Interview with School Board Candidates

Backgrounds on the candidates: Erika Donalds has been in Southwest Florida for 12 years, is a working mom and a CPA. Her background is financial, working with budgets, audits, tax work, cost analysis, etc.

Kathy Ryan moved to Southwest Florida 44 years ago to teach in Immokalee schools and was the District Summer School Coordinator. She is currently retired and volunteers in the schools.

Allen Bartlett, photo by Scott McIntyre

Allen Bartlett ~ photo by Scott McIntyre

Moderator Allen Bartlett, who is the Naples Daily News editorial page editor started the Collier County School Board District 3 forum by asking luncheon guests who have ever run for public office to stand. “Those who run for public office are the pillars of our community. The people standing deserve a round of applause,” Bartlett said.

Erika Donalds and Kathy Ryan, the two Collier County School Board candidates running for the same seat, answered questions submitted from the 70 members of the Press Club of Southwest Florida audience. Each candidate was expected to answer the same question within the same time limits.

Q&A with the candidates:

Q: Why should someone care who is elected if that person doesn’t have children or grandchildren in the school?
A: Donalds: Because 50 percent of your tax dollars go to the Collier County Schools in their $1 billion budget.
A: Ryan: Because the kids that are being educated in the school will be the ones taking care of you once they become adults, whether they work as caregivers, government workers, or something else.

Q: Why are number grades (4, 3, 2, 1) used in the schools instead of letter grades (A, B, C, D)?
A: Ryan: It’s an attempt to get away from “grading” students and having a letter grade represent a student as a person. A four means that the student has mastered a subject, for example.
A: Donalds: Parents do like it at all. It started out as a Pilot Project for Kindergarten and 1st grade, and even though parents didn’t like it and complained about the system, it was expanded to more grades.

Q: Explain Common Core and give your opinion.
A: Donalds: It’s a National set of standards. I’m not opposed to standards, but I want Florida to be in control. The testing has also gotten out of hand.
A: Ryan: The topic has been debated for decades, and there has been a movement to do this for a long time. Florida was one of the states in favor of it. The purpose was for standardization is state to state. The concept of national standards, itself, is not an evil thing.

Q: What would you do to strengthen STEM?
A: Ryan: I’m in favor, in particular, in getting girls involved in science, math and engineering.
A: Donalds: I’d look for more balance, such as in the Arts. Every student is not going to excel in the STEM area.


Slideshow photos by Kevin Randall Jones

Q: Do charter schools skim good students from the public schools?
A: Donalds: Charter schools are a parental choice. Some feel that they get the top students and the bottom students because those parents may choose charter schools. Public schools teach more toward the middle. (Donalds has one child in public school and one child in a charter school.)
A: Ryan: Charter schools do not all look alike. Some may be for students with disabilities, and others may be for non-performing, high risk students. There are parents who aren’t aware of charter schools or how to choose them.

Q: What about involvement of the Federal Government in our schools?
A: Donalds: The Federal Government shouldn’t be involved at all. We need more control because we know what our schools and students in Collier County need, with state oversight.
A: Ryan: Some of the Federal Programs are not new, such as Food Programs for low-income children. And, programs for migrant students, for example, provide funds to hire more teachers to help those students.

Q: When should foreign languages be taught?
A: Ryan: The younger the better, that’s the ideal. It might have to be voluntary because some parents might object.
A: Donalds: I agree. Four years of Spanish, for example, should be taught as young as possible, not in high school.

Q: What is the “down side” of opting out of the standardized tests?
A: Donalds: If parents opt out, no damage is down to the students – they are learning either way. But, if the District opts out, there would be no benchmarks.
A: Ryan: If the District opts out, there could be repercussions via funding. Opting out could hurt the students re: eligibility/ineligibility for athletics. In high school, the state requires certain testing.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Randall Jones

The final wrap-up:

Donalds: Currently there are no parents of school children on the board. The questions are not being asked. Why isn’t there an Internal Auditor for this $1 billion budget? Why isn’t a cost analysis being done for major items? If I am elected to the board it will be my only focus besides my career and family. I am very organized and know how to prioritize my time.

Ryan: If elected, I would need to give up volunteering in the schools, and I’m willing to do that even though I love working with kids. A school board member is one of five people; you can’t act alone. I’ve studied conflict resolution and would be an asset to the board.

Bartlett thanked everyone for attending the forum especially Erika Donalds and Kathy Ryan. Early voting started on Thursday, Oct. 23.

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