What the candidates said on school re-opening, school choice, and the half-penny for public schools.
With early voting for the August 18 primary underway, JPEF wants to provide you information on where the candidates for School Board stand on the issues. Last month, we hosted virtual candidate forums and asked the hopefuls about their positions on school re-opening, school choice, and the half-penny for public schools referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot.
Learn much more about the candidates at jaxpef.org/school-board.
Kelly Coker: “Certainly we would want to look at our testing rates, and where our current COVID rates are and what not in contrast to other districts.”/ “I think options have to be there.”
Kory Von Leue: “Equity and safety have got to be top of mind.”/ “School houses, we’ve got to get them open, but it has to be done safely. I would be supportive of a delayed start until we can get our case down to a safe level. Definitely mandatory masks, reduce our class sizes, and our messaging for the district should be that if you can do virtual school, do that, but it’s not for everybody.”
Lew A. Welge: “I’ll naturally be open-minded as we seven members listen closely and seriously consider all reasonable and viable options. So with my participation I’ll advocate for the reopening plan to be flexible with reasonable options and tolerance for relatively minor differences of opinions. Of course safety first.”
Kelly Coker: “So having been a magnet principal at two different school sites, I’m a firm believer in choice. And my daughter attended neighborhood schools and she also attended magnet programs. I will say that my goal has always been that neighborhood schools meet the needs of the individual parents and children, but if they don’t we want public school options out there for our parents and our children to consider. I will say that while I do not believe charter schools should receive any additional funds over and above what traditional schools receive, I do believe we have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that the children within them receive an education that prepares them for college career and life.”/ “I think we need more work like that around the district where there’s collaborative processes going on.”
Kory Von Leue: “I’m not a big fan of public funds going to private schools as vouchers, due to various concerns around access and accountability. That being said it is a reality, it’s law.”/
“I’m the only candidate that has both traditional and charter experience as a teacher and a principal, at the end of the day they are all our kids; the kids fluidly move between charter school, traditional school, and magnet school, so it would be best for the kids if we were able to communicate and collaborate and work together to do what’s best.” /“We need to form stronger partnerships.”
Lew A. Welge: “I’m uncomfortable with tax money going to private charter schools. We have had parochial schools for a long time, elite schools, we’ve got Episcopal, private schools, where more affluent folks have been sending their kids for a long time, which is their choice. As far as public schools go, shoot, now the cost of maintaining a brick and mortar school in these days of virtual learning is another consideration. Shoot, you could have something like a charter school with a parent and their siblings cause there’s so much homeschooling going on, so you can consider that sort of a charter school, because we parents are our children's first teachers. So helping out homeschool kids too is something I’d consider, and maybe to the same level of funding as public school kids, it’s complex. But neighborhood schools, that’s what I’m for, neighborhood schools.”
½ Penny for Public Schools
Kelly Coker: “I absolutely am in support of the half penny sales tax… our teachers and children, they deserve better than they have. They deserve to be in classrooms where the air conditioner isn’t so loud that the child can’t even hear the teacher talk. They deserve to be in classrooms that don’t have literally crumbling walls around them.”/ “That being said, we need to have transparency if it’s passed. We need to have things like an independent auditor that’s watching how the funds are being spent and making sure they are being spent in a way that benefits the taxpayers, and the intent of the taxpayers in our city.” / “There should also be meetings that are held in communities, going where the people are, to talk about the progress that is being made, not just in that community, but across the district as well.”
Kory Von Leue: “I am definitely in favor of it, I’m a champion of it. For me this goes back to my core campaign message of equity. So access to quality buildings is a form of equity. The last time there was a building boom in Jacksonville in our schools was when schools were segregated, and not all schools are of the same quality. There is no other dedicated stream to new buildings, so I think this is exactly what we need for our schools becoming the jewel of the neighborhood that they are and building that pride that all neighborhoods have.
Lew A. Welge: “With COVID going on right now do we really need to tax people more for the brick and mortar facilities when we may be downsizing, and homes might be venues for education moving forward, who knows? But I’m not an accountant, I’m not into budgeting, I will be one of seven school board members, so I’m willing to listen to both sides on this issue, but I’m frankly undecided right now.”/ “Cleanliness is next to godliness, you can have an old home, or facility or school, but it’s important that you keep it clean.”/ “The money issue, I think there should be more token reinforcements, pencils, activities that are fun. We should have more field trips for kids.”
Robert Abene: “I would have liked the plan, except the situation today is dangerous. We have a situation now where we are spiking. You know, to me the health and wellbeing of the students and the faculty are primary.” / “So I really feel right now, that virtual is the way to go.”
Chris Guerrieri: “I completely disagree with [Dr. Greene’s] plan. I think it is reckless and dangerous. We are experiencing levels of COVID-19 that are unprecedented” / “When we open schools we know people are gonna get sick. We know schools are gonna close. So why are we opening?”
