- July 22, 2020
All seven candidates running for the Flagler County School Board answered submitted questions about several issues affecting the school district at the final Free For All Political Forum on July 28 at the Palm Coast Community Center.
The forum was broadcast live on WNZF News Radio, and was hosted by Flagler Broadcasting and the Palm Coast Observer and moderated by Brian McMillan and David Ayres. Recordings of the political forums can be found among the podcasts at Flaglerbroadcasting.com
Three of the five School Board districts are up for election. The School Board races are non-partisan. There are two candidates running in Districts 1 and 4, so those contests will be decided in the Aug. 23 primary (early voting is Aug. 13-20). If one of the three candidates in District 2 does not receive 50% of the vote in the primary, the two candidates receiving the most votes will have a runoff in the general election on Nov. 8.
In District 1, Sally Hunt is running against incumbent Jill Woolbright. In District 2, Lance Alred, Will Furry and Courtney VandeBunte are running for the open seat. Incumbent Trevor Tucker is running against challenger Christy Chong in District 4.
Hello, I'm Lance Alred. I come from an education background. My mother and father are retired teachers. My dad was a teacher and coach for 37 years. My mother was a teacher and coach and guidance counselor for 32 years, and my wife is a teacher and coach at Matanzas High School.
I have two teenage daughters that are both academic athletes in our school system. I've been a small business owner for nearly two decades, managing employees and managing that business itself, but I also spent time working for the Department of Defense. Working there, I had to collaborate with many different countries, as well as the Department of Defense and the State Department, and I think that will translate well with the district because each of our schools has a different culture and leadership.
My name's Jill Woolbright. I am a longtime resident of Flagler County. I moved here in 1989. And I was actually in my junior year of college studying elementary education. We raised our four children here, my husband and I. My husband was a small business owner, recently retired and sold his business. So, we have four children that have gone through Flagler County Schools, and now we are proud grandparents and enjoying that part of life.
I believe that I am the strongest candidate for School Board because not only have I raised my children through the school system here and have been a longtime resident, but I also was a teacher in Flagler County Schools for 28 years. I worked at Bunnell Elementary School, Wadsworth Elementary School and Rymfire.
I also was highly effective, and in 2016, I heard from the Department of Education that I was the number 1 math scoring teacher in the state of Florida. I know education, and the thing I'm most proud of is that I've been endorsed by the most awesome governor in the nation, Governor Ron DeSantis.
I'm Will Furry and I’m running as a devoted father, business leader and someone who has a heart to serve. I have two young children in the school district, so I'll be invested for another eight years. I have over 20 years of business experience, both executive and entrepreneurial, and I've even been featured on the front page of the Miami Herald for my innovations and successes.
I'm currently a realtor and real estate investor. And realtors are one of the biggest advocates for great schools, because great schools make great neighborhoods. I also serve regularly at church, and I'm the small group leader for the student ministry for the middle school. My platform focuses primarily on student protection, safety, parents’ rights, curriculum transparency and an enriched classroom environment.
We're going to get back to basics. We are going to be focused on math, reading, science, American history, civics. We're going to return our schools to an A grade, and we're going to get our reading scores back up. Remember on August 23, with Will there's a way to a brighter future in Flagler Schools.
My name is Courtney VandeBunte, and I'm running a clean and honest campaign to help our schools continue to be a positive learning environment for all students, so that students can excel academically despite their background, beliefs and different perspectives. As in the past 13 months, setting a positive example, showing our community that I will be an unyielding advocate for all students with a common goal of academic success and wellbeing for all.
Being a former educator here in Flagler Schools for 10 years, I understand the need to support teachers and staff to reduce the number of teacher vacancies, so that our kids can have consistent and positive learning experiences where they get the fundamentals of reading, writing, math and problem solving.
I will focus on coming together as a community for the sake of our students. And as a school board member, I will always maintain focus on getting Flagler back to an A grade after these two challenging years, so our students can grow into the next generation of leaders here in Flagler because they care about Flagler and our communities.
My name is Christy Chong and I'm a mother of three boys in Flagler Schools. My family has lived in Flagler County for over 20 years. My extended family goes back 40 years. I'm a family nurse practitioner here in Palm Coast locally serving our community. And I'm very happy to say that I've been endorsed by our greatest governor, Governor Ron DeSantis, the Moms for Liberty in Flagler County and the 1776 Project (PAC), which was patriotism and pride in American history.
I believe in, and I'm running for, parental rights, transparency and school choice. I believe it's time for parents to step up and be part of our children's education. As parents we're the greatest stakeholders in our children's future and making sure that they become successful in life. So, I'm very encouraged to see parents all over the state of Florida rising up and fighting for our kids.
Good evening, I'm Trevor Tucker. I've been on the School Board, serving for 12 years. I have three children in school. I'm a business owner. I've been here a long time, my whole life. My wife went to school here. I went to school here. My father went to school here. My grandfather went to school here until high school, because Flagler County was so small, there wasn't enough kids in high school for a football team.
So, I've been here a long time. I hope the school district continues to prosper, to do great for future generations. So those are the reasons I'm running.
