Meet Kelley and Marion, the candidates vying for School Board District 5 seat

·6 min read

In a nonpartisan Okaloosa County School Board race that will be decided in the Aug. 23 primary election, incumbent Diane Kelley will face Cara Marion for the open District 5 seat.

Kelley and Marion recently were asked a series of questions by the Northwest Florida Daily News ahead of the election.

Diane Kelley and Cara Marion are the two candidates seeking the open Okaloosa County School Board District 5 seat.
Diane Kelley and Cara Marion are the two candidates seeking the open Okaloosa County School Board District 5 seat.

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Here are the responses from Kelley, who has 40 years of experience in education as a teacher and in other roles and is seeking her second four-year term, and Marion, who is a registered mental health counselor intern and retired Air Force veteran.

Editor's note: Candidates were given a 150 word limit on each question. Marion's responses have been edited to fit that limit.

Daily News: Do you believe the Okaloosa County School Board can do more to create an air of transparency and give the public confidence that board votes result in district action whose results are then being shared with the community? If you do so believe, what steps need to be taken?

Diane Kelley
Diane Kelley

Kelley: The Okaloosa County School Board, in conjunction with the superintendent and district staff, is transparent in its actions and its communication regarding those actions to the public. Workshops and meetings are public, live streamed and housed on the district’s website, as well as minutes for them. Board members frequently have lively discussion with staff prior to or during workshops before the votes taken at board meetings.

In addition, each individual board member, the superintendent and district and school staff are available by phone or meeting (where appropriate) for members of the public. We also collaborate with neighboring districts on means by which we can evolve in many areas, to include this one.

The district and individual schools also send out monthly newsletters containing pertinent information that parents and the community need to know relevant to district events, policy updates and changes to any procedures, as well as highlights of accomplishments.

Cara Marion
Cara Marion

Marion: Because of my concern of the lack of transparency, my platform is one comprised of four focus areas: Accountability, transparency, accessibility and increased mental health initiatives.

Transparency and accessibility will be a dual-focus area whereas the aim is to keep the public informed of all things Okaloosa County School District! This includes keeping the citizens apprised of not only the good, but also the bad.

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. I also plan to do a bi-weekly published newsletter to the community with a summary of business from each School Board meeting. Should we have a situation that arises that requires teacher discipline, I will publish that information once it is available instead of making the public do a public records request to seek out the information that is available.

DN: Has enough been done to ensure that the abuses of the Mary Beth Jackson-era are not still ongoing and will never occur in the future? If yes, what policies and procedures can you cite that have been implemented? If no, what more needs to be done?

Kelley: We put several polices in place the last four years. Board Policy 06-08 (Complaints Relating to Employees) was revised in June 2018. This measure predates my election, but the revision was fairly extensive and included the fact that the school board would be provided information regarding neglect or abuse of a student.

Policy 06-33 (Administrative Leave, Suspension and Dismissal of Employees), revised in December 2019, states district employees may be placed on administrative leave upon initiation of an investigation of allegations regarding safety or welfare of students. Policy 04-29 (Reporting Acts of Child Abuse) clearly states reporting requirements.

For the last four years, every employee has been required to take Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting training. These are mandatory protocols for reporting suspected student abuse by an employee: 1) Notify DCF using their hotline or the web reporting form; 2) Notify law enforcement (SRO); 3) Notify Human Resources; 4) Notify students’ parents.

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Marion: Absolutely NOT! There needs to be a comprehensive investigation by an outside agency, looking into every aspect of where the system failed that little boy and his family! People need to be held to account, and we MUST change policy to be more punitive should anyone ever think about not reporting abuse let alone abusing a child!

If we are so disengaged with our educators that we do not know that a student is being sexually assaulted by a teacher in a classroom, on a school trip, an obscene movie is being shown for multiple years on end, how can we expect this pattern to end?

Broward County is currently doing a three-year trial of cameras in ESE classrooms. I am very interested in this being something we look into as a district, as it not only protects our children, but it also protects the teacher and staff.

DN: What are your thoughts on the need for new schools? Should the School Board look at providing more new schools or focus on a mix of upgrades to existing facilities as well as construction of new schools?

Kelley: I so appreciate the citizens’ support in passing the sales tax initiative, which allows us to have this conversation today. Previously, we were only able to stay in a cycle of short-term repairs on our facilities because facility funding from the state was significantly reduced and our district was one of the few without a sales tax.

With sales tax funding, we are able not only to make repairs that will be substantial in the long run, but also to make upgrades, add classrooms and multipurpose or cafetorium buildings, reduce the number of portables and plan for new schools.

When district staff looked at data regarding areas where growth is occurring most rapidly to predict communities which would be in greatest need of new schools, the south and central areas reflected that need. That said, land is being procured (where needed) and plans are underway for new schools in those areas.

Marion: My platform of 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. We need 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 seventh 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! New builds or remodels will make us as modernly efficient as possible while also keeping student population growth, safety and security at the forefront.

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Kelley and Marion seek Okaloosa County School Board District 5 seat