After the Sun Sentinel editorial board conducted their interview with the four candidates in this race, they chose to endorse Dr. Allen Zeman.
INTERVIEW WITH EDITORIAL BOARD, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
For School Board Candidates 2022
June 30, 2022
Name: ALLEN ZEMAN, Candidate for District
Grand juries for decades have accused the district and School Board members of corruption or incompetence. How do you change that culture?
Changing culture is hard, but in this case, it must be done. Transparency needs to start now, before the election. Voters deserve to know what is in latest the grand jury report which was completed 15 months ago. They need full disclosure about who is paying the lawyers to keep it from the public and whether public funds are being used to pay lawyers to keep information from them.
As one clear signal of my commitment to ethical conduct, I sign a statement committing myself to follow the federal civil servant ethics standards. The Florida ethical standards are far too lax.Meeting Florida ethical standards is like pole vaulting over a mouse turd.
Consistent with the federal ethical standards, I will not accept up to $100 in gifts from School Board vendors per year – I will accept NO gifts. I will not race through the “School Board member leaves office and becomes employee of a BCPS vendor” revolving door – I will not work for any Broward County Public Schools vendors until the federal cooling-off period has passed. I will work with the other school board members to create an advisory panel chaired by former Florida Ethics Commissions Chairs to advise us on how to change the culture that existed with past/current School Boards. The current culture is unacceptable and does disservice to our 30,000 employees, the students and all the parents of students. I will lead this effort by example.
How would you assess the district’s implementation of the $800 million bond issue that voters approved in 2014?
The SMART bond initiative has been nothing short of a disaster. Florida Tax Watch has reported all the specifics, but I live down the street from Rickard’s Middle School where the cafeteria roof collapsed, traumatizing some students, and leading to the closure of the school. That roof was scheduled to be done three years earlier, but the current Board wants to distract us with the fact that the athletic fields were done on time. Why weren’t all facilities done on time and within budget? That would have been a better goal. Or maybe the School Board could have set an audacious goal of completing the construction early to show voters they could manage taxpayer funds with the same veracity that they manage their own funds? It’s been a shameful combination of poor execution and an absence of effective oversight.
We are now hearing there will be new delays added to the existing delays and that costs have risen considerably. The consequences of the SMART bond failure go well beyond scrared students and excessive costs – the voters are concerned about approving a proposed referendum on August 23 to raise their taxes to pay primarily for teacher salaries. Paying more in taxes to increase teacher salaries has substantial voter support, but the voters don’t trust the Broward County School Board to oversee the allocation of the funds. So, the failure to construct the 2014 SMART bond school facilities on time and within budget is putting teacher salaries at
risk. We must do better.
Why should voters elect you instead of your opponent(s)?
- I know that education matters to save our democracy.
- I am committed to ethical behavior and transparent decision making, something that is needed as much now as it was in 2011. We have to restore trust and faith in our elected Broward County school leaders.
- I have experiences – 26 years in executive positions – that would enable me to be an effective executive leader on the Broward County School Board.
- I attended Broward County schools from K-12 grade.
- I have three children in Broward County Public Schools. They youngest ones (twins) are starting third grade this fall, so I plan to have children in our public schools for the next 10 years. (I have seven children, but the older four have earned college degrees.)
- I have the time and energy to commit to the hard work that will be required.
- I led the largest training and education organization in the world (the US Navy Training and Education).
- I know how to oversee the allocation of budget resources in large systems.
- I have shown my commitment to others in serving my city, state and nation.
- I am fully qualified to hold Broward County Schools leaders accountable for operating an effective system.
- I am educated as an Economist and Data Scientist who will use sound educational research and advanced analytic techniques to inform decision making.
- I will take office and immediately pledge to uphold federal employee ethics standards -accepting no gifts from vendors ever and abiding by “cooling off” restrictions.
What in your life experience best qualifies you to serve as a school board member?
My commitment to servant leadership. It is part of my nature to serve others. I saw this daily in my family where my father worked for Broward County Public Schools for three decades. I saw this with my mother who earned her high school degree when she was 28, and then went on to earn her PHD and teach at FAU. I lived it with the choice to have seven children and be actively engaged with them. I experienced what it means to serve as a civilian working for the US Navy where I took the most demanding assignments and learned the hardships of being forward deployed, including living away from my family for one year in an active combat zone. I am the person who gets asked the hard questions from others. I am the senior executive who has helped hundreds of Admirals and General Officers transition into their first signments and then help them later in their careers, as they transition to civilian life. Service brings me joy while individual recognition feels shallow. Through multiple applications of servant leadership, I have led diverse teams that worked with diligence to attain significant, measurable outcomes.