James Jacobs: did not attend forum
Cindy Pearson: “I support the plan as presented, and will be putting our children in the hybrid model for middle and high school.”
Robert Abene: “I think there’s some value to putting your curriculum together in a certain way, but I will tell you my feeling about the charter schools here: stop giving them money. The public schools need all that money, and they're not even accountable to the school board, these charter schools. I have asked board members this face to face, ‘why do you keep raising your hands to give them more money again?’ Their answer was, ‘oh you know the governor would want us to do that, Tallahassee would want us to do that.’ And my answer is ‘you’re not working for the governor, you’re working for the school, for the teachers, for the students, for the school board. Keep that in mind.’”
Chris Guerrieri: “I’m all for DCPS providing more options for their students, but I’ve often said our dedicated magnet program provides a two tiered system that leaves some schools out. So as a board member I would want work to bring a rich and varied curriculum to all our schools to better serve the needs of all our children. But as for charter schools and vouchers, I think we should acknowledge that some do it right and are good partners, that being said I am completely against any school that takes public money and then is able to pick who they take and keep, which charter and voucher schools often do. And I am against any school discriminating against disabled and LGBTQ children, which we know schools of choice do as well. I also don’t like that many charter schools are for profit, which means making profit not educating children is their main goal. And I think private schools that take public money must take the same set of high stakes tests that our public schools are required to take, and now those private schools are exempt for them.”
James Jacobs: did not attend forum
Cindy Pearson: “I understand school choice to mean neighborhood schools, magnet schools, homeschool, virtual school, charter schools, and under that definition I support parents making the best choices they can for their students at the time that they’re making those choices. And that’s what I’ve done, that’s what my husband and I have done for our children. Specifically I don’t support raising the income ceiling for voucher programs which has happened recently. I don’t want to share money with charter schools. I understand that charter schools have funding streams. The number two point in my platform is greater accountability for charter and private schools that receive public funds.”
½ Penny for Public Schools
Robert Abene: “I am definitely supportive of that. My only sadness is only that, again, the charter schools are getting some money from this too, which I don’t think they should be.”
Chris Guerrieri: “I’m absolutely for it.” / “I think people need to understand what happened, when the mayor and city council fought over the referendum last year, they gave the state legislature time to change how the money was used. It used to be that districts decided how the money was spent, and DCPS has a great plan that would have shared with charters based on the need, and now the district has to share the money proportionally, which will cost the district hundreds of millions of dollars.”
James Jacobs: did not attend forum → (from questionnaire) “As someone who has worked in our school system since 2001-present I've seen the conditions of our schools, so yes I'm in favor and will vote yes for the half-penny sales tax referendum to fund an extensive capital facilities plan in November. Our schools are dramatically due for upgrading! Especially with the Corona Virus now part of our world! We need the upgrade to prevent the spreading of germs amongst our students, teachers, Faculty and staff.”
Cindy Pearson: “I’ve been an outspoken supporter of the referendum since last summer.”
Warren Jones: “The superintendent has presented a very comprehensive, thoughtful plan. We’ve discussed it at length probably over 15 hours the last two weeks. You have three groups of parents. You have parents who want their kids back in school because they feel like, and we all know that’s the best way to learn, is face-to-face. We have parents who want the kids abc in school, but they’re concerned about the COVID-19… Then you have parents who for whatever reason don’t want their kids back in school. I think the choices Dr. Greene has presented for reopening provides options for all three types of those parents.”
Brenda Ann Jordan: “First thing I would do, we can put the plan out there for people to see, but it’s up to the parent to determine whether that child goes to school or not. And because of the COVID-19, what I would do is offer flexibility for the parents. Because parents are the reason we have a job.” / “I do have a plan that would create special features for Duval County Public Schools to get the parents momentum to buy back into addressing this COVID-19 together and setting up zone features.”
Warren Jones: “The charter schools are public schools, and we have to ensure, because we have about 3,000 students who transitioned back in between charter and traditional public schools. So we have to make sure that all schools, all students are doing well, whether in charter schools or traditional public schools, because they may end up back in the traditional public school anyway. And we are concerned with all students. Having said that, the thing that bothers me the most is that it seems the legislature takes dollars from traditional public schools to fund the charter schools, so providing additional funds for those charter schools. Two, with the private schools, if you’re going to fund the voucher program there should be accountability. Private school students do not have to pass FSA to get a high school diploma, but if you’re going to provide those tax dollars, they need to be held to the same standards as the traditional and charter school students.”
