School Board Candidates Highlight Experience vs. Change

Experience and accomplishments vs. change and fresh ideas emerged as major themes in passionate closing statements this afternoon when four candidates in two Polk School Board races faced off in a forum hosted by the Lakeland Kiwanis Club.

“Experience matters,” incumbent Kay Fields declared after saying she was fed up with lies, false claims about the teaching of CRT and nasty emails “in a race that’s been so twisted and so dirty and devious.” During her 20 years on the board, Polk schools have reduced the dropout rate and become a state model for career academies, she said.

“We need fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, even from a novice,” District 5 opponent Terry Clark countered. He said he is running for the office because he believes parents know best.

“This is my life’s work. If you only knew what I’ve given up to be on this board. First I had to give up my classroom,” first-term board member and 33-year teacher Sarah Fortney said. She said she asks hard questions and works well with others. “I am stability over chaos.”

District 3 opponent Rick Nolte, a physical education teacher for 36 years, said. “It’s time for change. Like football players get traded to different teams, some have to retire early and so forth.” He said his goal is to “get it back the way it was, the way when we were in school.”

The two contests are among four Polk School Board races on the Aug. 23 primary ballot. The races are non-partisan, so any registered voter as of July 25 can participate regardless of party.

 School Board members set policy for a massive school district that encompasses 110,000 students and 13,000 employees.

Below check a video of the complete forum and a transcript of the closing statements. In the video, the closing statements begin at 41:39. Each candidate had up to 90 seconds to give a closing statement.

Closing statements

KAY FIELDS

“I’m a little bit fired up, and I’ll tell you why. This this is gonna be my closing comment. I have never been in a campaign, in a race that’s been so twisted and so dirty and devious. I told my husband, I don’t know where live anymore. The things that we get in the paper, the accusations about all the things that we’re doing that we’re not doing: teaching CRT and all of the things that are just a bunch of lies. And then the nasty emails that we’re getting about things that it’s not true. Everyone that knows me knows my heart, I’m going to do what’s right for students. I am always going to be above the law. I’m never gonna break the law. I never will. Even if I don’t agree with it, I’m not going to break the law.

“Experience matters. I’ve been on the School Board for almost 20 years. We’ve done some great things. We created ninth-grade academies. We created career academies; we are the number one school district when it comes to career academies. We’ve been able to increase our graduation rate. We’ve been able to drop our dropout rate — reduce it! We’ve been able to do things that other districts are trying to figure out. Do you want someone with experience who knows what they’re doing, who don’t have to just study, who can immediately go to work for you and continue to work for you? If you do, you vote for me. Don’t vote for novice who has no clue on what he’s doing. Vote for Kay Fields, a strong voice for children — district five, and I would appreciate your vote.”

TERRY CLARK

“Polk County ranks 56 out of 67 counties in graduation. That’s just the facts. All I can say is 20 years and we’ve been in the bottom third in academics in the state of Florida. I think sometimes we need fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, even from a novice. Twenty years ago someone else was a novice. Absolutely there is so much that a person does not understand. Lisa (Miller), Sarah (Fortney), their first four years I know they got in there and said, “Wow. Look at all we’ve got to deal with.” It IS overwhelming. But are you willing to do it? They’re willing to do it because they’re running again. I wouldn’t be willing to do it unless I do run and I run on values. And I run believing parents know best. So I hope you remember me starting tomorrow through August 23: Terry Clark. I want to be your voice on the Polk County School Board district five.”

SARAH FORTNEY

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Kay Fields so fired up. Love it. I’m Sarah Fortney and I’m here to ask for your vote again. You know when I ran the first time, this is what I heard. I heard you politicians only show up when it’s time to vote. Well, I’ll made sure that wasn’t the case with me. Number one, I’m a public servant, not a politician. Experience does matter. Experience matters for our school safety.
Experience matters that I have a good working relationship with Sheriff Judd. Experience matters that I have all the endorsements from the Florida Realtors to Polk County Builders Association to the Business Voice. The teachers union — if you want to call a union; it’s an association. The AFSCME — the non-instructional union. They trust me because they know I asked the hard questions and I work well with others. I am stability over chaos. This is my life’s work. If you only knew what I’ve given up to be on this board. First I had to give up my classroom. I’m asking for your vote again. I believe I’ve earned it. And I want to continue to work with Fred Heid in this great district because preK-through-12 public schools just do it better.”

RICK NOLTE

“I’m a physical education teacher so I give a locker room talk. So I’m gonna be to the point. I’m Rick Nolte running for District 3. Thirty-six years in the classroom — night school, summer school, three different counties. Three of through my friends are superintendents of schools. And they said, “Rick, you’re nuts to try to do this. There’s too many things that need to be worked on and changed.” But they said if someone’s gonna do it, you’re a bulldog; if you see something wrong, you’ll speak up. I think it’s time for change; In fact, I know it’s time for change. Like football players get traded to different teams, some have to retire early and so forth.

“We talked about being endorsed. I’d like your endorsement. Your endorsement would mean more to me than anything. I was shocked a few nights ago when I heard that Governor Ron DeSantis was endorsing me for the school board. I was humbled and I’m still numb. But I know whenever I do something I give it 100%. We need to change a lot of things. Not with just the names of the things to make you sound good, but actually good, bottom-line, common sense. Get it back the way it was, the way when we were in school. We can do it if we all work together for the kids’ best interest. Thank you. God bless and don’t forget to vote. Thank you.”

Lakeland Kiwanis held a forum last Friday with candidates running for the other two School Board seats on the Aug. 23 ballot: Sara Jones and Justin Sharpless for District 6; and Lisa Miller, Dell Quary and Jill Sessions for District 7. Check a video of the forum here.

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