Teacher pay, bullying take front stage at political forum

OKEECHOBEE — School Board District 3 incumbent Dixie Ball and challenger Melisa Jahner answered questions from the public and made the case for why they’re best suited to sit on the school board at the Okeechobee Political Forum held on Aug. 6 at the Osceola Middle School gymnasium.

Both candidates have extensive history and experience in education. Dixie Ball taught elementary from 1989 to 2016 and was named Okeechobee County School District Teacher of the Year for the 2001-02 school year. She was also certified by the Florida School Board Association as Master Board Certified in 2016. Melisa Jahner has worked as an Exceptional Student Education paraprofessional at Yearling Middle School, a bookkeeper at North Elementary and a preschool teacher at Tender Care Preschool. She also served as deputy clerk for the City of Okeechobee for 11 years.

Dixie Ball, candidate for school board


Melisa Jahner, candidate for school board

In her opening statement, Mrs. Ball described why she first ran for the school board seat 4 years ago.

“When the seat became open 4 years ago I began researching the responsibilities of a school board member,” said Mrs. Ball. “I knew as a certified teacher with 25 years of experience that I could contribute and be an asset to the board.”

Mrs. Jahner explained that she wants to be a voice for the community in her opening statement.

“I decided to run for the school board not for me, but for you,” said Mrs. Jahner. “Our schools are facing many challenges such as bullying, adequate funding and safety issues.

We need to be able to provide the necessary daily supplies that are needed. We need to be able to maintain and upkeep our facilities. We desperately need a new high school and we need more buses.”

The first question from the public asked what each candidate thought the biggest hurdle was to recruiting talented teachers to Okeechobee. Mrs. Jahner replied that the biggest hurdle is salary and that she was disappointed that the school board didn’t raise teacher’s salaries during the 2017-18 school year.

Mrs. Ball agreed with Mrs. Jahner that salary was the biggest hurdle to attracting new teachers to Okeechobee as well as affordable housing.

“Salary is a big issue for us,” explained Mrs. Ball. “Being a small community, it’s hard for us to find funding to give our teachers raises. But I will be an advocate for that.”

The candidates were also questioned on their top two concerns within the Okeechobee County school system.

“As I’ve been out in the community, a lot of people have approached me about bullying,” Mrs. Jahner said. “And I feel like when it comes to bullying we need to be consistent with our policy and it should be known by all what the consequences will be in those situations. Also school safety is my other top concern, and not necessarily just safety against violence. All of our schools are in desperate need of just regular maintenance.

We’ve had water drainage issues at the high school and have a freshman campus gym with no air conditioning.”

School safety was also highlighted by Mrs. Ball and she touted the guardian program that the school board approved for the 2018-19 school year, she also described raises as one of her top concerns.

“I firmly believe that teachers should get both their step and a reasonable percentage of a raise,” Mrs. Ball explained. “I also believe a one-time monetary incentive is another way to boost morale as well as supplement a teacher’s pay. Our high school teachers that teach certification and advanced placement courses receive a bonus based on the number of students that pass their exams. We should find a way to use incentives at all levels.”

In her closing statement Mrs. Ball said she became a school board member to continue to touch the lives of children and if reelected she would continue to support Okeechobee’s teachers, staff and administrators.

Mrs. Jahner closed by again making the case that she would be the voice for the community.

“I would like your support and I want to be your voice,” said Mrs. Jahner. “If you come to me with any of your issues or concerns, we will work through it together. It’s not just me up here running, I’m running for you. These are all our kids, all our teachers, all our staff, this is our community.”

School Board District 3 hopeful Melisa Jahner embraces current school board member Amanda Riedel shortly after the Okeechobee Political Forum on Aug. 6, 2018. Photo taken by Richard Marion.



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