Brenda Ann Jordan: “Well considering that the bulk of students attend public schools, funding should go more into the public schools. However, with students and parents that are now exploring other options like private or charter schools, those funds should be available, as long as accountability goes along with it. Because under the public school sector, the students are protected under the law, versus private and charter schools. They need to have accountability just like public school students who are protected under the law, the same rules should apply with them under accountability of public funds going into the schools for private and charter. So I’m for learning as long as it is fair and appropriate for all children.”
½ Penny for Public Schools
Warren Jones: “We know, we have documented the tremendous need we have in our facilities. We have the oldest schools in the state of Florida. We have a school built in the 1800s during the Spanish-American War. We have a desperate need to replace as many of our schools as possible. The ½ penny would do that, would give us a jump start. School boards in the past… instead of addressing the issue of funding, they borrowed money. And we now spend $26 million a year in debt service just to pay off the $300 million that we borrowed to build the last 10-15 schools. ½ penny sales tax, like many other counties throughout the state Florida, have found other ways to fund that.”
Brenda Ann Jordan: “Right now the timing is not there for the ½ cent sales tax, considering the COVID-19 has impacted so many families. A lot of families, they’ve shared the frustration of ‘why are people begging for money from us when the money that does come from all taxpayers is not properly distributed in the areas that they need to be, which are great concerns. My thing is everyone is banking on the ½ cent sales tax, but there’s no plan B. Where’s the innovativeness to work around it just in case it’s not approved. If it’s approved, how will the money be distributed fairly across all the districts, and not where some districts are left out. This is not new to us, this has always been a problem with our schools.” / “Yes I am against a ½ cent sales tax.” / “I have a plan, but I don’t want to share it until I get that seat, because nobody can run the plan better than the person who created it.”
Lori Hershey: “The big part of the conversation is that we continue to see COVID rates in Jacksonville increase. And as soon as, I believe at the end of June, there was an article that came out that put Duval County as number three in the country at that particular time for an increase in COVID. So it’s not just a question about education, but it’s also about health safety. So the conversation today that took place, and the pivot that happened, was to look at delaying the start of school by two weeks. This delay would provide two opportunities: one, to give professional development for teachers, and also to allow a deep cleaning for schools.”
Matt Schellenberg: “I think that we need to have a thoughtful conversation. I think that all schools, all days should be open, five days a week. Now I heard that Dr. Greene said that the movement of buses and things like that, all of that can be logically, logistically worked out. Every child, every parent, has the right to send their child to school five days a week. Do you realize that 80% of the people who were laid off and are still basically laid off, made less than $40,000 a year. How are they going to have a child home for two days, be at home for two days, and have multiple childs with different schedules, it just doesn’t work. So I believe that the schools should be open and that the parents and the grandparents should have the right to decide if they’re going to be homeschooled or not. And I don’t agree with the Duval County union is saying only teachers with three years experience can do homeschool.”
John Turner: did not attend forum
Lori Hershey: “Jacksonville is a school district of choice, and that was a result of a court mandate regarding desegregation of education. That’s how we first got charter schools. I think that’s important to know. Vouchers were something that came through the state, and they have some different guidelines than traditional schools. What I will say is that over the past three years the state representatives have made some steps to require greater accountability for charter schools receiving dollars for students and private schools receiving voucher dollars. One of the things people want is accountability, so when you receive a voucher and you go to a school, does the school deliver on what you got that voucher for? People feel like that’s a fair question to ask.
Matt Schellenberg: “I think it all boils down to the parents. I think parents and the youth deserve choices. They should be the determining factor of where they should go to school. I would reference STEM and make sure all these students have an opportunity to expand their horizon and learn skills for the future and the kind of quality of life they should be looking after. The career readiness that anybody, the parents know what’s best for the child, that’s the parents choice. And if that money follows the child, I’m all in favor of it. They need to include fine and performing arts, student expression and interest, students learn best when they’re able to be guided by their educational journey and finding something they love to do. And we need to allow every student that opportunity, wherever they go.
John Turner: did not attend forum
½ Penny for Public Schools
Lori Hershey: “The ask of the school board last summer was to let the voters decide. When Dr. Greene brought this to me, as a lifelong resident of Jacksonville, I felt like we needed to make a decision as a community. So many people pointed to St. John’s County and other counties, but they have chosen to invest in our schools, and we need to do the same thing.” / “One of the great things about this is that we did a facilities index report which identified the specific needs of every single school and the priority is based upon the result of that facilities index report. Every school in the district will be touched.
Matt Schellenberg: “I’m indifferent and I’ll tell you why. Right now the school board gets $108 million through a mill and a half from every property owner in Duval County… they’re not spending all of that $108 million in repair and maintenance, and that’s how exclusively it has to be spent.” / “Two things, 1) if they get the ½ cent, you realize over the next 15 years, there’s $3 billion actually for schools and maintenance going forward?”
John Turner: did not attend forum