SINCE OUR CHILDRENS’S EDUCATION IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT DETERMINANTS OF A HEALTHY AND PROSPEROUS SOCIETY, WE ASKED EACH OF THE CANDIDATES FOR INDIAN RIVER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, FL TO ANSWER 10 QUESTIONS WE GATHERED FROM MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY.
This response is from Tiffany Justice.
1. The School District of Indian River County (SDIRC) self-insures its health insurance programs, which means the SDIRC offers its estimated 2,000 employees health insurance through its own program rather than through a private company. The premiums it collects from the employees through its own program have not covered the claims and has put the SDIRC approximately $ 7 million in the hole.
How would you address this shortfall and what is your position on switching from a self-insured to a private insurance program?
“Any time that an employer decides to participate in a self funded employees benefits program, they are taking a risk that claim costs will not exceed the earned premiums within the fund. In this case, the usage of the plan by employees far exceeded the available reserves, which eventually led to the fund’s shortfall.
Unfortunately, there seems to have been a lack of attention to detail by either the writing insurance agent, the hired actuary, or someone on district staff because three years is a very long time to not realize that the fund was so insufficient to pay the claims. Monthly, or even quarterly performance meetings should have been conducted to analyze usage by employees, with findings provided to the school board for consideration.
We, as a school board, should immediately investigate how this very serious issue occurred, i.e.: “who dropped the ball”, and take corrective measures so that this will not happen again. If that means that we eliminate the current insurance agent / agency relationship, seek our financial remedy via their Errors and Omissions policy, and explore all available options.. other than firing lower level staff who may not have had the capacity or even the authority to make such important decisions.
We should also explore partially self insured programs and private health carrier options – not by a “bid process” from various self interested insurance vendors – but via an experienced risk consultant, to properly evaluate our cost versus risk.
Partially self insured programs offer a catastrophic “stop loss” which prevents the shortfalls that occurred in our program, and with private insurance carriers we shift our financial risk over to them. Both of these programs would have prevented the situation that we find ourselves in now.”
2. Common Core has evolved as academic standards that apply specifically to English language and arts and mathematics. Defined as learning goals by the State Standards Initiative, Common Core standards stipulate the type of knowledge students should know and master by the end of each grade level. It has been criticized as top down federalization of our school curriculums. That it is cradle to grave pre determination of a child’s job designation as per the government, not the child’s choice and that parental participation is denied.
What is your position on Common Core?
“The biggest problem with Common Core is that it was the federal government’s way of providing a one size fits all solution for education. But, we know that one size fits all solutions don’t work in education because not every child learns in the same way and not every community holds the same values. So, I think what’s important to remember is that locally, in Indian River County, we are a traditional community and we want to make sure our traditional values are shared with our children. We can do that through guiding the curriculum, choosing text books, and by working with our community partners.
As a parent on the school board, I will stress the importance of parent involvement in all aspects of student learning. Teachers and schools can always do a better job of communicating with parents.”
3. As best as can be determined, of the approximately150 SDIRC teachers needed this upcoming 2016/2017 school year, as of last month the SDIRC has hired around 80.
What can SDIRC do to attract qualified teachers?
“Teachers are evaluated in many different ways. They are evaluated through observation as well as through student testing. There is however, no metric for evaluation of the dedication our teachers show in the classroom every day. We need to support teachers with quality professional development. As a school board member, I will work towards giving teachers the autonomy they so desperately want in their classrooms. Giving teachers autonomy will bolster their ability to utilize their creativity and relationship with each student to provide each child what they need individually to learn.”
4. Once again, as best as can be determined, an estimated 500 SDIRC teachers are retiring or predicted to leave over a period of the next five years. 71 new hires left the District in the last three years.
Why are so many teachers leaving the SDIRC?
“Teachers leaving the teaching profession is not a problem that is limited to Indian River County, it is a problem nationwide. Florida is #2 in the United States for public school enrollment but is ranked 44th in the nation for the average teachers salary. Teachers are underpaid, overworked and undervalued. Locally, we need to support our teachers!