I’d like to serve as a member of the Broward County School Board to make my father proud, prove that my mother was right after all, and serve my children and all of the students in Broward County as we create a great school system that will serve as the model for Florida.
The school district will ask voters to extend and/or increase an existing property tax that is allowed by state law subject to voter approval. Do you support or oppose this tax increase, and why?
Like many voters, I suppose I support it. The biggest reason I will vote in favor of the referendum is because it will provide funds for higher teacher salaries, recruiting and training.
I am not strongly in favor of this referendum for several reasons. Like many of the voters I’ve talked to, I’d like to know more about how much revenue will be generated and what specifically it will be spent on. I’d also like to hear more from the current School Board – mea culpa would be a good place to start about the failed execution of the construction funded by the 2014 SMART bond. I’d like to hear what improved practices have been, or will be, put in place to ensure that these funds will be spent as they are described in the referendum material. Right now, we are being told that “at least 75% will be set aside for teacher salaries, training and recruiting.” As anyone experience in government budgeting would note, that’s three very different things. I’d like to know how much of this will be spent specifically on teacher salaries and which teachers will get salary increases. In the past, additional funds have been shared primarily with new teachers so there is little difference in actual salaries between them and teachers with far more experience. Seems like the current leadership should want to stablish more trust with the public by revealing the details of their plan to the public.
What do you think of changes made in school safety since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? What still needs to change?
My experience working as a national security leader and serving on the Department of Defense School Board suggests that we still need changes to ensure that another mass shooting does not happen at any of our schools. In general, we need to shift from a compliance mindset to a security system mindset where we constantly challenge our assumptions, stay one step ahead of the threat and train the law enforcement staff who would be our first responders. We have secured perimeters, added single points of entry and installed security systems at all our schools. We have frequent drills and schools comply with myriad reporting requirements. But critical work remains to ensure that all staff know the potential for another mass shooting. In the national security world where I worked, we were often remined, “the soft stuff is usually the hard stuff” for improving security – we need the soft stuff (staff, parents, students, volunteers, law enforcement personnel and neighbors) to all do their part and remain vigilant.
How would you assess the performance of Superintendent Vickie Cartwright?
I have not established standards of performance nor observed her performance first-hand. Thus, I can’t provide an informed assessment of her performance. In my observation, she’s qualified for the position and I look forward to being an effective, clear member of her evaluation team.I plan to assess her as the primary senior executive reporting to the Board who makes the executive decisions that affect the performance of the whole system that she’s been asked to lead. We will discuss all the duties assigned to her in Florida code. I will hold her accountable for senior executive leadership – and for her oversight of the operations and tactical execution at schools. The job of a Superintendent includes leading others; recruiting and retaining effective leaders; coaching her team to higher levels of performance each year; setting clear and achievable standards for the whole system; and creating effective systems that enable measurable achievements.
Do you support or oppose the School Board’s decision to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order on mask mandates in schools, and why?
If I was on the board when this had happened, I would have supported this decision. Protecting the health and safety of students will always be my top priority.
The governor advocates an agenda for school board candidates that emphasizes “parental rights” and “combatting the woke agenda from infiltrating public schools,” as quoted on his website. Do you support or oppose this initiative and why?
The governor is seeking to build a campaign platform on attacking marginalized groups. While we respect the rights of every parent to be involved in their child’s education, the characterization that these culture wars have anything to do with parental involvement is disingenuous at best. In the example of the Parental Rights/ “Don’t Say Gay” bill for example, it ignores the rights and dignity of LGBTQ parents and families.
Should Florida’s commissioner of education be elected or appointed, and why?
I prefer an appointed Florida Commissioner of Education.
I would want them to be approved by a supermajority of the Florida Senators so that both parties approve a commissioner who is dedicated to serving the students and citizens of Florida. Education should not be a partisan issue and a commissioner with bipartisan support would be far better for our education system. Education is too important for the commissioner to be appointed by the governor and approved exclusively by the senators from one party.
