Editorial board recommendation 2020: Indian River County School Board races| Our View

opinion

TERM: Four years

DISTRICT 3 CANDIDATES:

  • Peggy Jones, 67, Vero Beach 
  • Laura Zorc, 48, Vero Beach (incumbent)

DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATES:

  • Brian Barefoot, 77, Vero Beach 
  • Alla Kramer, 49, Vero Beach 

KEY ISSUES: Leadership, education experience/excellence, fiscal responsibility, collegiality.

More: See Indian River County candidate bios and what their stances ar

Voters have two choices to make for school board, one of which should be easy.

In District 5, represented by Tiffany Justice, Alla Kramer, is an office manager, small business owner and former teacher. She faces Brian Barefoot, a former financial services executive at companies such as Merrill Lynch and PaineWebber.

Kramer, whose children attended local public and charter schools, is a quality candidate with diverse volunteer experiences. She’d likely be a good board member.

Barefoot, however, is what the board needs. He might be the most qualified candidate to ever run for Indian River County School Board. He’d provide leadership for an often dysfunctional board.

His experiences would be invaluable, having spent 11 years chairing the finance or audit committees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and private companies. Locally, he has served on the St. Edward’s School and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital Foundation boards.

Barefoot has spent decades on other education boards at four institutions, including Babson College, where he was president before “retiring” to Vero Beach.

Barefoot was mayor of Indian River Shores, and worked to get FPL as the town’s electric provider. One blemish came in 2015, when he was fined $200 after being charged with a civil Sunshine Law violation for emailing another council member.

We recommend Barefoot highly, but commend Kramer for her campaign and knowledge of the issues.

District 3 features a race between experienced candidates.

Peggy Jones, with a doctorate degree in education, has done just about every athletic and academic job in a school district, and worked for a statewide athletic association. She retired in 2018 as assistant superintendent for Indian River County middle and high schools.

Laura Zorc, who has chaired the School Board the past two years, worked in operations management before getting involved in her children’s education as an anti-Common Core activist and president of the Indian River County Council PTA.

In late 2018, she and Justice were just two years into their first terms when three new board members were elected. Zorc was thrust into the chair position.

The next several months were dysfunctional as some board members occasionally sniped at each other. While Superintendent Mark Rendell was trying to investigate school finances, he wasn’t supported by Zorc and others.

When Rendell, under contract through mid-2020, said he was looking for a job elsewhere, Zorc wanted a new superintendent. Eventually she got one, but not before lots of board dissent, angst and confusion.

Her frustration in trying to get the board to replace a superintendent was evident.

“We are trying to do this blindly and it makes us look like the stooges up here because we don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

An ongoing feud between Zorc and Justice, evident on the dais, recently spilled into social media in an unprofessional way.

“She (Justice) is jeopardizing this board,” Zorc told Jose Lambiet’s Palm Beach Research International. “We’re a much better board than before, except for one single member.”

Her opponent has been in the news, too.

In 2000 as principal at Sebastian River High School, Jones challenged the schools superintendent and Vero Beach High School principal for “stalking” football players accused of being recruited.

In 2005, Superintendent Tom Maher’s plan to transfer Jones to Gifford Middle School led to protest and his eventual ouster.

In 2008, Jones refused to speak publicly about a reported hazing incident on the Sebastian River baseball team that cost a popular coach his job.

Zorc and Jones have the knowledge necessary to contribute. In our interview, Jones clearly articulated metrics critical to determining the district’s effectiveness: graduation rate, third-grade reading and math scores, middle school academic gains. Zorc did the same in 2016 when we recommended her, but seemed more vague this year.

Jones seems focused on the board’s main roles: setting policy and budget, and hiring and overseeing the superintendent and attorney. She correctly noted district legal fees have been way too high.

Zorc has worked hard the past three years, but Jones appears more focused and polished. We recommend Jones.

TCPalm’s candidate recommendations are decided collectively by its Editorial Board. Recommendations are based on nonpartisan criteria that prioritize the best candidates for our local community.

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