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School board hopefuls talk taxes, sex ed, pay

MANATEE — A diverse panel of hopefuls discussed taxes, sex education and merit pay for teachers during a series of school board candidate forums recorded Friday for Manatee Educational Television.

A collection of incumbent school board members, former teachers, volunteers, a lawyer, a pastor and an electrician turned small businessman answered questions as to how they would rule on issues concerning the Manatee County School District.

The forums, moderated by Bradenton Herald Editorial Page Editor Chris Wille, will be aired on METV several times up until election day on Aug. 24.

A budget shortfall of $8 million and the proposed solution of a .25 millage increase in property taxes loomed large in the debates.

Incumbent school board members Barbara Harvey and Jane Pfeilsticker did not say if they support the increase with a vote on the measure looming July 26, while their opponents weighed in with a no.

Both of Pfeilsticker’s opponents for the District 3 seat, longtime school volunteer and budget committee member Julie Aranibar and local pastor Albert Yusko said they opposed such a measure.

Yusko said people he has discussed higher taxes with put it simply.

“They’ve said, ‘We’re just taxed out,’ ” he said.

Harvey’s opponent, David Bailey, a former electrician turned business owner, also opposes a tax increase.

“I am not in favor of any new taxes whatsoever,” he said.

In the District 5 race, two candidates took on the issue of merit pay based on test scores for teachers as addressed in S.B. 6, vetoed last legislative session by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Former Manatee teacher Jennifer Radebach, who went on to open her own private school, said instituting merit pay can only be fair if all teachers are on a level playing field, which is not currently the reality.

Radebach said instead of a uniform test, namely the FCAT, at the end of the year, students should get baseline tests to begin a school year, followed by tests throughout the year to measure progress.

Karen Carpenter, a former teacher and lawyer, also said testing should be localized as opposed to the standard statewide FCAT.

“I don’t think it is a fair assessment of teacher performance,” she said.

All of the candidates fielded questions about the role of sex education in schools, with all of the candidates advocating teaching abstinence as the standard.

Yusko used questions on sex education to bring up the issue of abortion. He decried a relationship he believes the school board has with Planned Parenthood, saying he knows of literature from the group that has come home with students from school.

“It’s a tremendous mistake, and I totally disagree with it,” he said.