The Legislature in 2022 passed a law (HB 1467) that allows parents to object to books they consider “inappropriate.” Do you support or oppose this law and why?
I do not support the new law for three reasons.
One, the law is probably unconstitutional and could be challenged successfully by the students who are not provided the banned books. Landmark court rulings, including Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982), have found that books cannot be removed from school libraries simply because certain individuals think they’re offensive. As the Supreme Court ruling said, “Students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” But in this law Florida gives all residents, not just parents, the right to file an objection.Two, this is another misuse of legislative energy. Public education in Florida has urgent
concerns: lack of funding; teacher attrition and staff disengagement; and severely inadequate facilities. When legislative energy is spent on books, it is not spent on other, strategic issues that deserve more attention.
Three, the implementation is impractical. A new system where individuals are enabled to file formal complaints about a book places a substantial, unfunded burden on teachers, librarians and school administrators. Further, it tells experienced teachers and librarians that their political leaders do not trust their judgment to pick appropriate books. At a time where talent is scarce across occupations, that message will increase attrition, decrease our ability to recruit and disengage the teachers who remain.
The Legislature passed HB 1557, which bans classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 and in higher grades unless it is “age-appropriate.” Critics have called it the “don’t say gay” law. Do you support or oppose it and why?
I oppose this law. The obvious risk with this law is the message it sends to marginalized populations. These populations already have a high risk of suicide, depression, and drug abuse. We did not need a law that prohibits instruction about certain topics and further alienates marginal populations. The bill was searching for a problem that doesn’t exist. Current guidelines prohibit inappropriate discussions with all students. Moreover, teachers are educated, certified, and experienced at handling age-appropriate conversations.
Further, this law does is unclear on critical points. Residents and education professionals still ask, “What does it mean?”, and “what can I do, and what can I not do?” For a law to be effective and stand up to a legal challenge, it must be unambiguous — this one is very ambiguous. Teachers, parents, students, and the courts must understand what is prohibited and what is not. This law is confusing and will be struck by the courts when challenged because it is too ambiguous.
What is not ambiguous is that this law and our new law on banned books is having a chilling effect on the conduct and commitment of our teachers. They feel under attack. Teachers deserve far more positive acknowledgement for what they are asked to do every school day,while we hold them accountable for educational achievement and general development of our most valued assets: our children.
Define what you consider “age appropriate” for classroom discussion of sexual orientation.
I believe that all questions from students should be addressed immediately and with responses that are appropriate for the age and maturity of the student. Responses should be honest and factual. Excessive information is not required. In some cases, a referral to a school counselor or administrator is advised. The responses should stay within the established guidelines for age appropriate conversations.
Do you believe that Florida schools try to indoctrinate students, and why?
No. The real problem is censorship. There is an effort by members of the legislature to rewrite history and censor honest conversations about race, diversity, and LGBTQ people.
List in reverse chronological order each college or university attended with years of attendance.
2010 – 2011: George Mason University, Executive Coaching Certification Program
1981 – 1989: The Florida State University, BS in Economics and Business, MS and PHD in Economics with specialties in Econometrics and Labor Economics
List in reverse chronological order your work history for the past 15 years.
2009 – 2022: The Center for Human Capital Innovation, Fort Lauderdale, FL. Training, leader development, consulting, executive coaching, and advanced analytics for clients.
2007 – 2009: The Spectrum Group, Alexandria, VA. Strategy consulting for clients on human capital management, leadership, corporate strategy, and growth.
Have you ever been a party to a lawsuit, including bankruptcy or foreclosure? If so, provide details of the case and disposition.
I was party to one lawsuit, a 2011 collections dispute where another firm refused to pay my firm on time for services rendered. It was resolved out of court in my firm’s favor.
Have you ever been charged or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, including an adjudication of guilt withheld? If so, provide charges, dates and terms of sentence.
List current and former memberships in civic, fraternal or social organizations.
Fort Lauderdale Education Advisory Board
Broward County Public Schools Oversight Committee
Cosmos Club (Washington, DC)
International Coaching Federation
Senior Executive Association
Concerned Citizens of Broward
Dolphin Isles Homeowners Association
Sigma Nu Fraternity and VP of the Inter-Fraternity Council
Member of the FSU Student Senate