Good evening. My name is Sally Hunt. I believe I bring a really unique lens to the School Board. I have my master's in curriculum and instruction. I'm a former teacher in the public education school system in both general education and what we call here, ESE, Exceptional Student Education. In addition to teaching in the public schools, one of the things I think makes me unique here is that I also have had a really successful career with multiple Fortune 500 companies like Walmart home office, like Nike. And so, the perspective I bring is not only understanding what the role is of the teacher, and what it's like in the classroom, but also what our students need so that they have a running start when they graduate from Flagler County Schools. So, I'm very excited to be on the ballot. I am proudly endorsed locally by FESPA, which is our Flagler County educational support union.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: This question was submitted by Greg Blose, who is the president of the Palm Coast Regional Chamber of Commerce: Third grade reading scores in Flagler County are at the lowest levels since 2016, with 58% of third graders reading at grade level. So, what are your thoughts about this statistic? And what plans or ideas do you have on improving this metric?
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: This goes back to parental and family involvement. So, we need to continue to engage families by increasing the number of family friendly events like school literacy nights, where families can be given opportunities to learn how to increase literacy at home. We also need as a district to balance testing with engaging and relevant reading, because each kid is different.
One of my kids loves sports facts and statistics while the other one loves dogs. We need to give our kids more voice and choice when it comes to reading. In the past, Flagler schools has been focused too much on tools like i-Ready, which is a diagnostic, and you know what, as a teacher here in Flagler, I've used i-Ready, and it's a great tool for identifying needs and areas for growth, but too much of it can turn kids off to reading.
When I worked at i3 Academy at FPC, I actually had the opportunity to teach science and literacy at the same time. We taught literature and science, and when my kids were learning about chemistry, they were reading books about the possibility of life on other planets. And what I found was that the reading scores went up and through the roof, and I would like to see this happen in our district.
WILL FURRY: We've got a little firsthand experience with this one because we have a son who struggles with reading and he has what's called an IEP (individualized education plan), and that has helped him, but what I see as the solution is focusing more on early learning.
In his case, it's showing signs of not being able to read well in first grade, but his teacher was not trained to identify those, and also really didn't know the resources that were available, so that we were a little late on identifying that. So, that kept him still a little more behind.
I think that the goal here is to focus more on improving our ESE program to help those kids that are struggling with reading. We have a lot of kids that struggle in general, but we also have some people that are still behind because of the pandemic. And the ESE program is an area that needs a lot of help, and I plan to advance policy that will support the ESE program.
LANCE ALRED: Those third graders missed the last nine weeks of their first-grade year due to the pandemic. They didn't have any in-school learning, and I think we had a serious reaction after that. So, what I want to do is to collaborate with our leadership here in the school district and get more insight.
So, I met with Teresa Rizzo (executive director of the Flagler County Education Foundation), who's a literacy expert from the state of Florida. And one of the things we came in agreement with is that we need to teach literacy in our VPKs, and we need to bring more certified teachers into our VPKs and focus on literacy, because we know the earlier you teach literacy and the earlier these kids are reading, the higher their academic achievement and the higher their test scores in third grade. And that translates further on down the road when they're sophomores. So, I would say we want to focus in VPK, and we want to get those kids reading and reading as quickly as possible with certified teachers.
CHRISTY CHONG: So, I actually have a child going into the third grade, and we know that his age range was greatly affected by the whole COVID situation. I do believe our teachers worked very hard to begin to get these children back on track. I got to see that personally.
First, parents must be involved. This past year, I personally stayed in touch with my son's teacher, what would we be doing and how do we be proactive to help our child? I believe parents have to be involved if possible, spend time reading with your child. I do acknowledge that not everyone can pay for tutors or monitor their child's work.
So, if we need to add tutors, additional staff to get these kids back up to where they need to be, then we need to do that. But teaching our children to read at grade level by Grade 3 is critical to their success in life. I'm also glad to see that we'll be doing progress monitoring, so that we can monitor these kids throughout the year and not just in the end. But get our teachers the proper data, so that we can have the proper interventions throughout the school year.
TREVOR TUCKER: A lot of this is due to the pandemic. 2019 was our last testing year prior to this last year. Due to that factor, you have a slide, and it's a slide across the state. And I know it's the lowest we've been, but we're also at the top of the state. We're number 12 out of 67 counties, so it slid across the board. It's not just us. So, with that, we do have a lot to make up. We have to work at that. We have to get the correct people in place to make those students learn, and we have to get the right supports to move that forward. So, we were 12th out of 67. We didn't slide as much as others, but it's still not a great statistic.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: Trevor, can you tell us what can School Board members do about this? You're not in the classroom.
TREVOR TUCKER: So not being in the classroom, what we can do is make sure that we have the money to support any programs. Part of that is actually being done right now. The federal government pushed down money for the pandemic. So we do have supports being pushed in for those students. Those things hopefully will make up that gap. And it's going to take a few years. It's not instantaneous. You had two years of something different for the children. You had one year when the children may have been remote two years ago. With that, I think those things can help.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: The first thing we need to do is keep our children in school. What the pandemic showed us was that our children need our teachers, and they need to be face-to-face with the teachers, so that's the first thing we need to do: Make sure we don't have any more shutdowns. We keep kids in school.
Secondly, we need to do progress monitoring, MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support). We need to do that with fidelity. And small group instruction. Students that are behind usually are remediated best when they are in small groups. But the biggest thing I think we need is to make sure that we have parental involvement.
