Leon School Board Candidates Sound Off At Forum

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The two candidates for the only contested Leon County School Board race recently shared a podium.

The current school board chair Forrest VanCamp is being challenged by Deer Lake Middle School teacher Alva Striplin.

Striplin and VanCamp spoke Tuesday at the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates or NEBA luncheon.

Van Camp told the packed room at Capital City Country Club he's been the fiscally conservative voice on the school board.

He also stressed his experience in education dating to 1969 as a teacher.

In her remarks, Striplin says she believes it's important to have a teacher on the school board.

"Education is in a state of reform, drastic reform," Striplin said. "Our teachers are jumping through hoops like you can't imagine. Teacher evaluation test scores tied to merit pay, tests that are constantly evolving and changing. We can't keep up with what we're supposed to be teaching," she said.

"It is tough being a teacher," said VanCamp. "But those are not things that have been imposed by the Leon County School Board. They've been imposed by some unreasonable mandates by the State of Florida and from the U.S. Office of Education," he said.

VanCamp went on to say he's totally against the federal Common Core standards.

He says it could help destroy public education.

In their four minute speeches, neither candidate addressed ongoing investigations into the school district's spending on construction projects.

In a straw vote of NEBA members Striplin defeated VanCamp.

Three candidates are campaigning for an open Tallahassee Commission seat.

The seat was left vacant when current Commissioner Andrew Gillum decided to run for mayor.

David Riddle, Diana Oropallo and Curtis Richardson are each hoping to win Commission Seat 2.

On Tuesday, the candidates made their cases at a lunch forum.

Violent crime has caught the attention of the three candidates.

They all spoke about it at Tuesday's Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates or NEBA meeting.

"Public safety is issue number one. This didn't happen overnight. We can't put this on the shoulders of our police force. We need to find ways to work together as a community to deal with the increased violence that we're having," said Oropallo.

Riddle says he doesn't believe the city manager should be appointing the fire or police chief.

"You just don't do that, You don't give a man a command of a fire department, a police department and tell them how to do business," Riddle said.

Richardson pointed to his experience in public service, including 8 years as a state representative.

"That's the experience I want to bring to the city commission to be able to contribute day 1 to address our issue of expanding our private sector economic base, addressing the issue of crime and violence in our community," Richardson said.

In a question and answer period, Richardson's two opponents both targeted him, Riddle criticizing campaign contributions from Gadsden County and Oropallo calling Richardson a career politician.

Richardson responded by saying regional cooperation means the contributions are appropriate and stated his passion is public service not his career.

In a straw vote of NEBA members, Oropallo won, followed by Richardson and Riddle.

In the same straw vote in the race for Commission Seat 3, Steve Stewart defeated Nancy Miller.

And in the only contested Leon County Board of Education race, Alva Striplin beat Forrest Van Camp in the NEBA straw poll.

Tallahassee public safety is a hot topic in the races for city commission.

The candidates for two seats voiced their opinions Tuesday at the Network of Entrepreneurs and Business Advocates or NEBA meeting.

Seat two is an open race with no incumbent and three candidates.

Diana Oropallo, David Riddle and Curtis Richardson all agree crime is a serious issue and needs to be addressed.

Riddle says it's wrong to have Tallahassee City Manager Anita Favors Thompson hire the police and fire chiefs.

Oropallo says public safety is her number one issue.

Richardson pointed out he's being endorsed by the local Police Benevolent Association or PBA.

The sharpest exchange on the public safety issue came in the race for seat 3.

Incumbent Nancy Miller is being challenged by local newspaper publisher Steve Stewart.

Stewart says Miller and the commission have done a poor job prioritizing public safety.

Miller says a lot of the community needs have been shelved due to a tough economy and no tax increase.

"We need more police, we need more staff in the animal shelter, we need a new senior center and that's just to tough on a few things the city needs," said Miller. "We're going to be addressing those needs in the coming years," she said.

"We're number two in violent crime," said Stewart. "We didn't get here overnight. There was requests for the last five years to help out the police officers. Instead we found money for a brew pub and at the same meeting, said we didn't have money for police officers, that's a fact," he said.

During a question and answer period, Miller asked Stewart if he would've raised taxes to hire more police officers.

Stewart said he would've used the brew pub money.

He also said he'd get rid of the community redevelopment downtown district.

He characterized tax money used for new student housing, a restaurant and a pharmacy as wasteful.

Miller says she's been accessible during her first term.

She says she's made a point of listening to all sides of any issue before making up her mind.

Leon County School Board candidates Alva Striplin and Forrest Van Camp also spoke at Tuesday's meeting.

Striplin, who's a middle school teacher, said the board needs a teacher to sort through all the mandated testing changes from the state and federal government.

She said Leon County is ranked 52nd in the state in teacher salaries.

Van Camp stressed his experience as a past teacher and current school board member.

Van Camp says the board has been hamstrung by federal and state mandates.

He also said he does not support the new federal Common Core standards.

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