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Okaloosa School Superintendent Race

  The race for School Superintendent in Okaloosa County will be decided on primary day this year. Earlier this year, the Okaloosa County School District was one of only three districts in the state with an “A” grade. There are two candidates vying to lead the district for the next four years. One is current Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, who is seeking a second term after defeating Alexis Tibbits in 2012. She says voters should judge her on her actions not her words. "In the last four years we've moved academically from number 11 to number 2 in the state. We've put 94 cents of each dollar into the schools. More money to the schools than has been there in 15 years."

Jackson is running in the primary against Marline Van Dyke, the Principle at Edwins Fine and Performing Arts School in Fort Walton Beach. She says there are still places where more money for the classroom can be found. "I will take the overabundance of money that we're spending now in our district office and put that money, using sight based management, back into the schools. Empower our principles, empower our teachers, put the money back where the children are."

At a recent candidate’s forum broadcast on WSRE TV, both candidates talked about issues in the district ranging from transportation to extracurricular activities. But the conversation usually ended up about money, including funding the pension fund. Jackson says while they have some control over that fund, the legislature needs to get involved. "The most important thing that we can do is lobby the folks in Tallahassee to get them to work with us to help shore up, or put more money into that pension fund. All of us depend on that. Our lives depend on that. Our futures depend on that. And I think that as we move through the next three years or four years it will become an even more important issue for us."

When it comes to closing the multi-million dollar deficit projected for that pension fund, Van Dyke says knowledge is power and teachers should be informed about the issue. She also agrees that going to the legislature is necessary. "The squeaky wheel kind of gets the attention. We have to lobby. We have to go to Tallahassee. And it's going to take many, many voices to get this job done."

The candidates were also asked about start times for high school and other topics where they largely agreed with each other on the issues and solutions. Both Mary Beth Jackson and Marline Van Dyke are Republicans, but the election is open to all voters since no Democratic, Independent or write in voters will be on the ballot. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.