We need to make sure, and we used to do this years ago, but we need to make sure that every teacher has tried at least and has had assistance at reaching every parent or guardian of every child. Because when I was a teacher, when I worked with the parent, the student and myself — the three of us together — there was never ever a situation where the student did not make progress. And students can make more than one-year progress. I proved it with my scores over and over and over in reading and math where they make two, sometimes three years of progress if they just had the right teacher that meets them where they need to be met.
SALLY HUNT: One of the reasons I think we're struggling, in addition to the pandemic, is we've got some conflict on the School Board, and maybe that's not a popular thing to talk about tonight. But we've been chasing a lot of hot-button social issues, political issues, every month on the School Board and there's an opportunity cost to that.
The opportunity cost is third grade reading levels. So, all of these great ideas that we're talking about tonight, we can't talk about those as a School Board if we're busy talking about something else. Something's got to give. So, one of the reasons I'm running is I want to get the focus back on track and focusing on things like third grade reading levels and trying to stay away from some of the things that we just don't need to talk about right now with our public schools.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: Since Sally brought this up, I'd like to hear a little bit of back and forth. Jill, I know that part of that is directed to you by your opponents. Do you feel like the School Board has been focused too much on the so-called cultural wars to the expense of the school district? And we'll let Sally also have a second after.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: The classroom and children in the schools are a reflection of society. Children come from homes which have morals and values and ideas of how they want their children raised. And what happened in the pandemic was that with kids home and doing lessons remotely, parents saw what was being taught and what was being done in the classroom. And unfortunately, they weren't real happy, and so they woke up.
They're awake. The parents are awake, and there's pushback. And it's not just Flagler County. It's all over the nation. If you watch anything on the news, it's every state, every county in the nation, and people are fed up, because they don't believe that their morals, their values are being represented in the classroom, rather something else.
So, people are awake. And that's what happens, and we have to deal with whatever the hot topics are when they come to us, and we don't run from them. We deal with them and we collaborate and we work the best we can to resolve them. But you can't squash them out, they're there.
SALLY HUNT: Every family has different values. That varies from family to family. What stays the same are things like reading and math. And we need to stay focused on those things. That's fundamental, and that is consistent among families.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: The next question was submitted by Alicia Vincent, the president of the Rotary Club of Flagler Beach. And she said, in light of recent mass shootings, what is the plan to keep children, staff and visitors safe at Flagler Schools?
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: Well to start with, we are blessed that we have an awesome Sheriff in Flagler County that has a wonderful resource program for our schools, and we have a resource officer in every school. We have hardened our schools. There's one more school where the front office needs to be hardened.
There's a lot of things that we don't publicly share, because we don't want our secrets out there with the cameras and whatnot that we have. Safety is paramount. But with that said, with Uvalde, I brought forward to the board the Guardian Program for us to discuss it, because it was brought forward by the governor in 2019 where there's a guardian program, and it's not all the drama and stuff people like to say about arming teachers. It is a rigorous 160-hour course that people have to be able to go through and the Sheriff determines whether they are able to carry a piece or a gun in the school, and no one knows who has one at the school.
So we're going to be workshopping that with the Sheriff this next month. And then we'll make a decision as a School Board whether we want guardians in addition to the resource officers, because our campuses are huge. There could be dozens of children killed before we got to the other side of the campus.
SALLY HUNT: I think we all owe Sheriff Staly and his team a lot of gratitude. They keep our community safe, and so I would absolutely want to partner with Sheriff Staly. He is one of the subject-matter experts on this topic. Just one other thing I want to say. Recently a reporter asked me, would you support this or this or this or this, and if it's an affordable option, and that would be affordable for our community? I am very frugal. I watch every $10, but when it comes to safeguarding our students, our teachers and our staff, the focus should be on what's effective. That's the focus, not is this affordable for us.
LANCE ALRED: When I was overseeing off-base construction in Afghanistan, I was also in charge of designing and building security measures for those various compounds, school buildings, judicial buildings, airports. Thank God we don't have to defend ourselves to that extent. That said, I've spoken to Sheriff Staly a number of times. I've spoken to a great number of our school resource officers about this topic to get that collaboration with them.
We need to constantly be assessing and reassessing our security, the perimeter security, the line-of-site security, the single-point entry. We need to constantly be vigilant. And I know that we always do constant assessments on that, and we're not always privy to those assessments as Jill alluded to, because of the security and because we don't want our secrets out, but we constantly need to be vigilant, to keep our most valuable resource safe, our children.
WILL FURRY: Safety has always been a high priority in my campaign. And I even went as far as to schedule a meeting with Sheriff Staly to discuss student safety, and I too want to advocate for the Guardian Program, which would give an opportunity for us to have former police officers and veterans with proper training to help harden our school security.
And I would say that if we're going to do that, it needs to be in addition to our school resource officers, because our campuses are very large. One officer can be effective in one area, but they can't be everywhere at once. And the Guardian Program could be a great way to give them the extra help they need to be the first line of defense for our students. Every student and every teacher should feel safe when they go to our schools.
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: As a teacher, there were times that I didn't feel safe and that I feared for the safety of my students. But as a teacher in Flagler recently, as of 2019, I experienced the hardening of the schools. I participated in regular drills. I was trained in regular drills and best safety practices, and enforcing our safety protocols, keeping all doors locked, and I know how important it is for teachers to feel safe and for students to feel safe, because without that, learning cannot occur.
