Policy chasm divides two candidates
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Voters have an distinct choice on Nov. 5 in the race for School Board District 1, which pits incumbent Robert Wiggins against the man he replaced in 1998, Stephen Galaydick.
Though they're both registered Republicans, the candidates in this nonpartisan race come from different wings of the party and they agree on little. They also offer distinct operating styles; Wiggins is hands-off, laid-back and policy-oriented, while Galaydick is a hard-charging and detail-oriented activist.
That much is obvious even at board meetings, where Wiggins makes few comments from the dais while Galaydick asks questions from the floor.
The candidate who wins likely will be the swing vote on a board that often splits 3-2 on controversial issues.
Galaydick, who received 24 percent of the ballots cast in the four-person primary election on Sept. 10, has promised to question every recommendation made by the administration.
Wiggins, who led the primary with 35 percent of the vote, said he intends to continue to defer to superintendent Wendy Tellone and her staff on daily matters.
With several critical items headed to the board, including how to ease school crowding and adequately pay teachers, the district's future in many ways depends on who serves from District 1.
Galaydick, 48, has spared no effort in criticizing what he considers Wiggins' lackluster performance on the board.
He has blasted the incumbent, who ousted him in the 1998 Republican primary 54 percent to 46 percent. He said Wiggins and the slim majority he sides with are little more than a rubber stamp for the administration, which Galaydick has railed against with equal vigor.
"This is not a ceremonial position," Galaydick said. "This is hard work. And I was probably the hardest-working board member. I read everything. If the program doesn't have merit, I will not go along with it simply because the administration wants to do it."
Galaydick used the district's recently approved strategic plan as an example. He said it failed to address the public's priorities, and he questioned why the board so willingly adopted it.
"It's very clear a majority of the board, and I mean the three gentlemen, put more stock in shrubbery than they do in staff. How beautiful the campus looks has no bearing. It's the instruction in the classroom," Galaydick said, taking a jab at the section of the plan that places attention on school aesthetics.
The strategic plan does not identify district needs, Galaydick contended, noting that it makes no mention of a possible extension of the half-cent sales tax the board has talked about continuing to pay for more new schools. He has said the district is wasting a year of revenue by allowing the tax to end before asking voters to reauthorize it.
The plan fails to indicate a percentage of the general fund the board should hold in reserve, he said, nd it fails to make references from one section to another in a way that would make it cohesive.
"It's a feel-good plan that has so many holes in it," Galaydick said of the five-year program, which Wiggins supported.
Galaydick focuses much of his attention on finances, which have been the subject of much consternation and confusion. During the past four years, the district has gone through three financial directors, each of whom had a different take on its financial health.
At one point, the board had to make drastic cuts because of a feared deficit. Later, all was well. Galaydick recalled that the board was told in December 2000 that its self-insurance health care program was failing, yet the board declined to start looking for a new insurance company.
"Five million (dollars) was squandered on self-insurance," Galaydick said, then pointed out that Wiggins supported the idea.
He has called for twice-a-year, line-by-line budget reviews. He further would like to see the district annually return all unused capital projects money to the general fund so it can be used elsewhere.
Calling the budget a "maze," Galaydick said, "That's why no one can figure out what's going on. I believe that's the way the administration likes it, because it puts them in control and not the board that the public elects."
Galaydick said he would assert control, if elected. He prides himself on his attention to detail, noting that during his tenure, he helped bring $1.5-million to the district through a soft drink contract and arranged to have a cell phone tower owner prepay five years of lease payments to the district.
Yet sometimes his efforts rub people the wrong way. Just last month, Galaydick berated district staff members for their unwillingness to provide him with free copies of the board agenda and all associated backup material. Even his supporters cringed.
He saw the reaction as a "clear indication this administration does not want to work with me."
He remains undeterred, though, in his bid to return to the board. Other ideas he promotes include building a neighborhood school rather than a magnet to ease elementary school crowding, restructuring junior- and senior-level courses at high schools and hiring a full-time board attorney. He says that board member and administrative salaries should be tied to a starting teacher's pay, and that the board should begin planning its budget in September so it can make financial requests to the Legislature when it meets in the spring.
Galaydick supports all the education-related state constitutional amendments on the ballot.
He has raised $4,450 for his campaign, most of it his own money. The Hernando Builders Association has endorsed Galaydick.
Wiggins, 44, stands firmly on his record in support of school uniforms, a restructured administration and an advanced placement academy at Springstead High School, among other things.
He thinks that all the district's financial problems, which he said were mostly related to the self-insurance program, have been resolved and that the board is working well together as a team.
He has called Galaydick divisive, saying he offers a gentler approach that other board members and district employees appreciate.
"I think I've brought stability to the board," Wiggins said. "When he was on the board, they fired one superintendent, and another considered resigning shortly after he had been hired. I've brought stability and a team-oriented approach. Staff feels more free to come up with cost-saving measures, innovative ideas, creative solutions without the fear of being shot down in public."
Wiggins defended the board's new strategic plan as a guideline for the district to follow.
"It's not trying to make all the decisions for five years," he said. "It sets priorities, goals and objectives."
