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In School Board race, a fresh face and an old hand square off

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

INVERNESS -- For voters choosing a District 3 School Board member on Tuesday, the decision comes down to one issue.

Is someone entrenched and immersed in the school district the better bet? Or would a newcomer with no predetermined bias be a better choice?

The race pits incumbent Pat Deutschman, who has worked in the schools for years as an involved parent and for the past four as an active board member, against opponent Mark Wilson, running on the platform that he wants to do public service and isn't so connected with the schools.

He has no criticism of his opponent, no specific areas where he thinks the district needs immediate attention and no detailed plans about how to improve schools if he wins.

Wilson said he offers the fresh perspective of a parent who has been involved with youth and wants to be more involved serving the county's children.

Deutschman and Wilson advocate the need to thoroughly research issues that might come before the board. But Wilson said that going to the appropriate administrator to seek answers before a board vote might not be enough. He said he had a long talk with school administration about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and was directed to check a state Web site that answered questions about the test.

There he read that Florida educators spend a tiny percentage of their time, maybe 1 percent, preparing students to take the FCAT. But when he quizzed local teachers, he found that number closer to 50 percent.

"We need to talk to teachers," he said. "They're the ones who really know."

The teachers' union supports Deutschman but noted that, if Wilson educated himself more on the issues, he could be a good candidate for the future. Wilson said that reaction pleased him.

"I feel representative of citizens in Citrus County with perhaps some new ideas, some different thinking, some out-of-the-box thinking," Wilson said. "I come from outside the system and I think that's a plus."

Since only two candidates seek the District 3 seat in the nonpartisan race, the winner Tuesday will get the seat. As local elections go, this race has been low key and inexpensive: As of the most recent date for filing campaign information, barely more than $2,000 had been spent through the middle of last month for both candidates combined.

Deutschman has focused on her record.

She sought to put more accountability into the system and to improve academic achievement. She regularly asks school administrators to justify that programs are accomplishing the goals they were designed to accomplish. On the academic achievement side, she points to improving FCAT scores and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in school improvement money Citrus has reaped.

"It's a good time to be running for re-election," Deutschman said last week.

She is a strong proponent of gathering specific data to help educators make decisions about programs and has worked with school advisory/enhancement councils to make the school improvement planning process more uniform and data-driven.

While both candidates see the value of making schools accountable through some use of the FCAT, each sees the test's use in a different way.

Wilson said he does not think the results provide the individualized information that schools need to help students. "I think it looks at the whole more" than the individual, he said.

Deutschman said the FCAT is being used to provide individualized information. Improving student scores are proof of that.

Wilson favors community incentives as well as pay raises as ways to attract and retain teachers. He also said he would favor study of a modern alternative to textbooks.

He would like to see computer notebooks like the ones used in parts of Japan.

Lower class sizes in early grades is another focus in Wilson's platform.

"That's molding time," he said. "We've got those little computers working. Let's download the information to them."

Wilson said he understands the board's role is to set policy and the superintendent must put that policy in place.

That doesn't mean that he won't question what is brought to the board.

"I'm not a rubber stamp type of person," he said. "I'm glad to see when board members ask questions. . . . If it looks like a fish and smells like a fish, I'm not going to wait until it's wrapped in newspaper and sitting on my doorstep."

But Wilson said one of his greatest assets is his ability to compromise. "I do my utmost to play well with others," he said. "It gets a lot more done."

Deutschman said she knows there have been communications issues between the superintendent and the board.

"There are times when we feel that we are out of the loop," she said. "I don't think it's intentional, but others do."

The trick to improving communications is to make sure the board is specific with its instructions.

"Sometimes we're not as clear as we can be," she said.

THE INCUMBENT

PAT DEUTSCHMAN, 51, was born Bronxville, N.Y., and came to the area in 1983 from South Florida. She graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School and earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of South Florida in 1973. She works in her husband's law office and previously worked as a clinical chemistry technologist and a medical technologist. A longtime volunteer in the schools, Deutschman has been active in various school advisory/enhancement councils, attended Leadership Citrus, is a member of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce and previously worked with Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops in Inverness. She is married and has two sons.

THE CHALLENGER

MARK WILSON, 47, is a Miami native who works as a boat captain for the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. A graduate of Miami Senior High School, Wilson earned his captain's license through the U.S. Coast Guard. Previously, he worked at area golf courses in lawn maintenance. He is vice president of TOO FAR, or Taxpayers Outraged Organization for Accountable Representation, is an alternate for the Lake Tsala Apopka Basin Recreation and Advisory Board and is a coach with the Inverness Little League. He is married and has two children.

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