I love the school resource officers. The kids love the school resource officers. It's a beautiful relationship that we need to keep fostering, and as a School Board member, I will keep fostering that relationship and continue to discuss ways that safety can improve. We need to pass the halfpenny sales tax this November, so we can talk about ways that that can be used to further increase school safety.
CHRISTY CHONG: Thank you so much to our Flagler County sheriffs. I know it gives us all peace of mind to see them in the morning when we bring our children to school. I would also support the Guardian Program in addition to our existing deputies, but not to replace them. We need trained professionals in our schools.
The safety of our children is of utmost importance today. This program was actually previously voted down and it's already in 45 counties in the state of Florida. Screening and training for the Guardian Program is covered by state funds, and it's totally volunteer based. Nobody's being forced to carry a gun.
As long as proper screening and background checks are done, staff could be trained to aid in a deadly active shooter situation. And of course, we also need to continue to monitor our perimeters, make sure we've got proper fencing and gates and non-staff are properly checked in, just like they are now.
TREVOR TUCKER: I think this is somewhat of an easy question. It's diligence, diligence by the School Board, diligence by the staff, diligence by the teachers to make sure all those protocols that are already in place are followed. If you don't follow those protocols that's when things break down.
With that, there are also some additional enhancements that are going on right now. And, we can't talk about them because of the safety plan, but there are some other enhancements that we can do if the half-cent sales tax passes. Part of the half-cent sales tax is for security. So that is a shameless plug for the half-cent sales tax. But I don't talk long, so please vote for the half-cent sales tax.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: The next question that was submitted by Shelly Ragsdale, president of the NAACP in Flagler County. And he said: What will be done to ensure that people of color including students and staff are treated fairly in Flagler Schools?
TREVOR TUCKER: I actually think people of color are treated fairly in Flagler Schools. We are a unique district. We have a one-to-one initiative. Every child — it doesn't matter where you come from, what your background is, what your income is — has a device to take home to learn on. And, also with that, if you can't afford the WiFi or the technology, the Education Foundation picks that up to make sure that every child has that same unique opportunity. With that I believe everyone is treated fairly and equitably.
CHRISTY CHONG: I also believe in Flagler Schools we have an equal opportunity. Personally, I've worked with people from all backgrounds for nearly 20 years and I will continue to do that. When you work in health care like I do, and people's lives are in your hand, it doesn't matter what race or color you are, I'm here to help you regardless.
I also don't care what color a doctor or nurse is. All that matters is you're qualified to help. And the same should be true in our education. I teach my children that if they work hard, they can be anything they want to be in this world. And I think we live in the greatest country in the world, and you can work hard to be whatever you want.
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: I'm going to expand the question to just all different groups, whether it's religion, color, orientation, or all three. And I agree with Trevor that there are equal opportunities here in Flagler, but that doesn't mean that we stop there. There is always room for improvement. And for students, we need to provide ample training and resources for teachers and staff to be responsive to all groups regardless of their differences, because all students have a unique combination of identities that deserve respect and equal opportunities.
So, doing things like district wide professional development, because teachers know there's always room for improvement, whether you're talking about math or science or how you respond to the teachers in your classroom or the students in your classroom. I would advocate for this professional development so that we can all grow as a community together, and we can all respect each other and be united in a common goal of giving our students equal opportunities and a high quality learning education.
WILL FURRY: I believe in equal opportunity, but I don't believe in equal outcomes. I believe that if you want the grade, you have to earn it. But accommodations will be made. If the kids need help, no matter what color you are, what background you have, we're going to get you the help you need to get you caught up.
And we also need to encourage dads to stay home and raise their kids. I think fatherless homes are a contributor to the inequity in education and behavioral problems. We need more parent involvement, because when parents get involved, kids do better in school. And I believe that all kids have special gifts. I believe that we need to help them develop their strengths rather than obsess on their weaknesses.
LANCE ALRED: I think we've been very successful providing equal opportunities for everyone. I think what would benefit us all and help the outcomes would be to set the bar very high and become an A school district again, and set the bar even higher and become a top 10 school district in the state of Florida. Because then, I think it's something we can all take pride in. And so that would be my goal, to continue the work that we've been doing in this regard, but set that bar high.
SALLY HUNT: Really great responses so far by the candidates. Just maybe a couple of new things to talk about. Some of my background and my career has been in instructional design and in recruiting. So, a couple of big things are for our students to see themselves reflected in their teachers, in the staff, to see themselves reflected in the content in their education. So, one of the biggest things we can do is make sure we are recruiting teachers and staff, who look and sound and come from the same communities as our kids and also so that in our content, they see themselves in pictures, they see themselves in the names that are used and in the family dynamics.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: I think that we do need to improve, because we currently have lawsuits on the books for people of color that felt like they were discriminated against in Flagler schools. We have not been cleared of our segregation from the ’70s. (Flagler is one of the last school districts in the state still under a federal desegregation order from 1972 and is attempting to achieve unitary status.)
So we do have work to do. And one of the things I've talked to the school superintendent about was that we need to get the Bethune-Cookman interns up here, even if we take a bus down there to pick them up and get them to Flagler County, so they can intern in our schools, because yes, our students do need to see people of color in front of them. They do need to seek their own color.
And there's a couple of programs that are really great that I'm looking forward to them picking back up. I was a liaison for the African American Mentoring Program. And those men are amazing, but with the shutdown we were not able to get into school. So, I'm looking forward now that we can have people that are considered non-essential, because everyone is essential, on the campuses for the African American Mentoring Program to continue. And I just want us to remember that we are all one human race.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: Is Flagler Schools friendly to the LGBTQ community?
