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 Laura Zorc.
- The Indian River County School District (IRCSD) self-insures its health insurance programs, which means IRCSD 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 IRCSD approximately $ 7million 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?
“We took the money to cover the loss from our reserves required by statute and have been given a three year grace period by the FLDOE to replenish the reserves.
There are benefits of self-insuring if the plan set up correctly. Unfortunately, in the beginning the SDIRC hired an actuary who sorely underestimated the foreseen claims. Having experience in the health and life insurance as a corporate manager, I would have expected the stop loss insurance policy that we purchased to have covered the entire loss. Going forward we need to make sure we purchase a better stop loss policy. In addition, many times the underestimation comes on the prescription side. Moving forward, I would recommend we look into partially self-insuring because self-insuring when administered correctly does have savings. However, with prescriptions we should be looking at saving options through a private provider.”
- 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?
“As a 2013 founder of Florida Parents Against Common Core (22,000 parents strong) and National Policy Advisor of the Coalition of Parents Against Common Core, I do strongly believe that the federal government deceived the states into adopting the standards by dangling millions of dollars before them in 2009 when states were experiencing cash flow crises during the recession. The Race to the Top Federal Grant said if you adopt a national set of standards (CCSS at the time was the only set of standards in drafting) and implement the assessment that is aligned to the standards, then we will award you federal stimulus dollars.
In addition, common sense tells you if we are going to adopt a set of standards that those standards should have been fully vetted and proven. Common Core State Standards were not. The standards were developed in a rushed manner and were designed to bring all 50 states to the same level. What does that mean? States like Massachusetts, Indiana, and California that had the highest state standards in the country had those standards lowered when they adopted CCSS to meet in the middle to accommodate states like Alabama and Mississippi that had the lowest standards.
The Fordham Institute conducted a study that revealed that, compared with the new CCSS, Florida’s mathematics standards were higher and its English language arts standards were slightly lower. It has been argued that the CCSS puts greater emphasis on writing than on reading and that if districts do not foresee this as a gaping hole in the standards, students will fall even further behind in literacy comprehension. As a school board member I understand the problems with the new standards, and I will make sure that we don’t allow our students to suffer the consequences of Florida’s adoption of a flawed set of standards.
We need standards because we need to set goals; however, I do not think the the Common Core State Standards, which are being taught to our students under the guise of Florida State Standards, are adequate. Moreover, I am a firm believer in local control and state autonomy and CCSS do not allow for either.”
- As best as can be determined, of the approximately150 SDIRC teachers needed this upcoming 2016/2017 school year, as of last month the IRCSD has hired around 80.
What can SCIRC do to attract qualified teachers?
“As of this morning the district is short 4 teachers throughout the district. However, IRC and the state of Florida are faced with the problem of baby boomers retiring and other teachers quitting because of all the state mandates. Indian River County is scored at the lower end of the scale at #57 on Teacher.org as a Florida county in which to be a teacher. The reason is that currently, compare with other counties, we pay $3800 less in combined average salary and benefits. In addition, during the recession we cut many student and teacher support staff positions and left the burden to the teachers to compensate for the shortage of staff.
As a district we need to make sure that we give our teacher the tools they need to be effective teachers. Teachers need the support of administration and administration should be responsive to teachers’ requests. We need to make IRC the place that teachers want to come to, not run away from.”
- 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 SDIRC?
- 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 careers in the District? What jobs would be on your calendar and what would be your focus?
“We must offer our students career days to explore the various career programs that we offer and/or will soon offer. At the same time, we need to open the career days up to teachers and parents to come in and explore the SDIRC Career and Technique Education available to the students. As a school board member, I will stay up to date on our vocational training programs, as well as on our local economy’s employment needs, to ensure as a district we wisely choose our vocational training programs. Currently, for example, fields in which skilled labor is in demand include medical billing, accounting, healthcare, computer technology, electrical, and heating & air conditioning.”
- 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?
“I need to research this further.”
- 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?
- 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?
“Reading on grade level means you have mastered the basics but are not exceeding them. As a school board member, I want our students not only to read on grade level, I want to our students excel. I will do this by supporting community efforts like the Moonshot Moment and Learning Alliance. In addition, I will work to improve our afterschool programs to ensure that additional tutoring or assistance with homework is available to every student who needs it.”
- 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.”
What is your position on this Chinese investment? And how much of our curriculum content do you believe the charter schools intend to tailor toward their Communist investors?
“I do not have enough information to give an opinion on Chinese investment. Charter schools are public school and in the state of Florida they have to follow the Florida State Standards. Each charter school chooses its own curriculum; however, this is the first I am hearing of the possibility of Chinese investors guiding curriculum. What I do know is that charter schools are well-known for their parental involvement and community engagement, and if this were ever to happen, our charter parents would be very quick to bring the situation to public awareness.”
- How do you explain that from 2008-2009, 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 are seeking educational environments that are tailored to their children’s needs and learning styles. As a parent of four children, with my oldest a Vero Beach High School 2011 graduate and my youngest going into second grade this year, I recognize that not every school is for every student. Parents who enroll their students in charters and magnets alike value the open door policy for parents.
We also have to look at the fact that our magnet schools have just as long of a waiting list as our charter schools. When I hear parents speak against school choice, it is often out frustration that there is not enough available space at our magnets and/or charters.”