By Noelle H. Lowery
During the last week of June, the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance (SWFLCA) held two of four planned candidate forums for those running for the District School Board of Collier County in the Nov. 4 election. The first was held on Marco Island at the Marco Island History Museum on Monday, June 23.
Eight of the nine candidates participated in the Marco Island event, which was moderated by Jared Grifoni, the host of “Resistance Radio” on WGUF-98.9, and Marco Island Academy junior Marcus Daffner. Composed of five members from five districts, the Collier County School Board focuses on policy and operational governance and appoints the Superintendent of Schools, who administers the operations of the schools and the school district.
Districts 1, 3 and 5 are up for re-election, while the terms for Districts 2 and 4 will expire in November 2016. Each member serves a four-year term, and voters cast a ballot for candidates in all districts. District 1 candidates include Jacob Winge, Kathleen Greenawalt and Kelly Lichter. The field of candidates in District 3 is stacked with Erika Donalds, JB Holmes, Kathy Ryan and Luis Bernal all running. District 5 candidates are incumbent Roy Terry III and Thomas Andler.
According to Keith Flaugh, a spokesman for the Alliance, the forums were organized in an effort to better inform voters about the issues facing Collier County Public Schools and to combat voter apathy when it comes to education issues.
“There are no right or wrong answers,” Flaugh says. “We want to focus the public and ask the tough questions of the candidates…We want to educate voters on the issues that we think the school board will be facing and to vote informed.”
The SWFLCA is a coalition of some 120 conservative citizen-activists and groups in Lee and Collier counties with the goal of inspiring “a rebirth of liberty in Southwest Florida.” The Alliance focuses on three specific issues: protection of second amendment rights, doing away with federal interference (i.e. the implementation of the Common Core Standards) in the state education system, and revamping the education system in general, encouraging the school board to be more responsive to all local stakeholders and adhere to the U.S. Constitution.
Flaugh explains that the Alliance developed a questionnaire for the School Board candidates with 25 yes or no questions. Each candidate received the questionnaire and an invitation to participate in the forums in May. The first 20 questions focused on such issues as support for federal programs for public K-12 education, the school district budget, the federal expansion of pre-K education, Common Core Standards, parental involvement in curriculum, charter schools and school choice, teacher retention based on merit instead of tenure, the district’s “Bring Your Own Device” to school program, using constitutional authority in curriculum choice and the use of tax dollars to fund public education.
The last five questions on the questionnaire were as follows:
• Do you support eliminating the U.S. Department of Education and returning all authority to the state of Florida and local school districts over a period of four years or less?
• Do you support the US Pledge of Allegiance and voluntary prayer being allowed in public schools at the discretion of the majority of parents in each local school district?
• Do you support the Ninth and Tenth amendments to the US Constitution? (This gives individual state constitutional officers, including the sheriff, school board and citizens, the authority to stop federal overreach when the federal government assumes powers that are not enumerated under Art. 1, Sec. 8 of the US Constitution.)
• Do you support allowing properly trained and certified teachers and administrators to carry concealed weapons on school grounds?
• Will you voluntarily commit to serving no more than two consecutive terms as a school board member in this county?
According to Flaugh, some of the candidates were concerned about the yes-and-no format of the questionnaire. As such, each candidate was encouraged to expand on their answers and write a short position piece as to why they felt a certain way about an issue. Once all four forums are completed, the Alliance will issue a voter guide complete with a full account of the candidates’ questionnaire answers and positions.
A straw poll was taken of the 100 attendees of the Marco Island forum, allowing them to vote for one candidate in each district race — just as they will in November. Lichter, who was unable to attend the forum because of a prior commitment, won the District 1 straw poll with 59 percent of the vote. Lichter is the president and founder of the new Mason Classical Academy, a public charter school which will open its doors in Naples this fall.
Donalds, a 34-year-old mother of three and Certified Public Accountant, won for District 3 with 70 percent of the straw vote, and District 5 incumbent and former Collier County high schools principal Terry won the vote with 73 percent.
Much has been learned by the Alliance and voters in the first forums, and Flaugh and the Alliance are excited about the next two forums. The next will be held Thursday, July 17, at 7 PM, at Naples First Baptist Church. The fourth forum will be held at Covenant Church in Naples on Tuesday, July 22, at 7 PM.
For more information on the upcoming forums or to review the candidate questionnaire, visit www.swflcitizensalliance.com.