SALLY HUNT: I think there's work to be done across groups within the school. So, as I've worked in this campaign and talked to a lot of parents, there's work to be done before LGBTQ students feel more included. I spoke to content and seeing different family dynamics reflected in the content. I think there's room for ESE, for ESE students to feel they're being better supported.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: My first board meeting, when I became a board member in 2020, was the vote that put gender identity on our non-discrimination clause. So that was a big win for the LGBTQ community. (Editor’s note: Woolbright voted against adding gender identity to the nondiscrimination policy. The board vote was 3-2, with board members Trevor Tucker, Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro voting in favor of adding gender identity to the policy, and Woolbright and board member Janet McDonald voting against.) With that came a lot of protocols that were put in place for students, and there was a straight-gay alliance club that was started at both our high schools. And there were sections in the media center of pride books for them to read as well as rainbow stickers on doors for teachers that are considered to be allies.
I know when communities have bias against them or not been supported, that usually they need a lot of support for a long time before they feel that way, that they are supported. But I do believe that they have supports. There are all kinds of different communities in our in our schools where people don't feel support, but that wasn’t the question.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: When a candidate has been in headlines in the past, we'll ask a follow-up question, and this one in particular, you were at the forefront of wanting to have a book banned that had LGBTQ themes in it. And so, there are some students that felt you were sort of hostile to that community. Is there anything you'd like to say to follow up with that point?
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: People that know me know that's not true. The headlines speak a lot. And there's people, believe it or not, in the media that like to twist things and put things with their spin. When I ran across that book, it was innocently on my computer. I did not know the race of the person in the book. I did not know the sexuality of the person in the book. And as far as I'm concerned, oral sex, mutual masturbation and sodomy, no matter whether you're in the LGBTQ community or the straight community, is not appropriate reading for children.
SALLY HUNT: This I think is a really big thing that distinguishes the two of us. I don't think anybody I've talked with has issue with the fact that we needed to take a look at that book, and decide where that book should be, where it shouldn't be, the age appropriateness of certain topics. I don't think that is, at least with the people I've talked with, to me, that was not the issue.
It was how things were handled. It was the criminal charges that were put out there. It was the way that the incumbent went about handling it that I think was the issue. That, I think, is a lot of what this election's about. We’ve got Trevor Tucker, we’ve got (School Board member) Cheryl Massaro, who I see in the back. We've got people who go to the School Board meeting, and they're grownups at the table and they have grownup conversations and collaborate together. And that's what we need to get back to. Instead of these more drastic and dramatic things like going into the Sheriff's department and filing criminal charges against people the School Board is in place to support.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: Jill, in hindsight, would you have handled the things any differently, or would you have anything to respond?
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: Transparency. I went to the superintendent and the attorney. I showed them what I found. I asked them to tell the other school board members. I said it over and over, and I waited, and I waited and waited, and nothing was going to be done. And instead of being transparent, it was going to be handled behind closed doors, swept under the rug. And none of you would have known. I purposely had a conversation with our sheriff, knowing he wouldn't be able to do anything, filed that report for one reason and one reason only, is for you people to know what's going on in our schools.
CHRISTY CHONG: I believe we should be friendly to everyone, and I believe that Flagler Schools is. I believe we should always be accepting and loving of others. But if you were to ask me if children of opposite genders should share bathrooms, then I don't think that that's OK. We open our schools and children up to a lot of liability.
It's not OK for girls to be in a boys locker room, and it's not OK for boys to be in a girls locker room. Virginia has already had a case of sexual assault in a bathroom, and I don't think any of us want to have to worry about our child being in that type of situation. We have to protect our children and our faculty as well.
TREVOR TUCKER: Yes.
WILL FURRY: I'm not going to pretend and say I know what's going on inside the schools, because I'm running as an outsider from the educational system. I'm going to be looking at policy based on merit rather than the status quo. With that said, if we're talking about bullying, I don't care what nationality you are, what gender you identify with, there's zero tolerance when it comes to bullying.
We've experienced that on the buses to the point we now have to drive our kids to school. And that has to end, the bullying. With that said, I do believe that our schools are friendly, based on my outsider view, if you're coming there to learn. We are a learning institution. What I don't like is when special interest groups try to use our kids as political pawns to try to advance their ideologies and political agendas on our campus, and that can't happen.
LANCE ALRED: I think the district has been overwhelmingly welcoming to the LGBTQ community. That said, schools are a place for controversial subjects to be taught. However, sex and sexual orientation should not in my mind be taught to elementary school-aged children at all.
And if you are going to include that in a high school arena and you have a topic of sex or sexual orientation to be taught in the high school, I believe that the parents should have to sign a parental consent form to allow those children to be taught that. I do believe that we should continue to monitor the bullying. We do have policies in place that we should uphold those policies.
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: I'm answering the question about whether or not the schools are friendly to LGBTQ students, not some of the things my opponents have said. So, I'm going to stick to the question and just talk about one of Flagler Schools' belief statements, and I quote: “We believe all students will learn and excel when provided with authentically engaging work based on high standards that are given in a risk free environment.”
