Incumbent Kay Fields is squared off against challenger Terry Clark for the District 5 Polk County School Board seat.
Below are more than a dozen questions that LkldNow posed to each candidate. Fields agreed to answer them in an interview with LkldNow. Clark declined to talk with LkldNow unless he was given questions in advance; no candidate was given the questions in advance, so his responses are taken from answers Clark provided to the conservative group County Citizens Defending Freedom in a questionnaire and during a forum.
Fields, 70, is the longtime executive director of Girls Inc., a non-profit organization that provides after school and summer programs for girls in need. She has been endorsed by Sheriff Grady Judd, Business Voice (Lakeland Chamber of Commerce), Polk County Builders Association and the Polk County Voters’ League.
She has received $16,885 in campaign contributions and has spent $5,134 on things like campaign signs, T-shirts and media ads. She also paid campaign consultant Greg King $1,000. In 2018, she hired him for her re-election campaign and paid him $3,670. Most of her contributions were from people giving $100 to $500 apiece. Ashley Barnett and Fields’ husband, former Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, both donated $500, and Polk Education Association teachers union President Stephanie Yocum gave $1,000.
Terry Clark, 72, is a businessman, saying he founded Cornerstone Connection, TLC Management Properties, and TLC Resurfacing. Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation does not show a Terry Clark as an owner of a Cornerstone Connection or TLC Management Properties, either active or inactive. There is a TLC Resurfacing for which Clark is the original registered agent. There is also a T&C DSF Marketing LLC, under Clark’s name and at his home address.
His campaign slogan is “Educate, not indoctrinate.” He is endorsed by the Lakeland Association of Realtors and the Republican Party of Polk County, Florida Rep. Anthony Sabitini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, and Dr. Ed Shoemaker, president of the Faith Based Republican Club of West Polk County.
He has $27,892 in campaign contributions, including $2,000 he gave to himself. Some of his largest contributions — $1,000 each — came from George and Erica O’Neill of the Mountain Lake community in Lake Wales.
County Citizens Defending Freedom Founder and President Steve Maxwell and Publix heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli also contributed $1,000 each to Clark.
Clark had $16,632 in expenditures, including $7,500 to James Dunn for managing his campaign. Dunn was convicted in Texas of felony fraud in 2008 for taking $300,000 in federal funds for vocational training of veterans and disabled people. The federal government said he trained no one. Dunn is currently under court order to repay a Houston church more than $20,000 after a judge said he defrauded it.
Why are you running for reelection?
“I’m running for reelection because I believe that public education is under attack and that someone that has the knowledge and the experience as I do needs to continue to serve and to make sure that all the work that has been done over the years continues. And I want to continue to be a strong voice for our students, as well as for our employees. And I want to continue to work with our new superintendent and the strategic plan that we are just about to approve. I want to make sure that that’s implemented and that we can continue to take our school district to the next level. I think at a time like this we don’t need a novice. We need someone with experience and knowledge that can help us continue to move forward.
What is the process of obtaining raises for all employees in a fair and equitable way?
The teachers and the employees that are non-(teacher)-related employees have a union. So you have to go through the process of working with the union reps and the union leadership to ensure that all the areas that need to be addressed are addressed, and then the other raises are pretty much done by way of the superintendent and the staff looking at what we have (that) is a waste of resources. And then trying to provide equity for all involved. This year, there’s a little bit of difference because of the fact that the governor got involved. And I’m sure that you know about the bill that everyone has to move forward, which is the $47,500 initial beginning salaries, beginning teacher salaries. So that’s something that we have to do by law. And we’ve been able to do that and I think we’re one of the first school districts that actually have done it immediately, almost at 100%, which has caused a problem for some of our staff that are veteran teachers, whose salaries are not much higher than the beginning teacher salaries. And so we’re having to look at that and come up with a plan of action and how are we going to deal with making sure that we continue to give all of our staff the salary increases that they deserve, but also making sure that we have the resources in place to do that.
