The race for the Leon County District 4 School Board pits an incumbent against two challengers in what many see as a referendum on accountability.
DeeDee Rasmussen has represented District 4 for eight years. She is currently the board chair, and was vice chair last year. As such, she found herself caught in the controversy swirling around the school board’s awarding of construction contracts.
She said when the allegations of improper construction bidding were made against the superintendent Jackie Pons, the school board hired an objective law firm to investigate.
“It found no criminal intent,” she said.
She said she “worked tirelessly with attorneys and the superintendent to amend seven policies and add five new policies for the construction bidding process.” Rasmussen said prior to the changes, construction bids were simply consent items on the school board’s agenda, but now a new facilities director will make a presentation at each meeting to discuss construction projects.
She said, “our policies are now more restrictive than those required by state law” and these policies were set with the hopes of “restoring taxpayers’ confidence” in the bidding process.
She believes she has the “best mix of skills” out of the three candidates running.
Rasmussen, a mother of three, has over 15 years in higher education. She was also a senior staff member in Florida’s legislative and executive branches.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science/Communications from Florida State University (FSU) and a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
She wants to “continue to keep the classroom first,” see fewer tests, more instructional training time and the preservation of the arts. “It is important to educate the whole child.”
Patrick Cannon felt compelled to enter the District 4 School Board race when he heard of the problems caused by the board’s lack of oversight of the superintendent.
“The school board should be five people who hold the superintendent accountable,” he said. “The board should have been more active rather than just rubber stamping. Budget expenditures were passed with little oversight.”
He said he would provide fiscal accountability, oversight and transparency, not only on construction contracts, but also on salaries at the district level, which he said are highly inflated. “Let’s put money where it is best suited versus pet projects that are for political gain,” Cannon said.
If elected, Cannon said, “I want to put more control back into the teachers’ hands.” He said teachers have told him morale is horrible. He said, “They tell me they are micro-managed, don’t feel like they are actually teaching, and feel like they are pushing kids through a system.”
After suffering a life-time from dyslexia and attention deficit, Cannon knows the struggles children with disabilities face trying to get an education. He said growing up, “I didn’t know I could go to college.” But he did, earning a BA in political science from FSU in 2007.
In 2012 he was appointed to the Florida Rehabilitation Council, which oversees vocational rehabilitation within the Florida Department of Education. It makes recommendations on policies which assists people with disabilities as they leave the K-12 system.
The third candidate, Tallie Gainer said he’s been dismayed by the money spent in legal services over the construction contracts controversy. “This has taken the focus away from the children,” he said. “It was a problem created by themselves (the school board). Dee Dee even changed her phone number. But that’s not the main focus of why I’m running.”
A father of four, Gainer got into the race because he feels parents need a voice on the school board. He sees a school board that is disconnected from the schools and the students it serves.
Gainer is a Christian radio host and a former student recruiter for FAMU. He attended FAMU and graduated from the University of South Florida with a B.S. in Science. He is also a former teacher and assistant principal at Capital City Public Charter High School. He said when the school closed and had its last graduation, not one member of the school board showed up.
“That touched me,” he said.
He wants to improve parental involvement at the board level. He wants to “take policy and translate it for parents and community stakeholders so they can understand and be better involved.”
He wants to create “satellite school board meetings” around the district, closer to the parents, and use social media to increase parental participation. ” Gainer hopes to “bridge the communications disconnect.”
“I feel I am a neutral force for good. I am not political. There comes a time that parents need a solid voice,” Gainer said.