Currently, our learning environment is not risk free, which means learning isn't happening. At the November School Board meeting, there were outside groups yelling homophobic slurs at our students. Later on, when the board was asked to denounce these hate groups, they did not. If board members are setting this precedent, what is the precedent for teachers and staff who act in a similar manner? I've heard multiple examples where Flagler staff has been, to put it lightly, unfriendly to LGBTQ students. While there are staff causing harm to our LGBTQ students, there are staff who want to offer them safety and sanctuary but are fearing for their jobs. As a School Board member, I will set the precedent of respect and protection for all students
BRIAN MCMILLAN: So, there was again another point made about sitting School Board members. I wanted to give them a chance to respond. The protest outside, shouting homophobic slurs, and as Courtney pointed out, there was kind of a refusal to denounce that kind of activity, am I reflecting that correctly? So, Jill or Trevor, would either of you like to respond to that point?
TREVOR TUCKER: Sure. We had a workshop on this topic of what we were going to make for this resolution. The workshop lasted for a very long time. And finally, the board came to an agreement on a resolution. I wish I could read it to you right now so you know exactly what it said, but I can't tell you off the top of my head. But basically, it said we were against any hate speech and bullying toward our students, administrators or staff. I don't have it memorized, it was quite a few months ago.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: It was basically that we would require civility in the boardroom. And when you're a board member you're one person. You don't get your way all the time. Sometimes you have to listen to the other board members, and you have to compromise. And there was a strong feeling between some of the public that they should be denounced as hate groups. There were others that didn't feel that way.
Because not everyone, the haters, when I talked to the sheriff, were not local. They were people that came into the community because we had made the headlines, so they weren't our people. So why would we read a resolution against hate groups when those people were long gone, and our people weren't hate groups?
And what they were were the Moms for Liberty people just like they were in Virginia, and under my watch I was not going to denounce hate groups when the only ones in the audience were Moms for Liberty at that time and call them haters. We needed to be civil. That was it.
(To see the School Board’s resolution promoting civility and civil discourse in all business coming before the School Board, go to: bit.ly/3cTkcTs)
BRIAN MCMILLAN: Courtney, do you have anything to wrap up that question? Did you think that was sufficient response?
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: Sure. I do not think Moms for Liberty is a hate group, let me be clear about that. But you know, as a board member, if there are groups whether they came from outside of the county or not, I will have absolutely 100% no problem denouncing them from ever coming back to our county again, because I was there and I saw these young kids being ushered into the School Board meeting by security. They were teenagers that were being yelled at and told they were abominations. And it is very simple to denounce those kinds of people whether they're from Flagler or not.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: How has the district done with regard to planning ahead for construction of new schools? There are a lot of questions about growth that we hit upon with the City Council and county commission. So maybe this is where we talk about that issue here.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: I believe that we are prepared for growth. We have instituted new impact fees and we are in the middle of rewriting our interlocal agreement which just says how we mitigate the payments, and we're in the process of solving that with the county commissioners and the city people.
However, things in real estate change really quickly. In 2008 it changed quickly. So I understand the angst with the Home Builders Association, because if those fees are paid up front and all of a sudden the market turns, they don't get them back. It's not like a refund thing, and those fees can sit there for 10, 15 years. So, I think it's important that we all work together with all entities to come to the best solution that we can.
And I just want to say this too. One thing that's not talked about, is there's been a mass exit of people out of public schools because of the pandemic and the things that they've seen going on in the schools. People are not happy. All of our private schools are full and our numbers for homeschooling are not talked about, but let me just tell you in 2017 to ’18 there were 176 homeschooled students. It has increased in five years. In 2020, it was 380. It doubled in 2021 to 644. And it's doubled again in 2022 to 1,152. There is a mass exit of people leaving our schools and we need to make sure that we're paying attention to that too, and we are protecting parents’ rights and listening to our parents, so that they want their kids in our schools. (Go to https://bit.ly/3vuv6FI to see Flagler County home school numbers from 2016-17 to 2020-21).
SALLY HUNT: I guess the one thing I'll add, Will mentioned he's a bit of an outsider, I would also characterize myself as that and not currently part of the Flagler Schools. So, I can speak to being a resident here in Flagler County, and I hear that we're a bit fragmented, that we've got different groups working in silos. when we're one community.
I've had great conversations with land developers, Chamber of Commerce. In these conversations, I hear how the schools need to be a part of realistic, healthy, productive conversations. I'm a collaborator. I think we're missing a little something there of people not being in their own respective corners, but being a part of one community and doing what is necessary for the health and continued prosperity for Flagler County.
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: I've been to several meetings and workshops since last fall watching these very complicated, oftentimes boring discussions, for everything from impact fees to Interlocal agreements. While boring, they're just so essential so that our district can be prepared for when it does come time to build a new school, because there will be a new school soon. It's just a matter of when.
So, I witnessed as an attendee of all of those meetings, the district working tirelessly to ensure that those funds and lands will be ready when the time comes. But from an observer’s perspective, I will say that I think the district can improve on their transparency and professionalism. But you know what, that can be said for all municipalities involved. And I'll just say this, as a School Board member, I will always operate with transparency and professionalism with a common goal of setting a positive example for students as well as providing them with the highest quality education possible.
WILL FURRY: This question was actually posed to me a little differently. It said how can the district plan ahead for the construction of new schools. So, I'll just address both of those since that's what I'm prepared for. I've been to several of the workshops. I've been to the meetings, and I can see the board is doing the work. They're putting up the good fight for the impact fees and they're doing what's best for our kids there, and I feel very encourage about that.
