School Board District 1 race – the issues (revised 11:15 AM ET)

(This post was revised to correct the second paragraph.  The original post distributed by email incorrectly referred to Barbara Berry as Pat Carroll’s opponent in District 1.  Carroll’s opponent is Rosanne Winter.)

Three of the five Collier County School Board seats are up for election this year.  (The other two Board seats will be up in 2012.)  As I wrote last week, candidates for the School Board must live in the district they represent, but they are elected at-large, so all voters vote on all races.  School Board races are nonpartisan, but candidates are members of political parties.  For District 3, I will vote for Kathy Ryan (D), and for District 5, I will vote for Roy Terry (R).

As I’ve written, I’ve been struggling with who to vote for for District 1 – Pat Carroll or Rosanne Winter.  To explain why, I have to give you a bit of background.

Facts about the School District of Collier County (from the CCPSD website)

The District has 42,767 students in 50 schools including two charter schools.  It faces many challenges due to the ethnic, language, and socio-economic diversity of the student body:

  • 43% Hispanic; 40% White; 7% Haitian; 6% Black; 4% all other;
  • collectively, students speak 81 different heritage languages and are from 147 different countries of origin;
  • 46% of students live in homes where English is not the first language and sometimes isn’t even spoken (54% in grades Pre-K through 3, where learning to read is so critical);
  • 17% are in the English Language Learners (ELL) program;
  • 58% are “Economically Needy,” qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunch;
  • overall graduation rate 77%/ dropout rate 2%, for the 2008-2009 school year

The District employs about 3,000 teachers, 49% of whom have advanced degrees. With the budget always under pressure, teacher compensation has been a recurring issue:  while the District ranks in the top three in the state, Florida ranks 35th in the nation in average teacher pay.

I want a Board that is truly committed to providing the best possible education to all of our community’s children, despite the many challenges. 

Some background on the School Board

In addition to the challenges of the diversity of the student body, the District has had a traumatic couple of years due to Board issues.

The current superintendent, Dr. Dennis Thompson, was hired in 2007 after his predecessor was fired amid circumstances that divided the Board and the community.  Subsequently an accreditation team put the District on “warned” status, concluding that Board governance was “dysfunctional.”  Only after much work did the District receive full accreditation in 2009.  Later that year, a Board member became ill and resigned from the Board.  In February 2010, a replacement (current District 5 candidate Roy Terry) was appointed by the governor, in accordance with state law. 

In August 2010, the Board voted 3-2 (candidate Carroll and outgoing Board member Steve Donovan in the minority) not to extend Thompson’s contract.  The three Board members who are elected on November 2, along with the two continuing members, will immediately have to decide how to conduct the new superintendent search.  Thompson’s contract runs through July 2011, but he could certainly leave sooner if he chooses and take with him the three senior staffers he brought with him when he was hired.

I want a Board that will function professionally and effectively.  I want a Board that will conduct an efficient, successful superintendent search.  I want a Board that will hire someone who will calm the tensions with the principals and teachers, quickly earn the trust and respect of the community, and work hard to improve the performance of the schools that are not meeting our kids’ needs. 

The District’s strategic plan is a work-in-progress

In Fall 2009, the School Board launched a long-range strategic planning and community engagement process to guide District work for the next two to three years. The process has resulted in a draft vision with goals for the Collier County Schools and the associated operational goals to implement the vision.

Unfortunately, the strategic plan was not completed before the Board voted to not renew the superintendent’s contract.  Clearly the plan must be completed and clear, measurable expectations must be set before a search for a new superintendent can begin.  A workshop to do so has been scheduled for November 4, but at least one (District 3) and as many as three (Districts 1, 3 and 5) Board members may be newly-elected. 

I want new Board members who will buy-in to the agreed-upon vision and goals, quickly come up to speed and contribute in a meaningful way to the process.

We are a community of diverse political and social values

We live in a county that is politically conservative and where the social values of many are different than mine.

The League of Women Voters of Collier County and the American Association of University Women Greater Naples Branch jointly surveyed the candidates on topics of mutual interest.  Consider their responses to these questions:

Do you support policies that prohibit school prayer and the distribution of non-academic religious materials during the school day and at school-sponsored athletic activities (excluding student clubs)?
  • District 1 – Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry – no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – no; Whitehead – no
Do you support the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes?
  • District 1 – Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry – yes; Ryan – no
  • District 5 – Terry – no; Whitehead – no
Do you support the teaching of man-made climate change as fact in science classes?
  • District 1 – Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry – no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – no; Whitehead – no
Do you support the practice of religious invocations at the start of School Board meetings?
  • District 1 – Carroll – yes; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry – yes; Ryan – no
  • District 5 – Terry – yes, as long as all groups are represented; Whitehead – no
Do you agree with the new School Board policy that mandates the teaching of comprehensive sex education from the 6th grade and up, and which includes information about contraception, condoms and abstinence?
  • District 1 – Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry – no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – yes, with a strong opt-out policy; Whitehead – no, wants a different focus for the sex ed curriculum
Do you support mandatory diversity training for all school personnel and School Board members?
  • District 1 – Carroll – no; Winter – yes
  • District 3 – Berry – no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – yes; Whitehead – yes for school personnel; no for Board members
(1) Unwilling to provide yes/no answer

As much as possible, I want a Board whose members share my values.

Diversity of Board member experience

Given the usual friction between school administration and the teachers’ union over compensation and other contract issues, and the fact that the Board sets the superintendent’s goals and approves union contracts, should we have a Board on which educators are the majority?

Continuing Board member Julie Sprague, representing District 4, taught for 30 years, with 10 years at Immokalee High School and 10 at Gulf Coast High School. She is currently Education Coordinator for the SWFL Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Continuing Board member Kathleen Curatolo, representing District 2, has more than 30 years of professional executive experience, currently serving as executive officer of the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA). She has also taught English at the community college level.

The score: one educator; one non-educator.

Now consider the candidates’ professional/business experiences:

District 1 – one non-educator; one educator

  • Carroll – marine biologist; environmentalist; bookkeeper. She is currently comptroller for Carroll and Carroll, Inc., her family’s business.
  • Winter – high school principal (including two years at Naples High School); school district director of instructional technology; high school assistant principal and dean of students; adjunct professor; consultant then vice president for an online school system.

District 3 – two educators, although one has other experience

  • Berry – teacher for 6 years; paraprofessional 2 years; attendance aide for a year. 1984-88 Collier County School Board; 1990-96 Collier County School Board; 1996-2000 Collier County Commission. Currently a Realtor.
  • Ryan – 40+ years as teacher, counselor, dean, district summer school administrator, consultant and principal; 30+ years of this was in Immokalee. Retired.

District 5 – one educator; one non-educator

  • Terry – 46 years in education; 32 of those in Collier County as teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal. Currently serving as appointed member of the School Board.
  • Whitehead – recently retired Naples police detective; deputy sheriff (Spencer County, Ind.); ordained member of the Diocese of St. Augustine; elected trustee/chair for the police pension board of trustees; served as commissioned officer and chaplain in the U.S. Navy.

I am concerned that a Board dominated by educators, and without a representative of the non-White or non-English-speaking community, might have trouble putting the best interests of all the students ahead of the best interests of the teachers, especially if matters of teacher tenure and pay-for-performance – both of which I support — are being discussed.


I hope I’ve given you a sense of the many issues I’ve been grappling with in trying to decide who to vote for for School Board. I’ll be voting for Kathy Ryan for District 3 and for Roy Terry for District 5. Tomorrow I’ll make my final decision for District 1, and let you know.

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