I am proud member of The Learning Alliance. The quality Professional Development that The Learning Alliance offers to our teachers is setting the benchmark nationally for teacher engagement and support. I truly believe that community partnerships like the one between SDIRC and The Learning Alliance have the power to reinvigorate the teaching industry in our country.”
5. Specifically, with regard to the SDIRC Career and Technical Education Program at Sebastian River and Vero Beach High schools, if elected to the School Board, how would you and the teachers schedule yourselves to shadow each key technical career in the District? What jobs would be on your calendar and what would be your focus?
“Vocational training is an extremely important part of the educational services that we provide to our students in Indian River County and is finally being given the priority I believe that it should have been given in the past.
When I first decided to run for School Board, I took the time to meet with Dr. Arnett, the Director of Career and Technical Education in Indian River County. Newly hired by Dr. Rendell, he has extensive knowledge and experience in the areas of vocational training and was tasked by Dr. Rendell to rebuild the Vocational program we have in the School District of Indian River County. SDIRC and Indian River State College are embarking on an exciting new partnership in an effort to offer more vocational training for our students in the areas of electrical and HVAC training. Also exciting is the Externship program that SDIRC has engaged in with the car dealerships in our community. It is important that the school district continues to reach out to local businesses to assess their staffing needs and try to find ways to encourage young people to work in local businesses. The Construction industry is a market that is very much in need of skilled labor. As a member of SDIRC’s Career and Technical Education Steering Committee, I plan on continuing to make a vocational education a priority in the school district.”
6. Do you think the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce does enough to engage businesses to sponsor internships for high school students related to their area of interest?
“The current and future viability of our county’s economy matters greatly. We need to be focused on strategies to diversify and strengthen our economy now and in the future. Community partnerships help to bridge the gap between the services that the School District of Indian River County provide to its students and the transition of those students to become productive citizens in our community. I look forward to continuing to support existing partnerships and will work to foster new ones as a School Board member.”
7. Several years ago SDIRC funded a study wherein the results showed the public charter schools needed $7.7M to bring their facilities up to traditional school standards.
Yes, or no – would you support proportionate sharing of the $ 1.5 million tax with the public charter schools?
“I am committed to supporting ALL of our Public schools equally. I have a proven track record advocating successfully for capital improvements when a school’s facility was subpar and student health, wellness and achievement were being adversely affected. Charter schools are public schools and their students deserve to be advocated for equally.”
8. American Educational Research Association (AERA) released a study in 2011 that “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time.” The study also revealed that if you add poverty into the mix “a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer.”
How do you define reading on grade level by 3rd grade? What does it mean?
“I am a proud supporter of the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative here in Indian River County. Quality early learning programs improve language skills and help reduce the achievement gap to increase kindergarten readiness and early grade success. Reading proficiency in third grade is the strongest predictor of high school graduation. Reading proficiency is a critical indicator of high school success because before third grade the educational focus is on students ‘learning to read’ and after third grade the focus shifts to students ‘reading to learn’. Students not learning on grade level in fourth grade and beyond will be challenged to understand the more complex information presented. They will likely struggle in their secondary schooling and most likely will not continue on to receive post-secondary education.”
9. Jeff Solochek wrote in the Tampa Bay Times on October 6,2012 that: “A group of Chinese investors have put $30 million into the state’s (Florida) charter school program to date and are looking to invest three times that amount in the next year, Ilona Vega Jaramillo, director of international business development for Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, said in a US-China roundtable discussion last week.”
“I am not aware of any Chinese involvement in the Charter Schools in Indian River County. I do not and would never support curriculum being tailored to communist interests or intentions.”
10. How do you explain that from 2008-2016, according to the Florida Department of Education, Traditional Indian River County schools lost 1,095 students and Indian River County Charter schools gained 1,306 students?
“Parents exercised their right to school choice and transferred their children to the Charter Schools in our county. I support School Choice.”