But as far as what we can do, from where my strengths are, I would say we need to focus on identifying where the growth is going to be, start working on acquiring land for those schools if we don't have it already, also reach new building tech, so that we can build schools that will last many, many years into the future and serve our kids well, and definitely be focused on the design when it comes to student safety and hardening. That needs to be a high priority.
LANCE ALRED: When it comes to impact fees, it's a miracle I think we all agree that impact should be raised. I think we're all on the same team as far as that is concerned, and it was refreshing to see. I'm looking forward to the county commission passing the new interlocal agreement. So the impact fees are paid on future builds to help allow us to build for our future school growth.And we know we have growth. We have waiting lists on VPKs.
Our elementary schools were at capacity, so we shifted the sixth grade to middle schools. So, we do know we have growth. We have a $17 million addition that has been passed for Matanzas High School. Also, we are projected to have two new schools built within the next five years that are projected to cost between 70 and $120 million. The best guess is that first school will probably be a middle school which will require about 40 acres. And when we're targeting growth, my guess is that will be on the south side of the county, because that's where a lot of the growth is occurring.
My experience will heavily benefit the School Board in overseeing that. I know when Matanzas High School was being built we had some difficulties with the gymnasium. So, I think I have a great asset in construction and overseeing those and making sure those projects and construction documents and the contracts are done properly, and this is a strength I'm looking forward to providing to the School Board.
TREVOR TUCKER: I wish it was really, really simple. You can't have one school that has a lot of students and another that doesn't. So, in order to build a new school, you actually have to rezone schools. You can't rezone schools overnight because parents will be upset because you said, ‘hey by the way one day you’re here, the next day you're there.’
With that, outside of rezoning the schools, you have the planning. It's on a five-year capital plan. We plan out five years. Also, we did a study in 2020 on growth. We do the planning in order that we can build the school. Ultimately if we don't get all these things in order, the state will tell you, ‘No, you cannot build the school.’
The impact fees won't pay for your school, I'm just going to be realistic about this. It's going to be capital dollars from our schools. But the impact fees can bring down our initial cost, so our bond rating is not too high. These are just little smidgets of what’s going on when you're talking about building a school. It's really complex. It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of departments. So, I hope that gives a little brief overview. But we've been planning for more than five years.
CHRISTY CHONG: We all know Florida is growing and this is something that we have to look at. I do believe that our board is working hard at that and looking at all those numbers. We have neighborhoods that are expanding. We know some neighborhoods are expanding without any plans for new infrastructure. The Radiance neighborhood is an example of that. They're putting in several homes with no plans to expand the roads, add streetlights, and we have one school down the street.
As Jill mentioned things can change very quickly. Our economy can change, and we can be in a recession. So, it all just comes down to numbers and budget and looking at those things, and I believe that they're working on that.
BRIAN MCMILLAN: We are down to our last about 15 minutes, so everyone should get two minutes to give your last pitch. Why are you different for the other candidates?
SALLY HUNT: I still have a lot to learn about the schools. I’m nowhere near where Trevor is with 12 years on the School Board, but I am a fast learner and confident that I can do the job very well. I talk a lot about how our community is an ecosystem. We're all connected. We all rely on one another. And so, as I look out into the room, I think we've got some retirees in the room. Yes? You’ve earned it. One thing to remember with our schools is they very much impact your life and I'm going to give a personal example.
On Mother's Day, my beautiful husband had a pacemaker put in. His surgeon is 73 years old. Dr. Walsh is probably going to be retiring at some point and we're going to need to replace him, because there’s a lot of pacemakers put in every year.We also have a new hospital that we're building that we need to staff. So, I want you guys to think about, as we're trying to recruit top talent to our area for our health, for our safety, for our quality of life here, those are probably going to be working parents who do have kids in schools and they're going to look to our schools.
Right now, unfortunately, Flagler Palm Coast High School is rated at a C. We talked about Rymfire’s reading scores being below grade level. We definitely have some challenges to go through not just for our students here, but so that we can recruit top talent and retain talent to keep our community going.
We really, all of us, including retirees, need to make sure that our schools are at their best, and I believe I am the best person for that job given my well-rounded experience and my moderate temperament. And I ask for your vote on or before August 23. Thank you for your time tonight.
JILL WOOLBRIGHT: I want to thank you for coming tonight and listening. An hour and a half is a long time to sit and listen. I have a proven record as a teacher in the classroom. I know how to assess what students need. I know the materials they need. I know the resources they need, and I know how to scaffold instructions so that students can learn and progress.
Every year I scored as a high impact teacher. Every year I had exceptional evaluations. And the state of Florida for several years listed high impact teachers, and it was a short list. It was a one-page list for the whole state of Florida. And every year they did that I was on the list. I know how to teach children. You meet children where they are and you move them along and you hold high expectations and standards. We need to stop watering down and diluting everything. Children will rise to the occasion as long as you walk with them step by step and show them how to get there.
We need to hold high expectations. I believe in students first and student learning gains first. After all, we are schools. I believe in parent rights, and I believe in maximizing parental involvement, because if we maximize parental involvement, our students will be healthier mentally and they will make better gains and academic gains. I believe in curriculum transparency. And I just believe in transparency. What you see with Jill Woolbright, no matter where I go, I'm not a chameleon, and I’m not trying to be sneaky and show anything different than who I am, so you as a voter know who you’re voting for. There's no guessing here. I'm transparent. I don't play games and try to hide behind little cute things to say.
