District 1 Candidates

All responses received as of July 25, 2018 have been provided.  Below each question, you will find responses from each of the candidates.  Each response can be accessed by clicking on the candidates name.  Responses appear exactly as submitted; no editing was undertaken.  Candidates are listed in alphabetic order by last name.

**UPDATE** As a result of the August 28th Primary Elections, the District 1 seat will be decided on the November General Election ballot.  Steve Cona and William Henry Person will remain on the ballot for that election.  We have removed Gilbert Machin’s responses to reflect the updated candidates.  None of the responses have been changed.

1.  The Hillsborough County School District is the eighth-largest school district in the country and the 3rd largest in the state of Florida. The School District educates over 212,000 students. Tell us about your previous roles with public schools.  Please include if your role has been as an educator or as a parent.  What experience do you have that demonstrates success in leading such a large organization with a complicated budget?  What areas do you see where the District could be more cost efficient?

Steve Cona
As not only a father of two children currently in Hillsborough County Public Schools school, but also as a business leader, I have a vested interest in the long-term success of our schools to adequately prepare our students for success in both the classroom and in a future career. Three years ago, I partnered with the school district to start the Build Tampa Bay Foundation, which is a not-for-profit foundation formed in an effort to address workforce shortages in the building and construction industry. Being a business owner, I know firsthand that a more inspired student is a more motivated student. Thus, as a district, we need to ensure that we are providing all the opportunities to students for success. My expertise and experience will provide a fresh set of eyes and solutions to build the best school district in the country because that is what our Hillsborough County students deserve.
William Henry Person
I am a retired Hillsborough Schools employee with 35 years experience as a teacher, human relations specialist, assistant principal and principal at both the middle school and high school level, Director of Pupil Administrative Services and General Director of Administration overseeing all student placement, charter schools, school choice, magnet schools, alternative schools, student records, emergency shelter operations for 52 shelters, administrative liaison to MacDill AFB, and upon retired, Chairman of the Florida School Choice Parent Advisory Council under the Florida Department of Education.This district could be more cost effective in nearly all areas involving contract services of most types, including capital outlay, maintenance and related areas.

2.  If you were to evaluate the performance and state of Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), what would be your focus and specifically what do you see as the top three priorities?

Steve Cona
There’s no doubt it takes a supportive group of caring individuals to educate a child. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school counselors and office staff allow our teachers and principals to focus on a child’s academic pursuits. They are essential to fostering a supportive learning environment. While there’s no doubt there is great work taking place in classrooms across the county, trust that our district is being managed correctly has waned in recent years. As a result, my top three priorities as a school board member include, bringing fiscal accountability back to the school board, better preparing students for success in college and future careers while providing a safe learning environment. It takes a team to educate a child and we need all aspects of a school to work together to accomplish this goal.
William Henry Person
Priorities for Evaluation: we need in-depth evaluations of district operations and Priority of Tasks with emphasis on , School District Administration, the School Board itself, a refocus on the Business of District Operations with vendors, contractors vs the need to refocus on students, schools, employees and necessary instructional/student performance. Also, renewed district financial wellness via opposition and resistance to outside forces undermining a need to focus on student learning, employee reations and student/employee performance

3.  How can the School Board, and specifically you, make the teachers and staff feel supported and valued?

Steve Cona
We have outstanding professionals who come to school each and every day ready to prepare our students for future success. The support staff of a school serves a vital function in helping a child achieve academic success.  Our teachers are our number one asset, and all things need to be on the table to protect those making a difference in the lives of our students each and every day, including exploring cutting administrative costs and streamlining services. We must hire and keep high-quality teachers in the classroom, and to do this we must assure that our compensation is competitive and reflects the value our teachers bring to the classroom As a school board member, we need to make sure teachers have the necessary tools for focused learning when students are in the classroom.
William Henry Person
I, we, can make teachers and staff feel supported and valued by actually supporting them, consistently,  day to day, as they deliver instruction to our students. School Board recognition of employee performance works wonders when done with sincerity and purpose on a consistent basis. District leadership needs to do this immediately. As a 35 year district employee with 30 years administrative experience, I have, and will provide needed stability to the board, the administration and to employee relations.

4.  Will you support a referendum to add funding to Hillsborough County Public Schools, and how will you reach out to voters to ensure their support?

Steve Cona
Considering the fiscal challenges impacting the district, I feel it’s a challenging climate to ask voters to trust any additional dollars going to the district. Of the referendum options, I would consider supporting a sales tax to bring in additional revenue, but would not be supportive of raising taxes on property owners. A sales tax referendum provides an opportunity for more individuals, residents and tourists alike, to pay into the system. While a sales tax referendum is a long-term solution, the short-term solution is to bring back fiscal responsibility and decision-making to the school board and delivering on promises made to our teachers.
William Henry Person
I will support a needed referendum involving millage increase and/or a sales tax increase. We can reach supporters by returning faith and trust in the board and the administration from the community at large, by changing the membership of the school board.

5.  The state legislature has not funded public schools adequately, with Florida ranked 41st in per pupil spending.   In addition, the legislature supports private school vouchers and has even diverted 50% of state construction funds to charter schools – even though only 11% of Florida students attend charters.  How can HCPS handle growing student enrollment – especially in the southern part of the county – given this environment? How do you think HCPS should handle our $3 billion capital deficit?

