Mid Bay News asked all Okaloosa County Commission and School Board Commission candidates to submit more information about themselves ahead of this Summer’s primary election.
All candidates were asked the two questions below:
Mid Bay News did not edit, alter or otherwise change the responses received from the candidates.
This Submission is from Okaloosa County Commission Candidate for District 3, Linda Evanchyk.
Niceville, Valparaiso, Bluewater Bay and Eglin Air Force Base Residents who are registered to vote regardless of party affiliation can vote in this election. This is a universal primary.
You ask why the citizens should pick me, Cara Marion, to represent them on our School Board?
First, God gifts us all in different ways and for me, He gifted me with a servant’s heart. I know He called me to this campaign opportunity for such a time as this.
My initial concern that was drawing me in was when I saw how the school district and school board had proposed spending the ½ cent sales tax that was due to be on the ballot in 2020. The proposed plan lacked any logical long-term fixes to the very serious decaying, unsafe infrastructure situation we face district wide. I describe their execution of this wasteful spending of the taxpayer’s dollars as “lipstick on a pig”. As government
I was also against mandating masking for our students and staff in 2020,. Sadly, my opponent, Diane Kelley, was the one dissenting vote on lifting the mandate plan, as she wanted masking mandated. The board voting record of 4-1shows this to be the case for the August 26, 2020 “Emergency” School Board meeting. That meeting lasted over 6 hours with the vast majority of our citizens speaking out against any form of masking mandates for our students and teachers. I was taken aback that Diane Kelley would vote to put in place a mask mandate that she herself states on the record was based on her personal beliefs instead of as a representative of the citizens she desires and also in keeping with constitutionally protected parental rights and a person’s right to bodily autonomy and privacy. I was also engaged with the school board regarding the 2021 approach to close contact tracing of our students, with staff outright asking our students and parents the vaccination status of their child while also having differing quarantine rules for the vaccinated student vs. the unvaccinated student. I engaged with the Superintendent and School Board on numerous occasions to address protecting our constitutionally protected rights from being infringed upon by government entities (of which public schools are) re: 14th Amendment and a parent’s right to choose the upbringing and education of their child and for staff to exercise their right to bodily autonomy free from government interference, as well.
Sadly, that same school year, a Ruckel Middle School teacher was arrested for sexually abusing a former student over the span of 2-years, some of which occurred on campus and on school-sponsored trips. This was very concerning, especially in the wake of the child abuse scandal during Mary Beth Jackson’s tenure. Shortly after that, a Meigs Middle School teacher was arrested for sexting with a student. Yet, we heard nothing from our board or district concerning how they would address these very serious abuses happening to our students while they are entrusted to this government body, the school district, during the day. How are parents and grandparents to rest assured THEIR child won’t be the next victim of these heinous crimes against our most vulnerable: our children.
My concerns were being fully realized and hit even closer to home when in the fall of 2021 an obscene-laden rated-R movie was assigned as classwork and was provided to my daughter and her class by a teacher at NHS. It became very apparent to me that the culture and atmosphere that allowed for a young special needs boy to be abused over months by the teacher with multiple mandated reporter teacher-educator-staff members failing to report this heinous crime, I came to the stark realization that that permissive culture and atmosphere still exists.
As a problem-solver, I saw that this monolithic school board was in desperate need for a citizen-leader, a warrior for truth and justice, a mental health professional and advocate for the children and families as a part of their school board. We are at the precipice, a critical point in time where we either make a drastic shift locally and nationwide regarding how we will raise up our next generation: educate or indoctrinate? Will we bring our education system back to where we teach critical thinking skills, or will we continue this downward spiral on a destructive path of teaching our youth WHAT to think instead of HOW to think?
Next, you asked what success will look like at the end of my term. My platform is one focusing on Accountability, Transparency, Accessibility, and increased Mental Health Initiatives.
What does each element look like at the end of my first term? – Accountability will be reflected in how judiciously we spend the taxpayers’ dollars when addressing the immediate needs of making our schools a physically safe and healthy place for both our students and staff. We will also have a solid plan in place to either replace or remodel each school; a plan that the public gets to take part in devising, that they have ownership in, and that addresses safety and security in the near term while awaiting a rebuild or remodel that will address not only safety and security but efficiency, as well. We are the 7th most expensive school district to run, energy and utility wise per square foot, in the entire state while we are ranked in the 20s for size. These old builds are burning up our taxpayer dollars just trying to keep them operating and patched up! New builds or remodels will make us as modernly efficient as possible while also keeping student population growth, safety and security at the forefront.
Transparency and Accessibility will be a focus on keeping the public informed of ALL things Okaloosa County School District! Yes, this includes keeping the citizens apprised of not only the good, but also the bad AND the ugly truth of matters. People can handle the truth and they want the truth. We can do better, and we will do better at keeping the public informed. I plan to do a monthly town hall in District 5 and will advocate for a minimum of four school board wide town halls per year. These will be held throughout the county, bringing the 5-member board to the people instead of the people always having to seek out the board, their elected representatives. I also plan to do a bi-weekly published newsletter to the community with a summary of business from each school board meeting.
With Mental Health Initiatives, I will fight to have 1 mental health professional (Mental Health Counselor, Clinical Social Worker or Marriage and Family Therapist) at each of our 37 campuses. We also must ensure our schools are safe places not only physically but are also places that increase mental health and wellness instead of being another element that contributes to this rapid decline. I would like to see a push towards emphasizing a Health and Wellness course at each level: elementary, middle and high school. This could be a one semester course that is comprised of 3 topics: Healthy relationships that is focused on healthy boundaries and assertiveness skills and NOT sex ed, drug and alcohol awareness with a focus on the science of addiction and the addicted brain, and mental health and wellness that educates the students on what mental illness is and how one achieves and maintains mental wellness.
This plan goes should focus on our teachers and staff, as well. We must pay our teacher staff a salary commensurate to what we ask of them! A cost-of-living adjustment need be made to teacher salaries ASAP lest we lose the great talent pool of teachers we have to a district with a lower cost of living. Also, a focus needs to be on bring a better health insurance plan to our teachers. The current plan for Okaloosa County educators is woefully lacking in mental health counseling coverage, with a teacher co-pay being nearly 100% of the cost of the counseling session. Walton and Santa Rosa County School District coverage is near top notch! Why isn’t ours? Where is the annual budget money going? I know about these different educator insurance coverages first hands as a mental health professional myself who is in private practice and who works with teachers, administrative staff and their families. How can we expect our teachers in Okaloosa County to stay mentally well when they cannot even afford to get the treatment they need in order to abate compassion fatigue and burnout?
As a society, we cannot keep asking our teachers and staff to raise our children. While I truly believe it takes a village to raise up a child right, schools should be a support element and not the primary “parent”. If we do not shift the focus to be back on the basic tenants, keeping woke ideologies out of our educational system, we very well could be at the point of no return. I endeavor to bring the change by bringing that decisive, steadfast leadership the citizens need representing them as a fighter for our kids’ future, our next generation of Americans! I know my experience with 20+ years as a military leader in addition to my experience serving the community as a mental health professional is exactly the unique blend of experience this current board greatly lacks in their citizen representatives.
Vote Cara Marion for real change!