Editor’s note: Randy Heimler is a candidate for the Indian River County School Board. He is running in the election to be held in 2018.
The Indian River County School District ranks 34 out of the 67 districts in the state of Florida. We can improve our mediocre standing by making changes in a few crucial areas.
There is a mass exodus of experienced teachers from the district. Twelve percent of our educators left the district last year. The remaining staff is experiencing an all-time low in morale. Low salary, delayed contracts, lack of respect and a poor discipline policy contribute to the inability to retain superior teachers. The code of conduct is being revised, but has a long way to go to be able to be enforced.
Our district lacks solid fiscal accountability, which is evident by the budget that is presented to the board each year. The board itself acknowledges that it is passing this budget blindly. We spend more than other similar districts, but are not seeing achievement gains as a result. We are also very top heavy with administrators.
The Healthcare debacle is another example of the lack of fiscal responsibility by both the board and the district. The health care deficit rose to $7 million dollars over the past couple of years. This is due to a complete breakdown in our district budgeting process. We should not be in the health care business, as it is only negatively affecting the teachers and other employees in a massive financial way.
Legal fees are astronomical here, as there have been lawsuits involving the district that should have never happened or should have been settled. We spend over $1,000,000 a year on legal fees. This is money that should have been spent on our students in the classrooms. Legal fights, such as the one against the Charter Schools and the Desegregation Order, are good examples of this waste of taxpayer dollars.
We also have a tremendous achievement gap between the Black students and the White students. Only 39% of the Black students in third grade are reading at grade level. In sixth grade, they are only at a 20% proficiency rate and only 24% of our current tenth grade Black students are reading at grade level. This population increasingly incurs a large number of referrals and suspensions and there is a major disparity of black students versus the white students in this area. This is unacceptable and the NAACP is working diligently to help this solved. The School Board has raised limited solutions to solve this problem.
The Exceptional Student Education(ESE) department is another area that needs to be improved. We do not have enough psychologists to handle the number of referrals, and thus the process of obtaining the proper services for our students takes the entire school year. Parents have been complaining about this way too long here and we need to focus on this as well. Adding unqualified personnel to the ESE classrooms does not solve the issue.
Parental involvement is essential to the success of our students. The school district needs to be reaching out even further to involve all of our parents. We have a very limited involvement from our board in this crucial area. Board members are in the minority, when it comes to engaging the public.
I feel that the School Board should be a full-time position, not a highly paid part time job. This should become law. The salary of part time school board members exceeds that of a starting teacher and that is completely wrong. If the board expects the teachers to be able to live on their salary, then the board should be able to live on it as well. The amount of preparation and research that is necessary to be effective as a board member cannot be done when one has a full time job. This is evident by the many unprepared comments by board members, and by the lack of participation by some Board members in the vital committees that are in effect.