Steve Cona
The financial constraints in Hillsborough County are vast and troubling. Unfortunately, we don’t currently have fiscal transparency to truly understand how our tax dollars are being spent, which is something I will advocate for as a school board member. Additionally, I will support that the legislature restores a portion of the millage that was taken by the state during the recession and use those dollars for deferred maintenance projects and long-term capital needs. It is inexcusable that we send our students and teachers into classrooms without working air conditioning. The job of our public schools is to educate children and the role of the school board is to be prudent financial stewards of the budget and to better engage the community and private sector to find solutions to those needs.
William Henry Person
In order to deal with a looming $3 Billion shortfall, the district must seek a) a return to full funding from the legislature to pre- 2008 recession levels, b) a referendum for some form of tax increase for revenue, and a new school board and potentially, a new district administration with the ability to renew  constructive relationships with all aspects of our community ; parental and business alike.

6.  What can the School Board, and specifically you, do to encourage parent involvement in the schools?

Steve Cona
Parent involvement is crucial in regards to not only the students success but also the county’s success. Parents know what is best for their child’s needs and their engagement allows the board to receive suggestions and opinions in making improvements that directly affect the parents and students. I will advocate for consistent participation from parents throughout not only the school year but also during the summer.
William Henry Person
The School Board can encourage parental involvement through improved public relations with the community. Infighting, unprofessional conduct and worse has marked this current school board as being incapable in supporting the superintendent  in his role in district operations.

7.  Do you support the expansion of charter schools in Hillsborough County? What criteria will you use when considering the approval of new charter schools? How will you ensure that existing charter schools are providing the state-required fair and equitable high-quality education to a diverse student population including those with additional support needs?

Steve Cona
I believe parents should have the ability to choose the right academic environment for their child. Public charter schools can fill a need in our community, especially with some subsets of students and geographic areas of the district. We can’t be afraid to compete or partner with charter schools that can meet the unique needs of our diverse student population. Charter schools have the ability to provide alternative academic environments and are a valuable part of our system and educational offerings in our community. When collaboration happens, we improve together. It’s important to me that we only approve charters who are truly providing a quality education and meeting the needs of our students. If a charter proves to not meet these expectations, we must hold them accountable. As a school board member, I will be vigilant in the ongoing monitoring of all of our district schools, including charters.
William Henry Person
I see the expansion of for-profit managed Charter Schools, along with expanded vouchers and expansion of Privitization of Public Education as the beginning of the end of a quality public school system, state-wide, as we know it today. Without a return to full funding from the legislature along with some form of additional revenue, such as a tax referendum, the district will return to 1980’s and 1990’s forms of student growth mitigation such as double sessions and portable classrooms to address increase student growth. The 50% allocation of capital outlay funds to alternative forms of Public Education (charters and vouchers) will limit, profoundly, new capital outlay for new schools.

8.  Are you a member of the PTA?  If yes, please explain how you will work together with PTAs across the county to improve our schools and if no, please explain why?

Steve Cona
Parents are a vital voice in changing the landscape of public education to meet the needs of our students. While I haven’t been a member of the PTA, I have been active in creating opportunities for students that I’ve seen lacking as a parent of children within the school system myself. The creation of the Build Tampa Bay Foundation is a great example of this work, as it helps parents and students not only understand the options available to them in the building and construction industry, but also provides pathways for entering these positions.
William Henry Person
I am not currently a member of any PTA, but as a site-based administrator and principal, I coordinated school operations with many PTA parents and PTA leaders over 35 years.

9.  As in many areas of life, and particularly our School Board, there are a wide variety of personalities and opinions. How will you work with other School Board Members to get your priorities accomplished? Please share what experience you have in working in this type of environment.

Steve Cona
As the vice chair of the Hillsborough Community College Board of Trustees, I have previous experience working on a board with a wide variety of opinions. I will work towards making sure the board sticks to the issues at hand while being consistent with our work. It is vital that the voices of different members are heard and we work together with the student’s success as the priority.
William Henry Person
Civil and professional discourse on the school board has prevailed over our cherished school system for more than 50 years. This civility can and will return. As a professional educator, I truly have the leadership skills to benefit a dysfunctional school board and a district administration struggling to perform daily, basic administrative and operational duties.

10. What do you see as the key to balancing the needs of the different constituent groups (administration, teachers, parents, community) in Hillsborough County Public Schools?  How will you approach this challenge?

Steve Cona
The role of the school board is to be prudent financial stewards of the budget and to better engage the community. When facing this challenge we must remember what our role as a board member is and how the school board can create an environment where students will succeed. Community engagement is essential to balancing the needs and encouraging participation.
William Henry Person
My approach to balancing the complex needs of a diverse group of employees starts with addressing the needs of people, not things! The wonderful strength of the district is found in the PEOPLE of the district. Let’s refocus our efforts on kids, teachers, employees, parents, communities and the citizens of Hillsborough County. Leadership in this district has lost it’s focus on kids and teachers. Although the finances and “Business” of the district are important, the kids, teachers and site level people are what this is all about. This district leadership has lost the true focus, the real purpose of Public Education. That purpose is Job One and Job One is supporting and focusing on kids, teachers and communities.