and outcome of my missionary and earlier training as a nun, nurse and music educator with good leadership formation with my priest/father in diplomacy and mission development.
My current bishop when tonsuring me a nun in 2015 said, “Teach them English and how to dance.” I believe I have worked longer at combining survival with thriving and finding joy in the journey through singing and dancing my way in the workplace and influencing the environment around me from crisis to care and resilience. If it be God’s will I continue this same pathway as an elected official in what I felt called to do in December of 2019 when I began the process to put my name forward for the work of the Flagler County School Board.
What have you done to prepare specifically for the school board position–what meetings have you attended or followed, what initiatives have you participated in or advisory boards served on?
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.
I try to be patient and I persevere with an eye open to change as needed. When I first went to business school, the instructor stated the maxim I accept and try to engage in “You need to change for breakfast.” Some may see my “questioning attitude” as a shortcoming to upholding the status quo. I believe in celebrating victories, but I am always looking to improve and represent all the views and do the problem solving that is needed to get the job done and move forward.
Being questioning is not quite a shortcoming: can you be more specific regarding a misjudgment or a misstep with consequences from which you learned?
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?
I believe Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt has done a very good job in her new position in the Flagler School District, only in the last few months and coordinating all the schools, facility support and handling the rulings that are in a state of change from the Department of Education at the State and National levels. I believe the Flagler County School Board needs to do more to attentively and proactively listen to the Flagler County teachers and teachers union in making their choices for the “what is next.”
Where do you see the response needing improvement specifically? The district has been negotiating with the teachers and service employees unions rather assiduously for weeks: where specifically, regarding employee concerns, is the School Board not listening?
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 had trouble seeing August 10 as “the fall.” I lived a good part of my adult life in Florida and had two children that attended school in Florida, one nominated “Dreamer and Doer” of her 4th grade Elementary School experience, and another in Gifted Education through-out her years she attended. But my own northern schooling K-12 never meant August was the “fall”. The National Dr. Fauci and CDC when they speak “Fall” they are looking at those months that begin September, October, and are still viewing opening school at a measured pace in steps, with emphasis as Superintendent Mittelstadt mirrored of internet connection. While internet education needs time to evolve and improve, fighting the spread of the covid-19 in my evaluation takes priority.
This is where patience and waiting and educating for acceptance of the vaccine is extremely important. Working as the nurse in a Family practice and Pediatric doctor’s office, I learned from the doctors to give the childhood vaccines in a painless manner with the parent or caregiver holding the young child in their lap and making a very quick dart like motion to inject the vaccine in and out of the fleshy portion of the thigh I would raise up with my other hand. Having a positive attitude and a gentle experience in earlier life with vaccines is important to the overall outcome of acceptance.
The guiding principles need to be adequate protection of the most vulnerable as per the CDC and all official recommendations in accordance with the teacher’s and district’s readiness to accept the responsibilities. In my community efforts to distribute masks, I see first hand people are getting the idea that masks are needed but it has taken time. We still have knowledge deficits throughout the community. In my past work as a Visiting Nurse, each visit you educate and document what you have taught. You can not expect people to know everything that is needed to know in one shot and to practice it 100 per cent.
I hope we can reenvision the programs and activities that are desired while adding new alternatives for better use of community recreational facilities doing things outside, with emphasis to getting exercise and sun in the tolerable times of the day and coming months for better Vitamin D status and immunity defense. I see our Flagler County Youth Orchestra as a priority in leading small group adventures and projects related to our Historical Society, Parks and Outdoor spaces that have pavilions and roofs as a means of Student Community Leadership. What might it look like to see the Football Team combine some social distancing moves that look like a Greek style circle dance? or parents to bring on their kids with wheelchairs in a half time show with music that engages the spectators at home on Zoom or Facebook?
Terminology aside, are you comfortable with school’s resumption on Aug. 24, with the three options the district is providing, two of them virtual? Are you comfortable with in-person education for upward of 60 percent of the students?
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 approve of mask wearing and face shields when masks can not be used by the individual.
I also believe we need to work with teachers and administration to make long overdue changes to the school day schedule and how we are currently teaching subject areas. My educational training in Gifted Education at the Graduate level and blended/hybrid instruction of internet and workshops would propose to suggest to teachers the Oxford Method. That may mean on a given day or week we are working on no more than two areas at a time and a project. This may mean a formal class in math and science and a continuing project that involves Language Arts and Social Studies.
