NEW PORT RICHEY — The lone Pasco County School Board race on this month’s election ballot pits a one-term incumbent with an education background against a challenger who once headed the Pasco County Health Department.
Steve Luikart, 63, who holds the District 5 seat on the board, spent more than 30 years as a teacher and assistant principal in Pasco schools. Marc Yacht, 74, is a retired physician and health department director who also once served on the Pasco-Hernando Early Learning Coalition.
The election is Aug. 26. School board races are nonpartisan. Although candidates must live in the district they would represent, voters countywide may cast ballots in the race.
Two other seats on the board were up for election this year, but incumbents Allen Altman and Cynthia Armstrong did not draw opposition and will keep their jobs another four years.
❖ ❖ ❖
Luikart said one of the issues that motivated him to run for a second term is vocational and technical education.
He wants to expand the offerings that the district already has because a large percentage of students won’t attend college. Schools need to make sure those students graduate with skills that can land them good-paying jobs, he said.
Marchman Technical Education Center operates in west Pasco, but the district especially needs to develop more vocational offerings in the central and eastern parts of the county, Luikart said.
“I think we can do that,” he said.
But, he added, it will take the right vision and the right personnel to pull it off.
Luikart has concerns about the controversial Common Core State Standards, but he said there also is a lot of misinformation about the standards. In Florida, the state has made some revisions to the standards and now calls them the Florida State Standards.
Since Luikart started teaching in the 1970s, there have been periodic changes to the standards, so that’s nothing new, he said. But that doesn’t mean all is right with them either, and one of his worries relates to how students will be assessed this coming year when the new standards are implemented fully.
“We haven’t seen the test on these things,” he said.
One of the problems with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, Luikart said, was that lawmakers linked the examination to school grades, teacher evaluations, money and other things “the test was not designed for.”
Originally, he said, FCAT was just a way to measure a student’s progress so that the next year’s teachers knew what areas needed to be addressed.
Luikart said he is a “big advocate for local control.” Too often, he said, school boards receive mandates from Tallahassee and Washington, so that local board members can’t always make the decisions they consider best for students in their counties.
“Trust us to do the right thing for the community,” he said. “If they would allow more local control, we could make things much better.”
❖ ❖ ❖
If there’s a call to arms for Yacht, it’s what he sees as the woeful job the state does funding education. He has become fond of quoting a National Education Association (NEA) study that showed that in 2013 Florida ranked 42nd among states in per-student funding but fourth in the nation in personal income.
Although the top-ranking states provide schools with about $15,000 to nearly $20,000 per student, Florida spends around $8,000, according to the NEA study.
“The resources thing is number one for me,” Yacht said. “The board should be screaming, and the superintendent should be screaming.”
When resources are limited, he said, it becomes difficult to provide the needed services.
“Just running the buses takes enormous resources,” Yacht said.
Inadequate funding isn’t his only issue, though.
Yacht is troubled by the growth of charter schools and voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools using public dollars.
He said those programs don’t have the same accountability that public schools do, he and also questions why the law is set up to allow the state Board of Education to overrule local school boards when it comes to charter school approval and oversight.
Yacht also sees the potential for conflict with charter schools when, in some cases, they are run by legislators or their relatives, or lease property from churches, blurring the relationship between church and state.
Common Core is another concern for Yacht, especially the fact that the standards at the moment are limited to math and English/language arts. When assessment tests, teacher evaluations and school grades become tied to just two academic subjects, then that’s where the resources will go, to the detriment of other disciplines, Yacht said.
Yacht realizes lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington hand down many of the regulations by which school districts must abide, but he said that doesn’t mean local officials are off the hook.
“If the rules are bad, you change them,” he said. “No rule has ever kept me from doing my job.”