BY THE OBSERVER STAFF
1) What is the biggest challenge facing the school board and how must it be addressed?
The biggest challenge facing the school board is the academic achievement of our students. The graduation rate for the 2011-12 school year was 77%, which was down from the previous year.
Volusia County is ranked 34th out of 67 counties on the FCAT. The fourth grade writing FCAT had an 80% failure rate before the standard was lowered.
The administration began the year with implementation of a new grading system. Poor planning in the implementation process required the administration to go back to last year’s grading system in the middle of the first grading quarter. This must change.
We must create a pathway to success for every child. I will find out from all the principals in my district, what they need to help every teacher succeed in helping every student achieve his or her maximum potential. Then I will work to identify and provide all the resources needed to accomplish that goal.
2) Is there room for further cuts to the School Board budget without diminishing the quality of education?
Everyone wants our students to succeed and I think Volusia County tax payers are willing to support our schools. I believe, however, that there is room for further cuts to the school board budget without dimishing the quality of education. Volusia County School Board has budgeted $32 million more outside the classroom than Seminole County, which has 3,000 more students. Seminole County is an A rated district, while Volusia County is a C rated district. I believe millions of the $32 million could be redirected into the classroom to help teachers and add programs that will help our students realize their learning goals.
3) Why should people vote for you instead of your opponent?
My opponent has a 20-year history of supporting tax increases and wasteful spending. During her tenure, the school district built a $110 million high school and spent many more millions on two other high schools. Two high schools built performing arts centers and two incorporated culinary schools. I believe more emphasis should have been placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the last six years, $103 million has been spent on curriculum development. And now my opponent not only supports a one mill tax increase, but she proposed it. I listed the academic failures during my opponent’s tenure earlier. Her past is her present. Neither the tax payers nor our students can afford four more years of academic failure, wrong priorities and wasteful spending.
I have two goals: Make Volusia County students No. 1 in academic achievement. And identify and redirect all wasted dollars into the classroom.
The following is a synopsis of a follow-up interview in The Observer offices:
Linda Costello is running against a 20-year incumbent because, she says, “we have to … create a pathway to success for every student.”
Costello said technology allows for each student to have “an individualized lesson plan,” and that’s something that needs to be utilized. Additionally, she said getting to students early in high school can have a big impact.
“You’ve got to at least engage students in ninth grade,” Costello said. “Graduation rates go up and dropout rates go down.”
Budget management is an important issue for Costello. She said her opponent and the rest of the school board has a record of poor choices when it comes allocating money.
“They have spent $103 million on curriculum development (to create the Volusia virtual school),” she said. They could’ve purchased the Florida virtual school franchise (instead).”
Costello said the current “administration likes to blame state and federal mandates. … It’s more of what happens over on Clara [Avenue] that ties their hands in the classroom. … If you don’t change what you’re doing, it isn’t going to change anything.”
Costello said the reason she got into the race was to change the way the school board has been run.
“Curriculum development, basically, is experimenting. I think we need to stop experimenting. … I think we’ve proven that we’re not good at innovating,” she said, adding that funds should be redirected to the classrooms. “There’s only one place where students learn: in the classroom. … I didn’t get in this race to maintain things as they are.”
One form of fund misallocation, from Costello’s viewpoint, is the recent emphasis placed on culinary and performing arts.
“Two…performing arts center[s]…surely we could have used community facilities somehow,” She said.
“Two culinary schools...I just think that’s a wrong priority.”
Costello said science, technology, engineering and math should be the priorities.
“I’m in favor of not raising taxes,” she said. “If we raise taxes, it just accentuates the problem that we already have… (Judy Conte) is still in favor of spending more. … Every year the school board develops a budget for a plan that isn’t working.”
Costello said she will reallocate funds where they’re more effective, and focus on academic achievement.
“(It’s) a pathway to success for every single student,” Costello said. “If my opponent could’ve affected change… I think 20 years is probably long enough to know if someone can get the job done. … I am not running to maintain the current system. I am running to help every student achieve their full academic potential.”