Volusia school board candidates tackle teacher shortages and banned books

Teacher pay, banned books and staffing shortages are among the many challenges facing members of the Volusia County School Board.

The 10 candidates for the three open seats on the board of directors in the Aug. 23 ballot were invited to a candidates’ forum Saturday in Deltona. Four participated. Voters did not hear from Jaclyn Carrell, Ginny-Beth Joiner and Georgann Carnicella in District 1, Jessie Thompson in District 3 or any of the District 5 candidates, Ruben Colón or Fred Lowry.

The event was hosted by the Volusia County League of Women Voters and hosted by member Ann Smith. Questions came from league members as well as the public in attendance. A video of the full forum is expected to be posted on the league’s website, where voters can also access candidates’ responses to a questionnaire by clicking the Vote411 icon.

Here’s a look at how the contestants who participated answered the tough questions. Parts of the answers are paraphrased.

1. Teacher and staff shortages are a pervasive problem throughout Florida. Given limited resources, what are two or three suggestions for staff recruitment and retention?

Volusia County School Board District 1 candidate Jamie Haynes answers a question posed during the Volusia County League of Women Voters Candidates Forum Saturday, August 6, 2022, at the Deltona Center.

Jamie Haynes: The Human Resources Recruitment and Retention Department held 31 job fairs, advertised at colleges and on CareerSource sites. “We are looking at the J-1 visa program and looking to bring in people specifically in the fields of math and science, which are shortages, who can come and teach here in the United States. … We are also looking at a HealthSource piece to bring in paraprofessionals and our nurses.”

Al Bouie: I was director of recruitment and retention for Volusia County for 12 years, and we provided “everything from job fairs, which were very effective, … we did aggressive advertising. We also had recruiters who traveled to invite teachers or teaching staff to the district and then we had an incentive program where we offered signing bonuses.” Aggressiveness in recruiting teachers and staff must be reflected in our budget.

Kim Short, candidate for Volusia County School Board District 3, answers a question posed during the Volusia County League of Women Voters Candidates Forum Saturday, August 6, 2022, at the Deltona Center.

Short Kim: “We need an exit interview process. … Unless we have real data on why people are leaving, it’s going to be very difficult to fix that.” Exit interviews will likely allow 10-15% of staff to stay “because a lot of times it’s a simple fix. Someone lives in Port Orange and works in Deltona, and we can make changes.” The teachers’ union surveyed teachers and found that behavior was one of the reasons people left. “We absolutely have to try to solve this problem.”

Justin Kennedy: “In business, the way you succeed is to get new customers or keep the ones you have. And if you’re struggling to get new customers, you have to look inside and how can we capitalize on clients we have?… We need to focus on the existing teacher base as we cannot afford to lose any. The retention service needs to address “a sense of mistrust”. Also consider a plan to employ education students as paid interns.

What is your position on banned books and would you explain this position?

Jamie Haynes: “I believe that children have access to books. Where we are, unfortunately, in society, we have individuals who have taken some of our classic books…they have written them in a way that is not appropriate at the age of children.” Anne Frank’s Diary was on a list of books and was not appropriate for a child to read as it contains pornography.

Volusia County School Board District 1 candidate Al Bouie answers a question posed during the Volusia County League of Women Voters Candidates Forum Saturday, August 6, 2022, at the Deltona Center.

Al Bouie: “It’s extremely important that children have access to books that give them a variety of topics to read.” However, parents and curriculum staff should be involved—not just the school board—in decisions about books. “Books that are inappropriate, those that contain profanity or pornography, I have a problem with.”

Short Kim: We cannot let elementary school children watch a PG-rated Disney movie without parental permission. “I wish it were that simple with books.” Some materials are disturbing. “There are graphic novels with sex acts that have been found in some of our elementary schools. I don’t think any of us are saying that’s something we want our kids to be exposed to.”

Justin Kennedy: I think we can all agree that the books we have in schools should be age appropriate. “I firmly believe that the more you read, the more you know.” Parents know how to educate their children. “What I object to is certain groups coming in and objecting…I’m not saying I want my child to read what they described…but there is literary value in some of these books.”

Veteran teachers with over 15 years of experience earn roughly the same as a beginning teacher. How will you begin to fight wage compression?

Volusia County School Board District 3 candidate Justin Kennedy answers a question posed during the Volusia County League of Women Voters Candidates Forum Saturday, August 6, 2022, at the Deltona Center.

Justin Kennedy: It’s a problem and it’s not fair. You’ve been there 15 years and you’re doing the same thing as a new person and it hurts. “I would be willing to work with whatever resources we have to try to change that. Obviously the state sets the budget. We have a huge hurdle there,” but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back our budget to zero-based budgeting and start looking for ways.

Short Kim: Flagler County uses a tiered system. Whenever Flagler has a job offer, “all they have to do is fly straight from Volusia County. … It’s ridiculous that we’re not trying to find a way to be like this. Honestly, it’s irresponsible of us.” We can commission human capital audit firms to review district positions and find ways to make reductions so that we can provide raises to experienced teachers.

Al Bouie: “We need to assess what is happening in other school districts across the state where they are retaining their experienced teachers.” We just need to adjust our structure, to make sure we’re putting in the effort and the teachers know we appreciate them. “We need to assess our current salary structure and do what is necessary, make the necessary changes to address the issues.”

Jamie Haynes: When I started on the board, the teacher’s starting salary was $39,200. We are now at $47,500. “So, yes, there was a compression issue, but that was because a separate pot of money was set aside specifically for teachers’ salaries. In that set aside, 80% was to be teachers who had less than $47,500 to get them there.” Our commitment now is to start at the top… and train more experienced teachers.

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