Last Updated: Oct. 28, 2:45 p.m.
Will Furry is in a runoff election for the open District 2 seat on the Flagler County School Board, facing Courtney VandeBunte. VandeBunte emerged from the three-way Aug. 23 primary with 44 percent of the vote, to Furry’s 34 percent, with Lance Alread in third place with 22 percent.
Sally Hunt and Christy Chong won their elections to the School Board in the primary. Hunt defeated Jill Woolbright. Chong defeated Trevor Tucker. School board races are non-partisan: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.
If you are a registered voter in Flagler County, you may cast a vote in the race regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in–or whether you are out of state or living abroad, in which case absentee ballots may be sent in.
School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $36,000 a year. The amount is set by the Legislature, not the local school board. It increases by a shade under $1,000 each year. Last spring the Legislature passed HB1467, a bill, enacted this year, that institutes a 12-year term limit for school board members. But the clock doesn’t start ticking until November. In other words, any school board member who has served one or more term by then will not have that time counted against the tenure. The restriction is on consecutive years only.
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. 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.
|To vote: see a sample ballot here. Early voting is between October 24 and November 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four sites in the county, listed here. You may vote early at any of the four sites regardless of your precinct location. To vote by mail, request your mail-in ballot here. Because of the Legislature's new law, restricting voting convenience, drop boxes are available, but only to a limited degree. The ballot drop box at the Elections Office will be monitored by a staff member beginning 60 days prior to the election, through Election Day. This drop box will no longer be available after office hours or on weekends, except during the early voting period. Other drop boxes will be available at early voting locations, but only during the days of early voting, and only during voting hours. Mail ballots must be received in the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. If returning your ballot by mail, please allow at least ten days for delivery. A postmark does not extend this deadline. You may track your ballot here. All other election-procedure related inquiries can be answered at the Elections Office's website.|
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Purpose, vision and preparation
- Role models
- Budget cuts
- District accomplishments and failures
- Half-penny sales tax
- Evaluating Superintendent Mittelstadt
- Sheriff’s contract and armed civilians in schools
- Impact fees
- School enrollment and the future of public education
- “Don’t say gay” and anti-woke bills
- Prayer in school.
- Background check
Place and Date of Birth: May 19, 1975, Orange County, Calif.
Current job: Realtor.
Net worth: Click here for financial disclosure form. See Furry’s resume here.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites and Social Media: Facebook.
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, what examples illustrate how you yourself, as opposed to the board collectively, made a difference in enacting your vision in your previous years on the board? If you’re a challenger, what have you done to prepare, so that you’re ready from day one?
My vision for the future is to give parents options through school choice. I see an improved ESE [Exceptional Student Education] program where we focus on developing our students’ strengths rather than obsessing on their weaknesses. I want to expand our classrooms to careers to include trades that are in high demand in our community. We need to put our focus on early learning so we can boost our reading and literacy scores. I believe in the power of community. Through my efforts in community service I have learned that when people come together with a common goal great things can happen. I hope to foster a culture of parent involvement and volunteerism. I will lead with fiscal discipline and make sure that the taxpayers receive an excellent return on the investment they have made in our kids. I feel my highest qualifier for this position is that I am a parent with two young children that attend Old Kings Elementary, so I will be invested for the next eight years. I have an extensive business background with executive leadership experience and I have served on the chamber of commerce board in South Florida. I have founded several successful businesses and have even been featured on the front page of the Miami Herald business section for my success and innovation. I have been investing in kids in our community and abroad for many years. I serve as the small group leader in the student ministry at Epic Church mentoring middle school children. My wife and I have been supporters of the Old Kings PTO for many years and we also regularly help teachers with their unfunded needs in the classroom. I also have led several humanitarian and medical missions to Central America supporting children’s ministries throughout Guatemala. To prepare for this position I have regularly attended school board meetings and workshops to stay current with policy discussions. I have met with stakeholders in our community including parents, teachers, Sheriff Staly, past & current school board members, and have also attended an EPAC meeting to get a pulse on the state of our ESE program. It is my view that a good board is made up of members with diversity in thought but with one common goal. I am running as a businessman and an outsider of the education system, so I will approach policy making based on merit rather than the status quo. Although I have not been a school teacher, I am an educator. I educate people on how to buy their first home, I have educated several of my employees on how to be successful in my companies and go on to start businesses of their own, and every Sunday I educate kids on what it means to have a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Note: EPAC is the Exceptional Student Education Parent Advisory Council, a volunteer parent group run by Kristi and Steve Furnari that works in association with the district.
