GOLDEN GATE — A local politician, a Collier County educator and a Naples businessman are the three candidates who hope to be the newest member of the Collier County School Board.
The three are vying for the School Board District 3 seat being vacated by Steve Donovan. Candidates for the district seat, covering North Naples and Golden Gate Estates, are Kathleen Ryan, Barbara Berry and Reg Buxton.
Each candidate must reside in the district but will be elected by all Collier voters in the nonpartisan contest. Everyone registered may vote in the Aug. 24 primary for a School Board candidate in each district with an open seat _ Districts 1, 3 and 5.
Berry, 70, is the candidate with the most experience in local politics, having served on the Collier County Commission from 1996 to 2000 and on the Collier County School Board in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. She touts particular knowledge of the Florida laws that govern School Board actions.
Ryan, 69, is a former educator and administrator with an in-depth knowledge of the Florida laws that govern public school operations, including budgets. She has three decades of experience in Collier County schools.
Buxton, 66, is a businessman and publisher of the Naples Journals. He said his background makes him most qualified to review the School District’s approximate $1 billion budget.
The candidates have differing approaches to the challenges the district faces.
But they each contend that communication is lacking among the administration, board, public, teachers and students.
Buxton’s approach is to hire an ombudsman. Meanwhile, he said the board needs to require the superintendent to address communication shortcomings through more frequent performance reviews.
Berry and Ryan also said more frequent performance reviews are necessary, but questioned whether Superintendent Dennis Thompson would be able to correct the current negative working environment.
Ryan said she doesn’t want to see Thompson fired immediately, leaving a big bill on the hands of the district and taxpayers. When the time comes for the new board to choose another superintendent, which it will, she said, that approach needs to involve all segments of the community.
A superintendent more experienced than Thompson likely would be more comfortable garnering community involvement and valuing a cooperative spirit over a dictatorial approach, Berry said.
Buxton is the only candidate who said he hopes Thompson stays on board longer so Collier County doesn’t get such a bad reputation with a high employee turnover rate that the most qualified workers don’t seek employment with Collier County schools.
This is one of a series of stories leading up to the Aug. 9 start of early voting. Watch naplesnews.com and the Daily News for continuing election coverage leading to the Aug. 24 primary.
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Ryan vied for a seat in 2006, losing to incumbent Donovan. She worked in the Collier County public school system from 1970-2000. After 28 years in Immokalee, the candidate knows what it’s like to teach a class in which half the students don’t speak English.
Ryan has filled several roles in the Collier County school system, including administrator and guidance counselor.
“I’d be hard-put to find an issue that will come before the School Board that I can’t say ‘been there, done that,’” she said.
Berry said her understanding of the board’s primary roles of budget oversight and policy-setting gives her the ability to know how to get things done — not as an individual but as a five-member governing body.
Berry said she is a straight-shooter who will always be accessible to the public.
“People will always be able to find me,” she said.
Buxton’s approach is all-business — well almost all business. He serves on 10 local boards and said he is constantly looking for ways to give to the Collier County community in which he has lived for 17 years.
His experience garnering support for the nonprofits he serves is going to assist in his goal of encouraging the community to get more involved in the schools. He seeks more public and private partnerships.
“I have trained myself to become a giver not a taker,” Buxton said.