Can you explain how public schools are funded?
Well, we are funded by our (Full Time Equivalent) count, and then we have other funds that are specifically categorized and the funding is based on per student. We get funding from (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to help us with our (special education students). This budget year, we moved from $7,522 to $7,980, which is an increase of $388 per student.
When was the last time you were in a public school? Which one? For what purpose? And what was that experience like?
The last time I was in a public school was just before school was out. Actually, I was in a couple of schools. I was at the Aviation Academy, the Center for Aviation Academy, and I was also at Griffin Elementary. And I was at Griffin Elementary because I wanted to thank the leadership and the staff for the hard work and the heavy lifting they have had to endure trying to turn their school grade around from a D to a C to prevent closure. And I wanted to thank Education Directions leadership as well and she was there. I think it might have been her last day there. Her name is Dr. Willis. I wanted to thank her, as well, for what they were able to do as it relates to supporting the staff and making sure that their grade was going to improve. And the grade did improve. So I was there and it was, I think it was bittersweet in that Dr. Willis has become a very important part of that school. And we knew that after this school year, Education Direction was not going to be a part of Griffin, which is good that they don’t need to have that level of support. They still need some support going on. Just because they were very thankful that they made the C, which is phenomenal to them, for our school district, but they still are gonna need to have that level of support that’s needed. And then I went to the Aviation Academy, just to visit with the principal of Kathleen High School and also the principal of the Aviation Academy just to let them know that we are supportive of what they’re doing there and their work and get a chance to meet some of their ambassadors who gave us a tour. And it was very positive. It’s very happy. I like going to visit schools because when I go to visit schools, it reminds me of why I do what I do. I have immediate contact with the students.
You attended public schools in Mississippi?
It was in McComb, Mississippi, I graduated from Higgins High School. Public school – a whole lot different than what our kids see. I was in a segregated school up until my last year of high school. My last year of high school, I was able to go to a primarily all-white high school to take some distributed education classes. That’s what it was called back then. Probably would be more like vocational education classes now, along with regular classes. So it was a lot different here than when I was growing up. But all of my kids graduated from Kathleen High School and so did my husband.
And your grandchildren. Are they going to school here?
My grandchildren — I have two in Denver — and they’re in a public school there. I have a granddaughter who attends Lakeland Christian with my son. He’s a teacher there. And they have a requirement that their students have to attend the school because they are teachers. And then I have a daughter who is in Kissimmee – Jasmine — and her daughter is attending a charter school in the Kissimmee area.
What do you think you will do better or differently than the person running against you?
I think that I will be supportive of our staff and I will understand that they have done an amazing job with all of the obstacles and challenges that we’ve had over the last two and a half years. And one of the things that my, the guy running against me has said that, when I say that we’ve had two and a half years of lost learning because of COVID, he says that’s an excuse. And I basically said to him, that is not an excuse. That’s a fact. That’s reality. So I think just being able to support, being able to ensure that whatever resources we have, as best we can, making sure that those resources go directly into the classroom, and making sure that I continue to support the various schools that’s in my school district and continuing to, to do ultimately, I think, what is going to be best for the students putting them first, and then making sure that the resources that’s needed for all of our staff, not just our teachers, but all of our staff, that those are addressed as well. And having the knowledge, the historical knowledge as well, on where we started from and where we are and where we need to be. And ensuring that we follow the roadmap that will be approved by the board, which is our strategic plan and ensuring that we continue to work towards being a world-class school district.
Please name three things you’ve accomplished in the last four years for Polk County Public Schools.
