This election cycle is going to be the most important one of our lives. You’ve probably heard that every two years since you’ve been old enough to know what an election cycle is. I also objectively don’t think it is true this time, especially not locally, although inevitably it is only a matter of time before we hear it said.
If the urgency of candidates is any indication of an election season’s importance then we are all in agreement.
As of May 1, 2019 which was roughly a year and a half before the 2020 election, there were 11 local candidates filed for office. As of May 1 of this year, and as of this writing on May 19, there are none. That’s going to be the second most shocking stat in this piece.
While we’ve had a nice reprieve from the campaign signs that had already lined our roadways at this time two years ago, the lack of candidates may not be a good thing especially when it comes to one sovereign entity in our government.
The school board with three of its five seats up for election could see its majority shift. The board has been unchanged for quite some time. The three seats this cycle are currently held by Thomas Kennedy, Linda Powers and Doug Dodd.
In 2020, Sandy Counts retained her seat unopposed, and while Ginger Bryant did have to face a runoff after failing to get 50% in a three-way primary election, but she won the general election handily with nearly 60% of the vote despite spending only $26,000 to her opponent’s over $60,000 effort. All of this means we like to keep our school board members the same as we have for the better part of a decade with a few exceptions.
The problem is that something happened in the 2014-2015 school year that needs to be addressed. Here’s the most shocking stat of the day.
In the six years from 2010-2015, Citrus schools scored 69 “A” ratings and 5 “C” ratings from the state. In the four years to close the decade, 2016-2019, Citrus had just 9 “A” ratings and 24 “C” ratings. The Citrus School District as an overall grade had just one “B” year in the decade from 2006-2015 with the rest an “A” rating. We have had four straight years of “B” ratings from 2016-2019.
This is almost undoubtedly a result of Florida switching from the FCAT to the FSA testing after the 2013-2014 academic year.
Our teachers and administrators work incredibly hard and they didn’t suddenly get bad at their jobs after 2015 nor did our students get dumber halfway through the decade. Our school board is not entirely, or even mostly, to blame for these results. I know all three school board members up for reelection and personally find them to be capable leaders who have done the job well.
However, election cycles are a great time to question the performance of our elected officials and that is not going to happen if they are not challenged. And even when they are, the right questions have to be asked.
This downward trend was already in full swing last election season and yet the first question the Chronicle asked the school board candidates at their forum was about paddling kids. You can watch that clip, including Danielle Damato Doty’s priceless reaction, here at the 10:35 mark which follows the candidates’ opening statements.
With the school system’s budget in flux due to the virus, with the school district assuming more responsibility of campus safety and with school grades some reflection (even if a flawed view) of student performance, these three seats should be the most hotly contested in the county because there are real concerns that need to be answered and the Chronicle has demonstrated it is unwilling to question the school district seriously.
There are no constitutional officers, such as sheriff or supervisor of elections, on next year’s ballot. There are only two county commission seats - not enough to move a majority. The school board seats will be the most critical races as 16 of these 24 recent “C” ratings have come in the last two years alone. As flawed as these ratings are, performance questions need to be asked and answered.
After all, this could be the most important election of our lives.