At the Lake County School Board meeting on August 10, 2015, members will vote on whether to put a referendum on the November ballot, asking voters to change from the current at-large elections for School Board members to single-member district elections. At-large School Board members are elected by all voters in the county, and this opens the door to influence peddling by people from other districts through campaign contributions and transplanting candidates. Our group believes that representation should be within the district—we support single-member district elections (electing School Board members only in their respective districts). We support the referendum.
The Lake County School District should be renamed the South Lake School District because most of the attention, money, and efforts are being made to schools in South Lake County. Currently, you have School Board members who are supposed to be representing districts in the northern areas ignoring the needs of their schools and voters.
This is not our view—this is School Board Member District 1 Bill Mathias’s view. At the last School Board meeting Mathias said, “How well do you really represent your district? The political environment is South Lake County gets out, they vote, and they control this board. If you are not liked in South Lake, you don’t get elected. End of the story.”
School Board Member District 3 Marc Dodd, who represents Clermont south to Four Corners, made a stunning admission in a Daily Commercial article when he said, “This has come about because there is a segment of our population that is not feeling represented. The School Board members elected from their district are not fighting for their needs and so a single member district could potentially correct that. On the flipside, you also want to make sure you have a model in place where the School Board members have the best interest of the county as a whole.”
Okay, let us translate Dodd’s statement for you.
The “segment of our population” Dodd refers to is code for minorities whose children are stuck in the failing schools in North Lake County. Right now, Leesburg, Fruitland Park, and Lady Lake need a strong School Board member that advocates for them and not South Lake County.
When Dodd says, “The School Board members elected from their district are not fighting for their needs…” he unwittingly speaks the truth again. The schools in North Lake County are decaying on many levels, yet the headlines and actions of the northern School Board members are always on what can be done in South Lake County.
Consider the huge economic challenges being faced in North Lake County, yet these School Board members voted unanimously to raise school impact fees to the highest cost in the state of Florida, despite there not being any new school needs in North Lake County. The area where most of Lake County’s working families live and work, these northern School Board members voted to hurt their own constituency. There is absolutely no reason why School Board members—Stephanie Luke, Roseanne Brandeburg, and Debbie Stivender—should have supported higher school impact fees when South Lake County can vote on a school bond referendum to build schools in their district. Essentially, they are forcing North Lake County taxpayers to pay for South Lake County schools.
Finally, Dodd says, “You also want to make sure you have a model in place where the School Board members have the best interest of the county as a whole.” He is talking about South Lake County—what is in the best interest of his district.
School Board Member District 1 Bill Mathias is correct, it is about the cost of running a countywide campaign, but more importantly it is about representing your constituents. Do the people of Leesburg want South Lake County politicians deciding who will represent Leesburg? Under the current system, there is little chance a minority that truly represents the interest of his or her community in Leesburg will ever be elected to the Lake County School Board.
The following is a breakdown of the Lake County School Board members, their district, and a quick description of their district’s geography. Ask them this one question, “Who do you really represent?” It will be curious to see which School Board members fear the voters of their district by voting against allowing the referendum be put on the ballot. Let the people decide what’s best—not the politicians.
District 1—Bill Mathias—South Leesburg, Groveland, Mascotte
District 2—Rosanne Brandeburg—Lady Lake, Leesburg, Fruitland Park
District 3—Marc Dodd—Clermont down to southern county line
District 4—Debbie Stivender—Tavares, Mount Dora, Astatula, Howey-in-the-Hills
District 5—Stephanie Luke—Eustis, Umatilla, North Lake County