Flagler County Commission
Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)
Leann Pennington (R)
Palm Coast City Council
Alan Lowe, District 2
Theresa Carli Pontieri, District 2
Fernando Melendez, District 4
Cathy Heighter, District 4
Flagler County Voters Will Vote on Whether to Retain 11 Judges
Will Furry Chooses Sleaze. Again.
2. Who among school board members of the past 10 years or so do your most closely identify with, and why? Who in the world at large, and among the living, do you consider a role model of political or intellectual leadership?
I don’t Identify with any other person. I have placed my identity in Jesus Christ and each day I pick up my cross and follow Him. Many of the mentors in my life are just everyday people who love me and are generous in sharing their wisdom.
Is there anyone in public life in this community that you admire?
I would have to say Pastor Trent Schake at Epic Church.
3. Candidates often have a list of things they plan to accomplish if elected. As one five board members, what is your understanding of the power of—and limitations on–an individual member, and how would you go about exercising this power and respecting its limits to accomplish specific goals?
Florida statute affords school board members a broad range of powers and duties. The most notable is the board’s responsibility to advance school policy and hold the superintendent accountable to carry out these policies. If elected I promise to advance policy that will promote excellence in education for all the kids of Flagler Schools and I will lead with fiscal discipline for all the residents of Flagler County. I will also hold the superintendent accountable if the school policy and educational standards are not being met.
In your understanding of the job, what are the limitations on your authority–the governing or procedural line you may not cross?
If elected I will use all powers afforded to me by Florida Statute to make Flagler Schools the envy of the state, country, if not the world.
4. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring (or have brought) 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 your last term? If you’re a challenger, apply the question to your work or civic involvement in recent years.
I am a devoted father of two amazing little boys aged 10 and 11. I have been joyfully married to my loving wife Jamie for 17 years. We formerly lived in South Florida but have been part of the Flagler County community since 2013. I’m a very personable person with a cool, calm, and collected personality. Problem solving has always come easy to me, I like to gather all the facts to make informed decisions. I lead with love, empathy, and optimism. I have great communication skills and always try to respond to situations in a respectful manner. Serving others is something I am called to do and I have been doing so here in Flagler County for many years regularly volunteering at church, local, nonprofits, and leading a local missions team that helps serve needs in our community. I have a heart to serve and my hope is Flagler Voters will elect me to serve as the next distinct 2 school board member.
As to the second part of the question–in your professional or civic life, can you tell us of an error in judgment, a mistake, something you regret, that you learned from and now would do differently?
Something I regret from my younger years was not realizing the importance of serving others. We all have God given gifts and I believe that these abilities are not our own, instead they are lent to us by our creator to help serve the needs of others. I have learned that although it is noble to give back it is more important to pay if forward.
5. Finances are always a challenge. Let’s imagine that during the next term, the district will contend with the kind of recession it contended with between 2008 and 2010, when revenue fell sharply. What two or three program areas, aside from instruction, would you consider cutting, and what areas would you consider too critical?
I think it would be irresponsible and premature to commit to what we would have to cut if it came to that in this hypothetical question. What I will do is commit to have meaningful transparent discussion with the other members of the board to assess the needs at that time.
You say you’ve frequently attended school board meetings and workshops and familiarized yourself with the process, giving you the chance to see the many presentations on innumerable initiatives and programs. Nothing jumps out at you as a untouchable programs, or as areas that could be reformed, scaled back or eliminated?
All programs will have to stand on their own merit, show student participation, and net an educational benefit. No program is untouchable. I’m a fiscal conservative and I am always looking for a return on investment. I want to be an advocate for bringing joy to the classroom with stimulating electives and extracurricular activities as I believe these encourage kids to stay in school.
6. Setting aside Covid policies and procedures, what are the district’s three brightest successes and the three failures that affected students most in the past two to four years? 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?
Three successes –
- New school uniform policy
- Implementing the 3yr strategic plan that ties the superintendent’s evaluation to its results and
- Approval of increased impact fees for new construction in preparation of school
- ESE Program
- Mental health and student behavior
- Teacher staffing and
My chief priorities are:
- To improve our ESE Program
- Improve the learning
- Increase grade level reading
- Explore expanding our vocational and classrooms to career.
After 4 years I would hope my efforts would achieve an ESE program that is exceeding parents’ expectations and providing all accommodations outlined in their child’s IEP contract. An Improved learning environment for both teachers and students by expanding parent approved mental health to our kids with behavioral problems. Bring joy to the classroom by expanding electives and extracurriculars. Provide a stimulating environment for our advanced kids and vocational opportunities for those students that are not going on to college. My hope is that we will increase our reading scores by 20 percent year over year. I want to make our schools so great that when parents have school choice they will want to choose in-person learning again as the best option.
