Candidates for Marion County Schools Superintendent were eager to spend money while there was a dearth of chatter about budget cutting, as they were profiled in a recent article in the Ocala Star Banner by Joe Callahan. Mirroring most school board candidates’ musings on the stump, let’s briefly look at what they were reported to have said in their interviews.
Jackie Porter believes that rebuilding the budget from the classroom up is going to produce a different outcome. (So does Board, District 2 candidate Carol Ely.) This is the common denial that claims the district has plenty of money if you re-arrange it differently … like deck chairs on the Titanic, perhaps?
Porter is interested in establishing vocational education centers in outlying parts of our vast county. It’s a nice idea, already being implemented to a certain degree with specializations as with North Marion High, for instance, having an agricultural concentration. Moreover, it costs millions of dollars to establish even one more vocational school.
She also wants to add basic life skills instruction but does not indicate where any of the resources would surface as far as curricula, teachers, and annoying details like that.
Ideas sound great, except there is no money. Period. Yet Porter, like her fellow candidates for Superintendent, rejects the need for added community funding.
George Tomyn has no big plans frankly. Does he realize that there isn’t a spare nickel anywhere? He emphasizes the importance of quality teachers, but when you pay teachers diddly-plop, you won’t attract or retain the crucial talent needed for the educational success of our students.
In his responses to the Marions United for Public Education questionnaire prior to the forum at First Methodist, Tomyn asserted,
This task may be a bit easier to accomplish with additional resources but I do not believe that Marion County property owners should bear the responsibility of paying higher property taxes in order to address a problem created by our state legislature. These are tough economic times. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to solve the challenges created by reduced funding.
Well, if the state is starving our finances, then isn’t it up to the community to step up? And isn’t it the job of school leaders to stand up for needed funding? How about getting those sleeves a-rolling now?
Wally Wagoner wants to emphasize early childhood education, and personally as a longtime member of the Success By 6 Leadership Council, I agree wholeheartedly. He also wants to open up computer labs during summer evenings for older youth.
As laudable as those proposals are, there is no money to do anything to support such efforts which will require staff time and other expenses, particularly for anything during the summer.
About school funding, Wagoner said to Marions United:
I will vote no on any property tax increase. We do not have a revenue problem; we have a resource allocation problem. We can be successful and improve academic performance with existing resources. We just need to have the character and courage to make difficult decisions that are best for students, parents and taxpayers.
One might suggest to Wagoner that the “character and courage to make difficult decisions” is to tell folks the truth; ‘there is no money, honey,’ and unless our community starts covering the gap created by the state GOP’s budget axe and fallen local property values, nice new ideas go nowhere while the basics of education sink like a stone.
Diana Greene has moved from her non-committal response to Marions United to an endorsement of one proposal, the one for operations. She doesn’t explain how to fund the other half mill proposal for capital expenses.
It isn’t like Marion County Schools have spent willy-nilly on capital expenses. For example, they are finally replacing the mainframe computer system, an IBM AS400. A top of the line, awesome mainframe … in 1988 when it was first rolled out. Really – 24 years ago! In tech terms, that’s Paleolithic. “Hey Ug, this new thing called ‘fire’ is really hot!” It’s like carbon paper in a digital scanner world. This thing is so ancient, geeks are amazed that a school system this large can function at all. In 1988, I was using MS-DOS on a 286 that “screamed” at 16 megahertz. Oh, please! Frankly, the AS400 has not done well since anything new system-wide is a costly programming nightmare, only to achieve something creaking and half-baked.
How will the district pay to implement the latest unfunded state mandate calling for digital textbook technology, like the cost for tablet computers for tens of thousands of students, plus a few thousand teachers and other instructional staff? Training?
Or how to pay for the wise, money-saving plan to develop the district’s own alternative school?
Or how to pay for basic building maintenance and repairs since the state gave all $55 million in K-12 PECO funds to charter schools this year, following no PECO funding at all the year before, leaving Marion schools just $1 million this coming year to cover dozens of schools and buildings?
Answer: There is no money. Period.
Candidates enjoy talking about all of the things they would do for our kids out of one side of their mouth, but then immediately deny the obvious need for more funding from the other side of their mouth. Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it.
Remember, not only is there no new money for any new ideas, there isn’t money to pay the basics in this year’s budget without voters passing both ballot measures. If those measures fail, then it’s cutting time, and those neat-o ideas become the hot air of politics as staff face layoffs.
Our community is still waiting for the leader to emerge from the superintendent’s race who will stand up for funding our schools without equivocation.
They ought to ask Woody Clymer, the only candidate anywhere on the ballot (so far) with the integrity to take a stand in full support of our schools getting the resources that our kids need to succeed. Yeah, Woody is pretty awesome when you get down to it.