BY THE OBSERVER STAFF
1) What is the biggest challenge facing the school board and how must it be addressed?
The biggest problem facing this school board, and most public education school boards, is that of money and our desire to provide our students the expanded education that they need and deserve.
2) Is there room for further cuts to the School Board budget without diminishing the quality of education?
No. The quality has already been diminished.
3) Why should people vote for you instead of your opponent?
I have the experience and qualifications required to serve. I believe in public education and the role it has played in making this country remarkable. I believe in it, I support it and am dedicated to making it thrive. My opponent does not support or believe in public schools. She has not prepared herself for service as a public school board member -- served on no committees or educated herself as to what is required of board service. All she has to offer is one catchy expression or another, with no substance or concrete ideas. She has made no suggestions or ideas for improvement. She has had so much trouble managing her own campaign account of approximately $17,000, that I can only shudder to think what she could do with $766,000!
The following is a synopsis of a follow-up interview in The Observer offices:
Judy Conte has been on the Volusia County school board for 20 years and says she, not her opponent, can best serve the county’s students.
Linda Costello, the challenger, has made claims about poor graduation rates.
“I disagree with some of her numbers,” Conte said. “Our mission is to graduate … [everyone] on time. … I think the state needs to put more into the Pre-K program.”
Costello has consistently criticized Conte for advocating for more funds for education.
“My job is to get as much for my students as I possibly can,” Conte said, adding she fights to keep money in the county. “Volusia gets the least amount of money back. … We get 0.96 … of every dollar we send to Tallahassee. … It makes a huge difference.”
Turning the criticism on Mrs. Costello, “we have more Title 1 students, we have a poorer population, she’s comparing apples and oranges” when comparing Seminole and Volusia in terms.
Conte said the poorer population of students has led to a disparity of fund allocation between Volusia and Seminole counties, and that Costello doesn’t seem to have a passion for public education.
“Mrs. Costello … has … attended 3 board meetings, slept through one,” Conte said. “She doesn’t like public education, is quite opposed to it.”
Conte contends the school board is doing everything they can to be efficient with their funds.
“We can’t print money,” she said. “We’ve cut 25% of senior administration. … I’ve take a 10% pay cut … We have cut 1,900 positions … 247 teachers. … Reducing budgets and meeting class size don’t mix.”
“Outside our district … we’ve got a really good reputation in education. … I’m proud of that. …We’ve done a pretty darn good job based on the amount of financial cuts we’ve made.”
Conte defended spending on virtual curriculum, which Costello has criticized.
“It conforms to our curriculum,” Conte said. “We believe that’s better. … I don’t see what the problem is. … You don’t get the income … if they’re all doing Florida virtual. … If you teach them … then we get … the money. … Their classes are plugged into ours. They have much better access to teachers and our testing.”
Conte said she’s the best candidate because she’s interested in being able to assist those kids who work outside the normal frameworks.