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?
When we realize the goal of being The Education Coast and do it through the multicultural and intergenerational engagements of Arts in the community, I believe we will grow the tax base with new residents and new homes sales and volunteer community support that will be commensurate to the fluidity of needs in the pandemic crisis and aftermath. It will work best if we are proactive in this approach and do not press face to face interaction faster than we can educate and support and while maintaining safety and keeping in mind the Flagler County Schools as the largest employer in Flagler County.
My research shows we are not getting millions of existing funding through federal funding that exists and the homework is not being done to the needed extent to get the funding support because we expect too high acuity (a ratio) way beyond the standard of 25 IEPS to one teacher in the IEP Individual Education Plans. Outside of Covid-19 Flagler Schools was giving 50 to one teacher. This is not only a matter of funding it breaches the legal mandates, puts the entire school district at risk of legal troubles, while endangering the students and families. This is my number one priority, to see how this needs to change as a representative of the community in use of funds and for an advocate for those who have had less experiences as I have had advocating for the lives of children for more than 30 years knowing that making the changes they need is a matter of life and death in many cases with my work with the Medically Fragile. With this, I see the needed support to parents as well to be home educators, getting what they need to take on an increase role in education and supportive services to their child.
You lost us with your reference of “50 to one teacher” and much of what came afterward, and you did not seem to be answering the question: given the existing budget, and without speculating as to what federal funds are not tapped, what budget items would you consider expandable during the covid emergency?
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?
- I believe the community support for the Flagler Youth Orchestra to be one of the greatest successes. It is what motivated me to come to Flagler County in 2014.
2. I also believe the retention of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club as serving both K-12 and the community is a success of which I was present and an active advocate to not see the sale of this community organization that I framed in one argument to the School Board as an existing “incubator.”
3. The recent graduation increase rate of 81 per cent to 88 percent and the highest ever Dual Enrollment numbers dramatically increased with Superintendent James Tager tenure in 2017- to June 30, 2020.
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 support its renewal. I would need to see a plan and evaluate it at that point and listen to the recommendations.
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 have witnessed our Sheriff’s department doing a great job in Community Relations. In light of exposure to national media events, I think it all the more important for our Flagler County Students to see the kindness and compassion our Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies demonstrate for their health and well-being. Through my years of Emergency planning and in emergency crisis and engagement in the community, law enforcement are our best friends doing and showing they both have concern for all. In my CERT, Community Emergency Response Training, with the first ever Flagler County CERT group in May of 2017, with the initiation of our teen-led Medical Music Mentors, I was able to meet and see first hand the firemen, law enforcement and cadre of First Responders in our Community, our great Volunteer Recruitment leadership, and a concern for Health Education at a community level of the highest percentage rate per citizen more than I knew in any other county I have resided in Florida. It continues to make me proud to live here in Flagler County. I support our officers in the job that they do because I have seen them at the Suicide Town Hall and other “teachable occasions” demonstrating their awareness there is always room to improve and grow through additional educational supports.
I do not see “arming staff” as a viable option.
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 have no problem with student choice of the name they wish to be called, which was the ‘touchstone’ event with a teacher that then pulled the school board in on policy questions, at least as to what I could understand as an outsider to this event. In my undergraduate and graduate level education for teachers and in the state mandated curriculum of study we do for a test given all educators to successfully pass to be able to teach in Florida, we study Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Identity is the stage for ages 12-18 in the norm of growth. Conflict is expected for this identity to develop. Freezing a gender identity different than the birth certificate in this fluid experience of this important developmental stage appear to be out of tune with adolescent needs. I believe that looking for other root causes from where bullying may have been a factor, should take precedence for the school board involvement.
Would you revisit the district’s non-discrimination policy that drew so much attention before the end of the school year, and include “gender identity” as a protected class?
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 have no trouble supporting this issue as it may arise again. It will be important to educate the differences for the need of these vaccines.
The Flagship program was new and paralleled the better graduation rate and dual enrollment advances. The program I believe should be supported and advanced to include virtual sharing during the covid pandemic and continue to engage in both problem solving and interconnection with businesses and career sites.
Accountability is part of the job as well as transparency in building trust in community relationships.
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.
No! I am just now finally resolving a situation from roof damage and a wind event and all of its complexities. This past Friday I got the bank approval needed that will stabilize my financial situation and free up my focus to move forward without fear of losing my home in Palm Coast.