What would be an example of “parent approved mental health to our kids,” and what would the source of funding be? You mention teacher staffing as one of the three failures: in what sense, understanding that Florida as a whole is experiencing a teacher shortage in certain disciplines (in Flagler, they are specified in this document)? Aside from such options as virtual school, does the district offer anything other than in-person learning at this stage?
We aren’t going to turn our schools into a mental health facility, but when it comes to addressing the behavioral problems in the schools I feel that adding additional school therapists, behavioral interventionists, and paraprofessionals in our ESE department would help to improve the overall learning environment for both students and teachers. Some of this will be paid for by filling already budgeted vacant positions and we will have to sharpen our pencil when approving the next budget for the rest.
Teacher staffing is the responsibility of the Superintendent and the buck stops with Mrs. Mittelstadt. The Superintendent is hired by the board to get the job done, not make excuses. All businesses go through challenging times and the board is counting on the expertise of its CEO to navigate it. While there may be some grace on new hires due teacher shortage it is the duty of the board to hold the superintendent accountable. Teacher retention on the other hand is a direct reflection of the relationship and working environment between teachers and district leadership.
7. This year, the district’s half-penny sales surtax expires. It’s on the November ballot. The district will seek to renew it for the third time for the next 10 years. It’s been in effect for 20 years. Evaluate its worth, explaining how you see where it’s paid off, how you see where it has not. Do you support its renewal, openly advocating for it on the campaign trail, and the focus areas for the next 10 years’ spending. Would you alter its scope in any way and fund different items?
I would encourage everyone to vote in favor of renewing the half-penny surtax. I am for the half-penny sales tax and satisfied with scope as it stands now.
8. On July 1 Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt enters the third and, for now, final year of her current contract. Assuming you have followed the school board closely in preparation for your run (or are immersed in it as an incumbent), give us your evaluation of Mittlestadt as a leader, as an educational visionary and as an executive. Would you renew her contract? If yes, tell us on what terms. If not, tell us why. Along those lines, what is your experience and success in recruiting and hiring senior executives?
I reject the entire premise of this question. As a candidate I have not worked closely with Mrs. Mittelstadt and you are asking me to make an armchair quarterback approach to a very serious decision. If elected I will evaluate the renewal of the superintendents contact based on merit and results. I feel my over 20 years of business experience and executive leadership qualifies me for the task of hiring.
The premise is no different than that of all previous or following questions: voters have reason to know where their candidates stand on the most crucial issues, which have no more to do with sports analogies than questions about budget, security or programmatic challenges. Are you suggesting that, despite the familiarity you described with board business, only board members are qualified to have an opinion about the district’s chief executive?
Everyone is qualified to have an opinion of the district’s chief executive, but the hiring and firing will always be of the purview of the board. As I stated before the Superintendent will be evaluated based on results and effectiveness to lead.
9. The County Commission through the sheriff pays for roughly half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. Despite that, the school board has at times spoken of the growing financial burden of its share of the contract. What is your opinion of the district’s relationship and contract with the sheriff’s office? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you? Alternately, would you be willing to arm civilians in addition to existing deputies, and if so, what sort of ratio of armed civilians per campus would you want, and how would that relieve the district’s financial costs of security? Going that route, do we risk over-weaponizing campuses?
I have personally met with Sheriff Staly on this topic. I am grateful for the contribution from the County Commission through the Sheriff as it provides a school resource officer (SRO) at every school. The SRO is the first line of defense and is effective but I think we can do better. I am advocating for the Guardian Program to assist our SRO’s in their valiant effort of protecting our kids. The Guardian Program was established in 2018 through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Guardians are armed personnel who aid in the prevention or abatement of active assailant incidents on school premises. They are either school employees who volunteer to serve in addition to official job duties or personnel hired for the specific purpose of serving as a school guardian. Guardians must pass psychological and drug screenings, and successfully complete a minimum of 144 hours of training. School campuses are large and our SRO’s can’t be everywhere at once. Adding guardians to campus will provide additional support to our SRO’s and instant backup in the event of an active shooter situation. In my view If this program is implemented it should not be used to replace our SRO’s already in place.
Student safety is priority #1. Every child needs a safe and secure learning environment and I will do everything I can to maintain and enhance the safety of Flagler Schools.