Also, I'm very fiscally responsible. I will make sure that we watch the budget, because we had to trim $5 million this year in our budget. Five million. Our reserve funds went way down. So, it is a lean, lean year. So, if it doesn't directly impact student learning then that’s what we will have to trim. Most important is the impact on student learning. The rest of it is fluff. What impacts the student and student learning, because we are in the business of that, not trying to solve all the social issues in the world today. So, I just want to close with, I am endorsed by Governor Ron DeSantis. I am endorsed by Speaker-designate Paul Renner, I am endorsed by (Southwest Florida Congressman) Byron Donalds. He’s an education champion. I am endorsed by Moms for Liberty. I was endorsed by the Pachyderms. And I was endorsed by the RNC board.
CHRISTY CHONG: Again, I'm here because I believe it's time for parents to get involved. We’ve left it up to others for far too long and it's time for us to stand up for our kids. As a mother, I believe our family comes first. Our children are the future and that parents should have a say in their children’s education choices. I understood the toll that COVID has had on families and our children's education learning, how difficult it has been for our children to get the proper education the past few years. So, I'm here for my children and I’m here for yours, I look forward to serving Flagler County and making sure parents’ voices are heard.
TREVOR TUCKER: I’ve been on the School Board. I have the experience. I’ve been there 12 years. I understand the policies. I understand the background. My degree is in accounting, so I really understand the financial side of the district. With the I have children in school, and that’s really what I’m there for and for my family’s future generations, because I really hope we’re here for multiple years. With that I thank you all for coming, Thank you to all the candidates for coming, and by the way, great answers everyone.
COURTNEY VANDEBUNTE: My intentions as a School Board member are to use my experience of 10 years teaching here in Flagler Schools, all of those years being a highly effective teacher, and one of those years being awarded Teacher of the Year (for i3 Academy in 2015-16). I will respectfully listen and consider all perspectives whether I align with them or not, because as a School Board member I will work for students and their families as well as teachers and staff to drive Flagler closer to becoming Florida’s premier learning organization.
Over the past few months I've seen my opponents and their endorsers slander my name, make fun of me and say that I’m for masks’ and vaccine mandates and other false information. These attacks are unprofessional, and they make me wonder what kind of example are they setting when they delete my comments and attempt to silence me and others who they disagree with. Why should we expect any different behavior if they become School Board members? Will they listen only to the voices that echo theirs? Will they ensure that each child, not just those that look and act like their own be supported and safe in our schools?
I’ve spent the past year showing up for the community and trying to set positive examples to prove my dedication to creating a safe and positive and effective learning organization for all of our kids. I am fiscally responsible, I’ve never filed for bankruptcy, never had a foreclosure and I’ve never been arrested or charged with a crime. Being a public servant, an elected official, especially a School Board member, means setting a good example, being honest and respecting and listening to all constituents. And if you vote for VandeBunte on August 23 that’s exactly what you’ll get. Thank you.
WILL FURRY: I believe my highest qualifier for this position is that I’m a parent and I’m invested, followed by my executive experience. I believe this will help me with policymaking and leadership. My entrepreneurial experience will help with vision casting and accomplishing those visions. And my community service has helped me to develop a leadership style of love, empathy and optimism.
I may not have been a teacher, but I have been an educator. I educate people every day on how to buy their first home. I've also educated many people in how to be successful in my businesses and go on and start businesses of their own. Every Sunday, I teach middle school kids and on how they how they can have a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. My platform is focused on parental rights. I believe the government has gone too far in between a relationship of a child and a parent and I’ll push back against that.
I also stand for curriculum transparency. We’re going for education. We’re not doing indoctrination. And I also actually was endorsed by the 1776 Projects as the strongest candidate in District 2 to push back against anything that is inspired by CRT or the like. And we're gonna go for an enriched classroom environment. We're going to get back to basics: math, science, civics, American history. We're going to bring back the joy back to the classroom with stimulating electives and extracurriculars.
When I was in high school, I chose football, and I had a coach and he put me in as strong guard. And that’s what I’m going to be for your kids, a strong guard to push back against anything that tries to indoctrinate or sexualize them. So, you guys have a gift to give and that’s your vote, and every election cycle you get to give it to a deserving candidate, and that gift wasn’t free. It was bought and paid for by our brave men and women in our armed forces that defend the flag every day. So, I encourage you to get out the vote and I hope you’ll vote for me, Will Furry, School Board, District 2. Thank you.
LANCE ALRED: I was endorsed by the Moms for Liberty, and I feel I’m the best candidate because of my leadership and management experience over the course of being a small business owner for two decades and being trusted by the Department of Defense to oversee off-base construction in Afghanistan for nearly three years.
Tonight, I’m going to ask you to not take a chance on youthful exuberance, and I'm going to ask you to not take a chance on catchphrases and buzzwords. I'm going to ask you to not to take a chance on the education of our children. Tonight, I’m going to ask you to take a stance for leadership, take a stance for management experience. I'm going to ask you to take a stance with our governor, who I support. And I’m going to ask you to stand with parents and the right to be involved in the education of their children. Our motto is to take a stance with Lance, and on August 23 that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Thank you for coming tonight.