The Weekly Interview: John Dick

The Weekly Interview: John Dick

John Dick is Viet Nam veteran and small business owner from New York City who moved his family to the Florida Keys in 1990. Two of his three children graduated from Monroe County Schools and his wife and daughter are both educators in Marathon schools. He was first elected to the Monroe County School Board in 2006 and was subsequently reelected without opposition in 2010. He currently serves as the chairman of the school board.

The United Teachers of Monroe and the Monroe County School District reached agreement this week on a new contract that included a restructured base salary schedule, performance pay framework and a career ladder all tied to performance. Is it possible to ensure a fair system for our educators without basing our students’ educations on standardized tests?

Absolutely, but this will not be an easy task. The plan will be worked on by a committee appointed by the superintendent and representatives from the Teachers Union. In the end, the deal must be blessed by the board and it must be fair. There will have to be some student testing results as part of the evaluation, but determining value based on performance, especially for positions like counselors, is going to be a challenge. In the end, it is expected that good teachers will rise in the salary schedule a lot faster than the old method.

There is going estimated 3.5 billion budget deficit with the State of Florida. How will the decrease in state funds affect how the Monroe County School District conducts business?

In the past, the legislature has always tried to hold the school districts harmless. This would definitely suggest there will be no increase and a possible loss of categorical funding. Transportation, food service, supplies could end up becoming more of a local tax burden than coming from state revenues. We are going to have further budget reductions. We have already reduced it more than $8 million from last year and we will look to take another couple of million off this year.  We really need to look at further reductions in district administration and purchased services, but we need to make sure the cuts do not enter classrooms.

Violence, drugs, are major issues facing our students. What is a major problem facing our classrooms today?

Lack of respect to the teachers and their authority – both in the classroom and in extra-curriculum activities – is a great concern of mine. It is becoming more and more common for students to use profanity and disrespect their teachers and the administrators. This year we started an alternative school in Key West, so many of the disruptive students no longer pose a threat to the classroom. Everyone deserves a second chance to receive the education they are entitled too, but abusive behavior directed toward our teachers should not be tolerated. We need to be uniform and consistent in our disciplinary consequences to keep our classrooms a safe and civil.

The district recently began construction on a new Horace O’Bryant School that is estimated to cost approximately a $39 million. How will the school board monitor the project to make sure tax dollars are not wasted.

We are being very transparent and completely accountable on this one. Within a month we will be launching a website that will publish progress reports, payments, and costs as they are being updated. That way the public will know how much the project will actually cost. We are going to account for every dime and the public will be able to see it. The board will also get monthly updates regarding progress and finance.

What is the most significant change the district has made in order to protect the funds earmarked for the schools?

We are one of the only small school districts in the state that has an internal auditor. Ken Gentile works directly for the school board and he has an internal audit committee made up of people from the community. This internal auditor and his committee are doing an excellent job by putting in place numerous checks, balances, and controls that will prevent unscrupulous and wasteful spending practices. In the end, this should not be a permanent position and we hope he works himself out of a job within five years. A fraud line is also being established, so residents and district employees can report tips anonymously.

Despite all the recent turmoil at the highest levels of the district, how has the past year progressed in terms of scholastic achievement?

We are an “A-rated” district again and Key West and Coral Shores both moved up a letter grade. Even with the problems in the district administration, the problems did not move into the classroom. This is a credit to the teachers, staff and the administrators in the schools. Not only did we improve or maintain school grades, we also saw a significant improvement in AP scores, as well as SAT, ACT scores.  Our AP participation has vastly increased and we had a corresponding increase in the amount of passing grades.

You are known as radical political leader who is not afraid to fling elbows and kick shins. What is the most progressive act you would like to pass while in office?

We should eliminate all school buses. Just think of how much we could save on our fuel bill. It would make our district more environmentally friendly and reduce our carbon footprint to the size of a Salisbury steak. The act would also comply with Michelle Obama’s “Attack on Obesity” program. On rainy days, we will get Mike Puto to drive everyone home – at least in Marathon. I am sure other community minded folks will present themselves in the Upper Keys and Key West.

… On a related front … Education for Today’s Challenging Times
Wesley House Family Services Hosts Social/Emotional Learning Program in Key Largo

Speaker Elizabeth Montero-Cefalo will present her revolutionary learning program at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center in Key Largo, Saturday, January 22.

The program, entitled, Conscious Discipline, has the potential to have a long-lasting impact on parents, teachers, children and leaders by teaching techniques aimed at resolving conflict.

Elizabeth’s approach blends the latest research in neuroscience, academic instruction and behavioral psychology to demonstrate that fear is not a successful long-term motivator for learning. Instead, we need to look to feeling emotionally and physically safe.

Call Laurie at 809-5000 x231 to register. The cost is $10.

Emotional Education
Saturday, January 22
9 am – 4 pm
Murray E. Nelson Government Center
10250 Overseas HWY
Key Largo

Discover New Techniques to Teach:
Self-Control
Conflict Resolution
Character Development
Social Skills

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