Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Thursday, August 14, 2014
School board District 1

1) "This is a difficult question to answer. Of course, no one is happy to read reports of our district's performance sliding, and C and D school ratings certainly don't sound great. However, in raw numbers, our district actually performed better this past year than it did the year before. Some other districts simply improved more than we did. My understanding is that the primary reason for our decline was our writing scores. In the land of Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost, writing should be one of our greatest strengths. As a school board member, I would certainly support efforts to hire writing coaches as well as additional reading and math coaches for those schools where they are most needed. In addition, I think we need to do a much better of job of drawing on the talents and strengths of our local community to increase volunteer participation throughout our schools. My bigger concern, however, is with the whole concept of state ratings and school grades. These ratings and grades are based almost exclusively on our students' performance on standardized, multiple-choice tests. I believe that we have fallen into a trap of focusing far too much time, energy and resources on "teaching to the test," preparing and practicing for the tests and actually taking the tests, at the great expense of a more thoughtful, well-rounded education. We must teach our students critical thinking skills, instill in them a passion for learning and discovery, engage and foster their creativity and ingenuity and much, much more. Most of all, we must do everything we can to make sure that each and every one of the students who comes through our system is equipped with the skills and tools necessary to be successful in life, whether they are going on to college or straight into the workforce. To me, accomplishing this would be a much greater measure of success for our school system than our ranking against other Florida counties on multiple choice tests."

2) "I am hopeful that the voters will again extend the one-half cent sales tax in the November election. Unlike property taxes which are paid exclusively by the owners of homes and property in our community, 55 percent of the revenue from the sales tax comes from tourists who visit our islands and spend their money here. I believe that the one-half cent tax should be used to finance bond issues that will pay for new facilities for Plantation Key School and Gerald Adams Elementary. With respect to (the Horace O'Bryant School), I would say first that the facility itself is outstanding and turned out really well. The project came in on time and under budget, which may well be a first for a government project! It does appear that there are some issues with respect to records retention for the project, but I think those issues can be attributed in part to the fact that we had three different superintendents and several finance directors in charge during the construction process. Going forward with more stability in the district, I believe, and if elected, I will ensure, that all future construction projects have adequate financial controls and records-keeping procedures in place."

1) "I will provide resources for classroom/behavior management in the form of aides, alternate educational opportunities and basic supplies available when schools open. Improve morale by showing respect for teachers and staff by engaging in competent and truthful collective bargaining. (The last two contracts bargained represented total incompetence -- the 2010 was defaulted on within months despite warnings from the Audit Committee; the new contract was unnecessarily delayed 11 months by failing to read the Department of Education rules.) Manage finances in a business-like way. All contracts should have competitive bidding. This will free up millions for the classroom. Hiring processes based on merit, not politics."

2) "The one-half-cent sales tax, scheduled to be renewed by referendum in November, is limited in its use to capital expenditures, including new buildings. This would be the preferred choice to fund the new construction. The district does have bonding capacity which it could use, but this is less desirable. Any new schools should be designed using the district's vision for the 21st century (after they figure out what that is) to state-of-the-art standards. My construction method of choice, which works best for schools where in-house expertise in limited, is competitive solicitation for an architect including competitive schematic designs, construction oversight by a national construction manager who also does value engineering, total cost of operation assessment and independent reviews, pure fixed-price bidding with at least four prime bids and a citizen facility committee to review progress. The school board is responsible to hold those accountable who do not do their jobs. None of this happened with the Horace O'Bryant School project."

Leamard didn't respond to emailed questions. However, in April he said in an interview, "My youngest daughter, Felicia, is about to be moving up to Key West High School, so I have a stake in the school system. She and other children like her need to have a school system that helps them to become good, responsible citizens. We need to start focusing on the purpose of our public schools, which is to prepare all children to be productive members of society, no matter what they choose to do."


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