Well, I haven’t accomplished this alone. I will say things that I have been strongly in support of, and as a result, I think that we’ve seen some good results from that. And one of the things has been the continuation of making sure that all of our employees have health insurance at 100% coverage by the school district and by doing that we’ve had to re-shift some of our dollars and it has impacted our fund balance, but we wanted to make sure that we provided them with what they many of them think is just it is imperative for them to have health insurance coverage and it is important. Everybody needs to have health insurance. I would say being able to continue to have that for our employees and then being able to work with the community and leadership on the sales tax referendum renewal, making sure that we had revenues because that was done, the initial sales tax referendum was done when I first came on the board. It might have been like in 2003 maybe. Being able to see that renewed help us to continue to maintain our facilities and to be able to address capacity and then being able to use some of those dollars to ensure that our schools have been safe and continue to be safe. And then I would say the Guardian Program that was introduced by Miss Jackie Byrd, along with Grady Judd, being able to see that come to fruition and being able to see the good results of that and knowing that our schools are safe, and that we’re in a good place there and that we are model for other school districts and even other school districts in outside the state of Florida. So I would say that along with ensuring that our graduation rate continues to go upward. Even though our school grade has dropped from a B to C being able to have a B school grade for the last two school years prior to this, with the understanding that COVID has impacted our school grades, even with that we have many success stories on what we’ve been able to do as it relates to schools that might have been a C school that’s now an A school or being able to move schools who might have had an F status that are now above an F or might be a C or a B.
What is your opinion of Mr. Heid’s handling of the 16 books that some say are pornographic or age inappropriate?
I commend Mr. Heid. The policy basically is that, you know, you go to the school, wherever the book is they want to be removed, and then the leadership of the school, along with the committee reviews the request and then decides whether or not they want to remove that book. But Mr. Hyde went a step further. He created a countywide committee and even included some of the folks that were making claims against the school district that it was pornographic and all that. So he brought everybody to the table and I commend the committee for their hard work. I mean, that’s a lot of reading — 16 books — and then being able to do the analogy, analyzing the books, and passing the tough questions and then looking at all of that and then coming to the board making a recommendation. And some of the recommendations that came from the committee, he even changed that — nothing significant — but he changed it for the level of when he thought a child should be exposed to being able to read the book. So I think that he should be, he and his staff, should be commended and the committee should be commended for the hard work that was involved in that.
Please define critical race theory. Is it an issue for Polk County Public Schools Why or why not?
My understanding is CRT is a college level class and it wouldn’t be appropriate for any of our schools — elementary, middle, and high school — and even going beyond that or graduate level class, and that it definitely would never ever be a part of elementary, middle or high school curriculum. That’s my understanding. And we have never ever taught CRT and even if we wanted to teach CRT, we couldn’t because its against the law. And we’re not gonna be breaking the law. I think one of the things that people need to keep in mind, I don’t think anybody wants to teach folks to hate each other. I know I don’t. I want to love everybody. That’s what’s expected. But I think that we have to make sure that we don’t lose the history, where we came from, and how we got there, and what we can do to improve for the future generation. That’s how I see the whole — just we can’t erase history. History is history. But we can learn from history. And from the history we can make our community and we can make our nation better.
Name a teacher who teaches it in Polk County Public Schools.
Zero — none.
Can you explain what the state mandates teachers are to teach students about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement?
That’s a part of a school curriculum to have the history and things that you just described. It’s a part of history … I’m sure that whatever those standards are, it’s not going to be anything uh, against the concept that we are teaching kids to hate folks based on their race and ethnicity. They’re teaching the history, they’re teaching the things that happened, they’re teaching things and if slavery is a part of what happened. They’re teaching all of that, but it’s factual stuff. They’re not making up anything. They’re using the books, the textbooks, that were adopted. They’re not teaching anything that is not supposed to be taught within the school district. And maybe that’s not the answer that you want, but that’s the answer that I would give.
Can you name one Polk County public school teacher who is indoctrinating students and into what?
