INTERVIEW: Female Vet Will Take On The ‘Okaloosa Education Establishment’

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Cara Marion: Candidate for Okaloosa School Board

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul

Mid Bay News

Cara Marion and her husband served in the Air Force as career officers. So, running for school board didn’t show up on the radar until last fall. Cara’s daughter – a student in the gifted program at Niceville High School – told her mom that she and the other students in her class watched the movie Alexander as part of a class assignment. 

According to IMDB’s parents’ guide, Alexander, has a total of 19 incidents of sex and nudity and 40 incidents of violence and gore. 

Cara Marion alerted the principal of the school, the Okaloosa school district, and law enforcement. Throughout the process – she felt ignored. 

“It became really evident to me that people were intimidated. They didn’t feel safe talking to not only the school board but the district, the administration at school, and even teachers,” Marion said. 

She decided to run for the position in March – in order to bring her background as an Air Force officer and mental health professional to the board. She is a graduate of Liberty University with a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. 

 

UPDATE: Current School Board Member for Distict 5, Diane Kelley announced that she would re-enter the race. You can find out more about Kelley here. 

woman smiling in photo
Okaloosa School Board Candidate Cara Marion. Marion is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and Liberty University. The Former Air Force Officer decided to run for the Okaloosa School Board Seat being vacated by incumbent Dr. Diane Kelley.

Objectives for the Okaloosa School Board

During our conversation for this article, Marion outlined four specific goals she wanted to achieve, should she win the district five seat on the school board. District Five represents Eglin Air Force Base, Valparaiso, Niceville and Bluewater Bay. 

Military Kids and Mental Health for Okaloosa Schools

The first topic Mairon brought up was the need for more mental health professionals in the school system. “We’re a military family,” Marion said, “we’ve had the privilege of experiencing other school districts across the country and in other countries, too. I’ve seen the lack of emphasis on mental health support for our ESE (Exceptional Student Education) students, for our gifted students, and even just for our students, period.”

She also noted that Superintendent Marcus Chambers has increased the priority of mental health in the district – but she would like to see more. “In Colorado, we had two counselors, not school counselors, mental health providers… and they were really busy.”

Marion believes the district has not done enough to support the military children of the district. She says the efforts have been “very poor,” compared to 2006, when the Marion family first lived in northwest Florida and served at Eglin. She says her family moved here for good schools, family values and conservatism. Instead, she says, she put her daughter in private school due to her perception of the district’s performance. “I don’t want to put all of that on over to the fault of the districts, or teachers’ fault or whatever, because things have changed in the world, I get that.” She continued, “But the degradation seems to have been so quick. And that’s the concern to me is how do we stabilize? I feel like I’m triaging at this point, how do we stabilize and then recover and build back to what we know that we can be because we’ve done it before?”

 

military man welcomed home by family
Staff Sgt. Sean Carnahan, a fuels systems craftsman with the 1st Special Operations Squadron, embraces his daughter at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 7, 2016. Operation Homecoming welcomed Airmen returning home from overseas deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Dennis Spain)

Accountability and Transparency

Secondly, Marion believes the district currently lacks transparency and accountability. She says the bureaucratic and career staff of the district do not get held to account as public servants – case-in-point, she says is her own experience with the movie in her daughter’s class. 

Additionally, she believes the school board needs to have more public facing meetings. She proposes quarterly town halls the school board would host to hear parents and citizens issues. “I think the school board is not representing the citizens,” Marion said, “they’re not representing the schools and the teachers that mind you, if they’re citizens in the county, obviously, they count also. But that’s, that’s really what we’re supposed to be as a voice for them.”

Creating a Cross Section on the School Board

Thirdly, Marion says the school board has too many career educators and not enough experiential diversity to remain effective for the students and citizens of Okaloosa County. “We’re supposed to be a good cross section of society,” Marion said of the school board, “You know, people from all walks of life should sit on a board, not just career educators. I really don’t think there should be a career educator on there. Because in our county, we elect our career educator, and that’s our superintendent.”

A group of people in a formal portrait smiliing
Of the five members of the Okaloosa County School Board, four members are career educators. Board Member Tim Bryant worked as a Manager of several Publix Grocery Stores in Okaloosa County.

Bonds for New Schools

graduates throwing their mortar boards
Crestview High School graduates throw their caps in the air to celebrate their accomplishment. In addition to Niceville High School, Crestview High School has serious overcrowding issues. 📸: CHS Facebook Page.

Finally, Marion addressed the problems with school infrastructure. Currently, Marion says, building a new school would cost about $40 million. Currently, experts project the half-cent sales tax, passed by voters in 2020, to generate about $218 million over ten years – enough for about 5.5 new schools total. Simply put, there is not enough money in the half-cent sales tax coffers, nor will there be, for an overhaul of old schools and the construction of new ones. 

But, she does believe Crestview will need a new school, regardless of what is done. The addition of 7th group soldiers in 2016, has placed Crestview over capacity. She believes issuing bonds in order to build the schools is the best course of action to alleviate overcrowding at schools while acting in a financially responsible manner. “I don’t want to see another portable added to a school,” Marion said. She doesn’t want to ask the taxpayers for money directly, either. “It’s in the state statute that school boards can ask for bonds”

Election Day 

Election day continues to move toward us rapidly. The last day to register to vote in this election is July 25th, 2022 – according to the Supervisor of Elections Website. The primary election, when school board seats are decided, takes place on August 23rd, 2022. Early voting in the primary will start August 13th and end August 20th. 

RELATED: With an Uncomfortable Exchange at Monday’s Board Meeting, two candidates Kick Off ‘22 School Board Race. 

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