10. The Flagler Home Builders Association and the County Commission successfully blocked a doubling of school impact fees this year, scaling back the school board’s original plan. First, who pays impact fees? Second, do you think either the School Board was unreasonable in proposing its original impact fee schedule, or was the County Commission unreasonable to block it? Setting Florida’s strange statutory requirements aside in this regard, should the County Commission even have a say in ratifying or blocking the policies of a school board? Should home builders?
I advocated in front of the County Commission for them to pass the impact fee. I do not think any party to this discussion was unreasonable, it’s just part of the process. In negotiations rarely does one side get all they want and I feel the impact fee as it was past is a good compromise. I like checks and balances and the opportunity for all stakeholders to have a seat at the table.
11. Flagler County’s population has grown substantially in the last decade and a half, from an estimated population of 89,000 in 2006 to 119,000 last year, according to UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Yet school enrollment has been remarkably flat since 2007. One reason is a big demographic shift as the proportion of older residents has grown while that of school-age residents has shrunk. The population grew by 33 percent. The 65-and-over population grew by 70 percent, from 21,400 people 65 and over to 36,500. Private, religious, virtual schools and home-schooling are also factors. What is the future of traditional public education in your view, and are Flagler schools doing enough to counter enrollment erosion from traditional public schools?
After talking with many parents, teachers, and students it is clear to me that the reason for enrollment erosion is due to the learning environment. Bullying is at the top of the list for parents followed by staff turnovers and teacher shortages. In the business world competition is what encourages innovation that leads to a better product. Charter schools, homeschooling, virtual learning, and the like are competition for in-person / on campus instruction. So if we want to increase enrolment we need to improve the learning environment by enforcing the discipline policy and bring joy back to learning with more stimulating curriculum, electives, and extracurricular activities. An involved parent knows what is best for their child and if there are better educational options available a zip code should not limit any child from them. I’m a big fan of school choice and my hope is we will make Flagler Schools so great that parents will choose to come back to in-person learning.
12. Two of the more contested bills in the last legislative sessions were HB1557, at times referred to as the “don’t say gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, and HB7, the so-called “anti-woke” bill, which restricts conversations about racism and sexism in schools. Residents now have the ability to sue the district when faced with allegations of infractions, and the district has to assume legal costs regardless. If you were to propose amendments or re-writes of the two laws at the next legislative session, what, if any, would those recommendations be?
I reject the entire premise of this question. I am running for Flagler County School Board, not the state legislature. I will implement policy based on the law as required by the duties and powers in state statute for school board members.
Those bills–like budget bills, like bills regarding security requirements and mental health, issues you touched upon with considerable detail above–will directly affect both the classroom and the district’s liability, making it vulnerable to costly lawsuits. You’re of course free to reject premises, but that doesn’t change the reality facing districts, faculty, and by extension, parents. The question is not about implementation, which is not an option, but about your perspective, as a board candidate, on those bills’ effects, and whether there’s room for amendments. Can you give us your thoughts?
I support the Parents Rights Bill and in my opinion I don’t think it went far enough. It’s time we let parents parent and let teachers teach. There is always risk of litigation no matter what policy we have on the books so I’m not too concerned about lawsuits because I believe most teachers have no desire to talk about sex with kids at school. Let’s just follow the law.
13. The U.S. Supreme Court has been especially friendly to the re-emergence of religious expression in public schools, or the erosions of restrictions on the use of public funds for parochial education, with more such decisions likely ahead, such as a test of the prayer-in-school standard that would go further than the Coach Kennedy case we saw this term. Do you favor a return to pre-Engle days, the 1962 decision that found school-sponsored prayer in schools unconstitutional even if participation is not required?
The constitution intended the separation of church and state to protect the church not the state. I‘m pleased with the Supreme Court decision in the Coach Kennedy case. It is my view that everyone should be able to express their faith without persecution. Prayer is a big part of my life but my platform is not about religion in school. If this came up as a policy decision I would give it careful consideration.
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? Have you ever been demoted? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.
I have never been charged with a misdemeanor or felony. I have never filed for bankruptcy. I have never had a complaint filed against me or been investigated to my knowledge by a professional board. I have never been demoted. After the 2008 financial crisis I did face personal financial distress after the mortgage company I worked for closed down and I was also unable to collect rent on investment properties causing me to default on mortgages resulting in civil action from the bank. This was a difficult time for most around the world, but I was able to rebuild over the years and now have a healthy financial profile.
You mention defaulting “on mortgages” but were not more specific. We imagined it was one or two foreclosures, as was often the case with people at the time, but your record in Miami-Dade indicates several more (we counted seven). You did not mention other issues. How many foreclosures have you had specifically and in what years?
Will Furry did not answer the question.
Originally published on July 28, 2022.