Oh, that’s a good question. Because what are they representing when they talk about indoctrination? What are we indoctrinating? I don’t understand that. We’re not doing any. We’re teaching our kids. We’re teaching our kids reading, arithmetic and writing and all the other essentials that they need in order to be productive students and they eventually graduate from high school. We’re not teaching them anything that would embed upon what they need to have beyond high school to be successful. We’re not teaching them hatred, we’re not teaching them racism, we’re not teaching them any of that. I don’t know when a teacher is teaching that. None.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
You know, the only thing that I would add is it is just unfortunate that we are where we are in our community and world as it relates to making accusations that’s not true. People saying that we’re teaching CRT when we’re not doing that. And belittling our school district and not understanding that our teachers and our employees, they work hard each and every day to make sure that our kids get the best education possible. And we should be encouraging them and we should be commended them for their hard work, especially over the last two and a half years. COVID impact has impacted us more than anybody, I think, even understands and realizes and will impact us for many years to come. So we need to embrace our school district. We need to be supportive of our school district. We need to find the good things and the things that need to be addressed. You know, bring those to us but bring them to us in a positive way and not always be so doggone negative.
Some of the questions that Clark responded to in a questionnaire and forum did not align to LkldNow’s question. In those case, the question the candidate responded to is included in italics.
Why are you running for School Board?
CCDF Questionnaire: 1. To ensure transparent curriculum 2. Return to pure academics 3. Teach love of country. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I feel led to run. My values are based off of the Christian-Judeo values that I was raised on and believe we need to return to them.
What is the process of obtaining raises for all employees in a fair and equitable way?
CCDF forum question: Recently something released from the Florida Department of Education effective as of July 1, so we’re two weeks into this, they will allow five-year temporary certificates for military veterans who have not yet earned their bachelor’s degree. How do you feel about this decision as a possible School Board candidate?
We have a shortage of teachers. I really think we’ve got to do everything we can to promote people going into the teaching force. And it takes some patience and when people are working towards what they need to have. We just, we don’t need just filling in every week. We need people that have a heart to do that. And so I’m for whatever it takes to get into the teaching positions.
I think what we have to do, we have to look at wages, we’ve got to look at performance-based increases, incentives for teachers. If a teacher is really being successful, we need to give them those incentives to work toward in extra pay. I don’t think we do a whole lot of that. We need to give them just like a job. You want them to work hard, you’ve got to reward them. Same thing with a teacher that’s been there, five or six, seven years — longer than a new teacher — and he or she’s making $1,000 more – that’s not right.
Can you explain how public schools are funded?
CCDF Questionaire: Do you have a background in business? If yes, please elaborate.
“I believe having several businesses that we’re successful and managing all three in the black from day one, help me look at school budgets in a way that we balance our budget yearly with proper funding for all priority needs.”
When was the last time you were in a public school? Which one? For what purpose? And what was that experience like?
CCDF Questrionaire: What goals do you plan to accomplish in the first 100 days?
My goals in my first 100 days, will be to visit every school in my district and develop a relationship with every principal.
Did you attend public school? Did your children? Your grandchildren?
I have a degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida in Tampa, although I have never taught. My three adult children graduated here in Polk County, and three of my grandchildren — in fact two grandchildren presently in the school system and two more that will be entering school in the next year or two. I want the very best for my grandkids.
What do you think you will do better or differently than the person currently in office?
CCDF Questionnaire: Are you for or against mask and vaccine mandates? Please explain your position.
Totally against and mandate! I believe that the parents are the guardians of their children and should be the ones to make that decision.
Please name three things you’ve accomplished in the last four years for PCPS.
CCDF Forum: I have watched our schools and it just seems like they continue to have more and more issues. COVID revealed a lot of things, I think that a lot of parents, a lot of Mama Bears and Papa Bears rose up because they didn’t like what was being taught. … We want to get back to the very academic. But there’s been a curriculum that’s kind of had some undercurrents in what they were doing. I don’t care whether CRT — we have some that here — and gender identity, equity, diversity. All these things are distractions away from the academics. We want our children to learn. On my signs it says ‘Education, Not Indoctrination.’
What is your opinion of Mr. Heid’s handling of the 16 books some say are pornographic or age-inappropriate?
CCDF question: What measure do you believe should be used to determine what library books are allowed in public school libraries and classrooms?
