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Three incumbents challenged on Escambia's School Board

Escambia County School District candidates Kevin Adams, Paul Fetsko, Kells Hetherington, and Conner Mann. Candidates Laura Elder, Raymond Guillory and David Williams did not respond to the questionnaire.
Courtesy photo
Escambia County School District candidates Kevin Adams, Paul Fetsko, Kells Hetherington, and Conner Mann. Candidates Laura Elder, Raymond Guillory and David Williams did not respond to the questionnaire.

Three incumbent Escambia County School Board members are being challenged in the Aug. 23 primary.

The three — Kevin Adams, who represents District 1; Paul Fetsko, who represents District 2; and Laura Edler, who represents District 3 — are each seeking another four-year term that pays $41,754 annually.

Adams is being challenged by Connor Mann. Fetsko is being challenged by Raymond Guillory and Kells Hetherington. Edler is being challenged by David Williams.

WUWF emailed each candidate the following questions. Here are their written responses.

Why should Escambia County voters elect you to the School Board?

Adams: With COVID-19’s negative impact to education, high-growth demands, and the other challenges we face in our District 1 community, we will need an experienced, proven leader in our school board member — now more than ever. I believe I am the most well-qualified, experienced, and able candidate in this race.

Mann did not respond to WUWF’s questionnaire but on the supervisor of elections website, his candidate statement said “I was born and raised right here, in Escambia County. It's my home. When you care for something, you only want to see it prosper. That’s why I have decided to run for School Board. The average of our School Board is 71 years old. This means it has been over 50 years since they have been a student in our schools. I graduated in 2018, I know the issues students of today face when they go to school. I know what it's like to sit in a classroom in the 21-century. That's why I decided to run for School Board. To bring fresh new ideas to the table and put children over politics. I hope you will see the vision of this campaign and join me in creating meaningful change.”

Fetsko: “My 36-year career in the Escambia County School District was fueled by the desire to serve students and parents and to help them find the best possible ways to ensure a productive future. Whether I was in the classroom, in administration, district level or on the Board, I have always made student benefits the priority in all of my decisions and actions. I still have this passion to serve this community and ask for your support in continuing to move Escambia County Schools towards excellence.”

Hetherington: “Because I’m a conservative, freethinking man with Republican ideals who is willing to listen to the many other parents (I have a 2 ½-year-old daughter named Lydia) who are concerned about a school district where the incumbent school board member says failing school grades are no big deal.”

What are your three top priorities to address in the next four years? Feel free to include details where necessary.

Adams: Parental Rights: I will continue to support Governor DeSantis’ student-first, parent-centered educational plan, which focuses on setting up our students for success, maintaining transparency and preserving parental rights in education, and combatting the Woke agenda from infiltrating our schools.

I never voted for a mask mandate, and never will. We must do everything possible to keep our schools open and reject lockdowns in the future. Discipline: There is nothing more important than ensuring that the school district is maintaining good order and discipline in our classrooms. The school district needs to do a better job of allowing teachers to teach and allowing students to learn without disruption by chronic misbehavior in the classrooms. Therefore, my top priority is ensuring we are upholding good order and maintaining discipline in our classrooms to improve the educational experience for our students and teachers. Fiscal Conservatism: I never once voted to raise your property taxes, and never will! My priority is to ensure that we are fiscally conservative in our use of public funds, assuring that each dollar is spent wisely and effectively. I take the responsibility of my role seriously and understand the impact my decisions will have on our students and citizens of Escambia County, Florida.

Fetsko: 1. Safety: Continue funding the Protection Services Department along with collaboration between the School District and local law enforcement to assess our policies and systems. Monitor social media for potential concerns or persons who need to be watched or vetted with other agencies. Implement all state-of-the-art security measures as they are identified.

2. Recruitment & Retention of a Highly Qualified Staff: Work with the Legislature to remove all obstacles that are in place which prevent retired teachers from reentering the classroom. Establish robust teacher academies in our high schools to encourage and prepare students to become teachers. Explore other incentives to encourage candidates to enter the field of education, along with ways to increase salaries. Explore recruiting from foreign countries. Ask the Legislature to expand DROP from 5 to 10 years.

3. Closing of the Achievement Gap: Re-establish the Dr. Gerald Anderson Continuous Improvement Model in all schools. Train all leadership in those strategies and set metrics within the Strategic Plan to ensure that these practices are followed with fidelity.

Hetherington: If I'm elected, we will examine why 500 of the 3,000 approved positions in the Escambia County School District are vacant. The shortage of employees is causing all sorts of problems. For example, students are being delivered to school late because there are not enough bus drivers.

I want to take a hard look at the budget to understand why one out of every three dollars we spend in the school district goes into the pocket of some highly compensated administrator. I want to know why we are spending $17 million in the current budget for Instruction and Curriculum Development Services. More of what we spend needs toward paying the teaching faculty, coaches, and bus drivers.

Special education will be a priority. According to teachers in the school system who are in special education and parents with students with special education needs, students struggling with learning disabilities are not being assessed or are, but the prescribed accommodations are being glossed over by arrogant administrators.

Getting the schools under control and cracking down on bullying will also be a top priority. Disruptive behavior will no longer be tolerated. When parents voice concerns and ask administrators to intervene, an action-oriented response is required.

Please rate the performance of Dr. Tim Smith as superintendent.

Adams: The COVID Pandemic resulted in one of the most devastating impacts to public education in my lifetime. The Superintendent and his staff have been very dedicated to reverse the negative impact of remote learning, especially for our low performing at-risk students. My performance objective for the Superintendent for the upcoming school year is to return the district school grades to pre-COVID performance or better. I will do all that is possible as the elected school board member for District 1 to give the Superintendent the adequate resources and support to be successful.

Fetsko: The School Board did a formal evaluation of Dr. Smith earlier this year as required in his contract and I believe his overall performance was scored as effective. His first year had significant hurdles such as Covid outbreaks, shortages in personnel, legislative changes, etc. He should have a better opportunity this coming school year to demonstrate his true abilities.

Hetherington: He gets a failing grade in my book. This guy leads a school district where failure continues to be the norm, and he has the gall to ask the school board to raise taxes. Incredibly the school board voted yes.

Laura Elder, Raymond Guillory and David Williams did not respond to the questionnaire.

A previous version of this story had the incorrect salary. This story has been corrected and updated.

Tom Ninestine is the managing editor at WUWF. He began August 1, 2019. Tom is a native of Geneva, New York, and a 1983 graduate of King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he studied journalism and political science. During a 29-year career in newspapers he worked for the Finger Lakes Times in his hometown; The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; and the Pensacola News Journal from 1998-2016.