As the board sets future budgets, he said, it will attempt to ensure that spending correlates with the plan's priorities. That the administration, not the board, wrote all of the details is not important, Wiggins added.
"It's not the board's job to go home at night or hold multiple workshops to create a strategic plan of our own," he said. "We're there to oversee it, to make sure it makes sense and that it's doable and that it's a good plan."
Early in the campaign, Wiggins said the district had no money problems. The confusion arose because "reporters trained in journalism" had a difficult time understanding some "complex financial issues," he said.
He still does not call the situation a crisis, but acknowledges that the district faced some tough times because the self-insurance health care plan "was bleeding." No actuarial projections anticipated the problems, he said, and there were troubles even with the district's reinsurance plan.
"It was a good idea," he said. "We were in the right place, just at the wrong time."
Headed forward, Wiggins said, the most important issue for the board is how to ease crowding in schools. He made the motion to create a new magnet school, but remains uncertain whether it should be a joint elementary and middle school as the administration has suggested.
"I want to be convinced that there's not going to be a problem with interaction between kindergarteners and eighth-graders," he said. "I'm sure it can be done. I just want to be sure it's done in a suitable manner."
He has called for higher teacher salaries starting at the entry level. He agreed that the School Board members' pay should be tied to beginning educators' pay.
Wiggins said the district also needs to improve academics by requiring math, science and English in all four high school years and adding another advanced placement academy at Hernando High School.
During the campaign, Wiggins has been criticized because he does not send his children to public schools, despite his 1998 pitch that he wanted to serve on the School Board because his children would be entering the district.
"I want to reinforce at school what we teach them at home and they learn in church," Wiggins explained. "Unfortunately, there are several Supreme Court decisions which have outlawed public prayer and the Bible in our schools. So therefore, it's purely for spiritual reasons. It has nothing to do with academics."
His daughters will attend public school at some point, he said.
Wiggins backs Gov. Jeb Bush 's A-Plus education reform plan. He does not support the smaller class size or the voluntary prekindergarten constitutional amendments.
Wiggins has raised $5,225 for his campaign, most of it his own money. He has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO of West Central Florida, the Hernando County Association of Realtors, the Communications Workers of America and Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.
Constitutional amendments on class size and prekindergarten
GALAYDICK: Supports. Says smaller class sizes would take place over time, so the district can plan accordingly. Says prekindergarten should be made available to help children prepare for school and to lessen the burden on social services later.
WIGGINS: Opposes. Says each program is too costly.
GALAYDICK: Wants to see a neighborhood school built in the most populous area of Hernando County to ease crowding. Has doubts about a joint elementary-middle school as proposed.
WIGGINS: Wants the next school to draw students by lottery as a science and math magnet. Has doubts about a joint elementary-middle as proposed.
School Board pay
GALAYDICK: Says board members' salaries should be tied to entry-level teacher pay.
WIGGINS: Says board members' salaries should be tied to entry-level teacher pay.
GALAYDICK: Calls for twice-a-year, line-item budget reviews. Proposes setting budget goals in September, before the Legislature meets, so the district can fight for funding during the legislative session.
WIGGINS: Says the district is in fine financial shape with debt reduced, health insurance costs reined in and detailed monthly reports regularly coming to the board.
GALAYDICK: Wants focus on reforming high school instruction, with junior and senior classes taught more like university courses. Calls for the creation of a program to train students to be teachers at the new Nature Coast Technical High School.
WIGGINS: Wants to see more required math and science courses. Advocates grouping of students by ability.
GALAYDICK: Says the board should seek an extension of the current half-cent sales tax to pay for future construction needs now, because waiting means missed revenue.
WIGGINS: Says the board should wait until the current tax ends, so the board can prove it has used the past revenue as promised before it asks voters for more money.
PERSONAL: Born Jan. 1, 1954, in Scranton, Pa. Moved to Hernando County in 1989. Married to Tara, who works in the Hernando County Development Department, since 1981. Son, Bradley, 16, attends Central High School. Lives in Spring Hill.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, journalism, William Paterson University, Wayne, N.J.
POLITICAL: Held the District 1 School Board seat from 1994 to 1998.
PROFESSIONAL: Multiple accounts coordinator for the Florida Lottery since 2001. Previously was a national sales manager for Kinematics & Controls Corp. of Brooksville.
Highlights of Galaydick's platform
Provide leadership and direction to the board.
Provide a living wage to teachers and support personnel.
Promote educational initiatives that help children excel.
Put the district's "financial house" back in order.
PERSONAL: Born July 27, 1958, in Jacksonville. Moved to Hernando County in 1988. Married to Jennifer since 1991. Daughters, Carly, 8, and Shane, 6, attend Spring Hill Christian Academy. Lives in Spring Hill.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, accounting, University of South Florida, Tampa. Bachelor's degree, finance, University of Florida, Gainesville.
POLITICAL: Serving first term on the School Board.
PROFESSIONAL: Customer service manager at the Hernando County Utilities Department since October 2000. Previously was utilities finance manager. Served in the U.S. Navy from 1983 to 1987.
Highlights of Wiggins' platform
Support school uniforms.
Oppose social promotion of students.
Require more math and science classes.
Support ability grouping of students to increase academic performance.
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