Personally, I believe any book that deals with sexuality in any way should be removed. I believe all sex ed should come under Biology and be dealt with there. I also believe that any book that teaches, embraces, or subliminally teaches anything other than a male or a female, as created by God, should also be removed!
CCDF Forum: I believe the books probably that they were referring to that were held back by the superintendent. You know, I don’t think anyone of us want book bans, we’re not into that. But if a book has things in there that would go against the law, go against state statutes and requirements that they have, should be reviewed if it shows that it is in there, they should be removed. I’m not even for a rating system. I’m for having only only healthy books in there that are not indoctrinating. When I was a kid the only pornography we’d find in the library was National Geographic. We’d look for African areas and you’d see that. That was it. You know, we didn’t have to worry about these things. And that’s the problem. We talked about parents opting out. Folks, there’s a lot of parents that don’t have a clue what’s going on with that now. They’re not smart enough to be involved in them to know to opt out of something. They don’t know what their kids are getting or reading or maybe even reading in the library. So I just think we have to be really careful what we have in our libraries, what we have in curriculum, and make sure everything is healthy to be able to grow healthy students, mentally these children that are under our care.
Please define CRT? Is it an issue for PCPS? Why or Why not? Name a teacher who teaches it.
CCDF question: Do you agree with the statement that “America is inherently racist”? Why or why not?
We have been sold a lie that our country is inherently racist! I believe every country, as well as ours, have those that are racist. That needs to be condemned and NEVER used in our schools by any teacher or by any School Board member! Florida law bans teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT).
CCDF question: What will you do to uphold this law?
The key word is accountable. Our country holds no one accountable, and that is so very frustration. My position is, if a teacher is caught teacher CRT in any form, they get one warning. And if caught again, fired! I have no problem holding a teacher, a principal or a superintendent accountable! We must start making an example to slow this erosion that we’re seeing in our schools!
CCDF Forum: There’s been a curriculum that’s kind of had some undercurrents in what they were doing. I don’t care whether it’s CRT — we have some that are gender identity, equity, diversity. All these things are distractions away from the academics. We want our children to learn.
Can you explain what the state mandates are to teach students about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, and the Civil Rights movement?
CCDF Questionnaire: What responsibility do you feel public schools should have in the education of students?
Public schools should teach academics to every child. Every child is different, so they must be taught to think for themselves, and the school should guide them toward the bent in each individual child, college prep, trade school prep, financial prep, etc.
CCDF Forum: We need to get back to the academics of education of reading, writing and math. The five R’s. We need to teach history. Teach the good and the bad of history. There is some bad yeah, I believe in the Bible. I read my Bible and I see bad in the Bible but I see the God of second chance suffered significant attacked as criminals. And I don’t think we hit upon anything in my past that would be criminal. But I care about our kids and I want our kids getting a good education.
Can you name one Polk County Public Schools teacher who is indoctrinating students? And into what?
CCDF question: What role does a school board member have in upholding the Constitution as it relates to school board policy?
The Constitution has to be the foundation of everything we do and are as a nation. Other than the Bible, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights should be what all of our public schools should teach and adhere to.
CCDF question: What responsibility do you feel parents/guardians have in the education of their children?
I believe we have gotten to this point in history because parents have trusted our schools to do their job. But with the indoctrination that is happening in so many areas, parents have got to step up and get involved. The sad part is that there will be resistance because of evil people, but they must stand up and be involved no matter the cost!
CCDF Forum: Last June, the school board did an LGBTQ proclamation. Do you think that’s good or bad? And if you’re on the School Board next year, what will you be doing?
First of all, I believe we don’t have room for outside things that are dealing with gender change. Three percent of the population they say is … Right now part of the indoctrination is saying I was born that way. It is within our schools. It may not be as bad here but throughout our country, it is bad … one problem we have 75% of boys don’t have a father. These are issues. You need to help mentor, have a man come along and help. But I would not vote for something like that.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-272-9250.
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