DESTIN, Fla. (WKRG) — Okaloosa County School District Superintendent Marcus Chambers posted an extensive letter to county voters discussing recent school board accusations with which he does not agree. Chambers also endorsed three current school board members for the upcoming election:
- Dr. Diane Kelley
- Linda Evanchyk
- Dr. Lamar White
The school board is made of five members. A new initiative Yes for Okaloosa School is looking to battle three incumbent seats, gaining a majority vote. Pillars of the Yes for Okaloosa School’s platform include changing the superintendent role from elected to appointed and building new schools in the county.
Below is the entire letter posted by Marcus Chambers Saturday, August 13, 2022.
This is a Long BUT IMPORTANT POST…
Over the course of the last month or so, people throughout our county have asked me my opinion as it pertains to the upcoming School Board Elections. They have asked me about the accusations being made against the current School Board Members who are running for re-election, myself, the teachers, staff and administrators of our district as well as the school district as a whole and whether these accusations are true. I have often stated publicly that we are not perfect as a school district; however, much, if not most, of what the three challenging school board candidates and the YES 4 Okaloosa Schools group are saying is simply not true. For that and the fact that I believe our current Board Members are doing an outstanding job, I support Dr. Lamar White, Dr. Diane Kelley and Linda Evanchyk for re-election to the Okaloosa County School Board.
The opposing candidates for school board are being in large part funded by one individual, Pat Ryan whose main goal is to take the school district over by securing three board member seats. You will notice their three names jointly on signs throughout our county. Okaloosa County School Board Members vote on specific agenda items, and as long as you have three out of five votes, your votes rule the day. Mr. Ryan, who leads YES 4 Okaloosa, is trying his best to gather the three votes and in turn, attempt to take over the school district. Mr. Ryan is the same individual who wants an appointed superintendent which takes away the voting rights of the citizens of Okaloosa County and places the decision solely in the hands of the School Board Members… three seats of which he is trying to obtain. He is also the man who worked to oppose the school district half cent sales tax efforts. In my opinion, no one person should be able to “buy” our school board, which is exactly what Mr. Ryan is attempting to do. He is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars (literally) of his own money to secure three board member seats. We have to ask ourselves the question, why? Our school district is not for sale.
So, this has led to countless individuals asking me my opinion. Normally, I would not chime in on school board elections; however, there is too much at stake for our school district. The Okaloosa County School District impacts our local military, our real estate agents, new businesses coming to Okaloosa, and so much more. Our school district impacts our local economy and for me to sit by and listen to a certain group diminish the hard work and legacy of this school district is unsettling to me and many others.
Much of what is being stated by this group and the school board candidates is that our students’ behavior is completely out of control, our teachers and staff are not held accountable, the school board has no plans for new school construction or the replacement for aging facilities, our academic standing as an A District is not good enough, and that the School Board Members and Superintendent only focus on the positive attributes of the school district.
Let’s start with student discipline. The last two years have definitely been tough on our students and for that matter, adults as well. Student behaviors have changed over the last couple years, but to say that that our students, as a whole, do not behave themselves and that classrooms are completely out of control, could not be further from the truth. We have amazing students in our school district and teachers who do an incredible job. To paint our classrooms as out of control is a blatant shot at the hardworking teachers, staff, and administration who wake each day with the goal in mind to make a difference in the lives of students. And, it’s simply not true.
It has also been stated that our School Board Members do not hold our teachers and staff accountable. Again, this is simply not the case. When we have employees who act improperly or who have acted inappropriately with students, those individuals have been placed on administrative leave, suspended, and terminated from their employment, depending on the seriousness of the situation. The School Board and myself as Superintendent have not wavered in protecting our children from those who have acted inappropriately. But, I want to be very clear, the overwhelming percentage of our teachers, staff, and administrators do what is right each and every day. They represent the educational profession and this school district proudly.
Does the school district have a plan for new school construction and the replacement of aging school buildings? Let’s look at new school construction first. We know right now in the Crestview area that we need to build at least one new school and over time, a second school. We know right now in the Niceville area that we need to build a new school, and we know right now in Destin we need to add on to its elementary school. Over the course of the last three years, we as a district have discussed plans for new schools in these areas. We have been working to acquire land in the Crestview area as well as in the Niceville area. In Crestview, it is our plan to build a K-8 school within the next three to four years on approximately 80 to 90 acres of land. In time, as the Crestview area continues to grow, we will build a second school on that 80 to 90-acre parcel. The K-8 school will then turn into a middle school, and the second school will turn into an elementary school. This will look similar to the current set up at Shoal River Middle School and Riverside Elementary.
In the Niceville area, we will also build a K-8 school within the next three to four years. Our district currently owns 25 acres of land, and we are in talks to acquire or swap land in order to construct a new school in the most optimal location.
At Destin Elementary, we will build a new 4th and 5th grade wing. This will help provide additional space in the current building, and the new construction will bring 5th grade students back to Destin Elementary. This will provide much needed space at Destin Middle School, which continues to grow each year.
Now, as it pertains to knocking down our aging facilities and building new ones in its place, that is not feasible. A new school costs anywhere from $40 to $120 million depending on the grade level and size of the school. Twenty-nine of our buildings are 45 years of age or older. To knock them down and build new ones would cost over $1.5 billion dollars, would deplete the current workforce and would take 50 plus years to complete. However, we do know which school buildings are in worse shape than others. We do know which schools need more attention than others. Each school has a 5-year capital plan which considers the needs of the school over a 5-year period.
Additionally, the Half Cent Sales Tax projects also focuses on the needs of our aging buildings. Projects such as Single Point of Entry, roofs, air conditioning, new cafeterias, new classroom additions, new multipurpose buildings, flooring, paving, and more are being completed. This is truly historic as we have not accomplished projects such as these to this level in decades.
This group has also stated that our A+ rating is misleading and that our A rating is not high enough. I have stated publicly that what I am so proud of about our school district is the fact that we excel in three areas: academics, arts, and athletics. Excelling in these three areas, in my opinion, make us an A+ School District. This A+ rating is a source of pride, not a means to deceive as it has been sadly portrayed. The state of Florida rated Okaloosa an A District in addition to being a High Performing District. I won’t speak for our current Board Members, but I’m not going to apologize for being an A District.
However, we are already at work improving in the areas and the schools where improvement is needed. Again, we are not perfect, but I do believe we have the best group of educators who I and our School Board Members stand beside. Where improvement is needed, we will work diligently to do so.
This Board and I have been accused of being too positive. In a day and age where there is so much negativity, at times, we do share the positive. We do recognize our outstanding students and their accomplishments. We do recognize our incredible teachers, staff, and administrators who give their heart and soul for our students. We do highlight our band, chorus, theatre programs, athletics, CTE, and so much more.
Does this School Board discuss difficult matters with me, absolutely. They question me and challenge me often. We communicate for the betterment of our school district. Sometimes those discussions with me are held one on one behind the scenes and other times publicly at School Board Meetings. I believe that you praise publicly and discipline privately. This school district has been through a lot in the last five years, and I believe this district deserves and needs some positivity. The good news is that there is a lot to be positive about. This in no way means we turn a blind eye or just shove things under the rug in the spirit of staying positive.
I know this has been a long post. Normally, I would not weigh in on a School Board race, but I have been asked my thoughts by so many, and I believe the life of our school district is a stake. I love this school district too much to sit idly by and remain silent. We have an outstanding school district that so many are proud of. We have outstanding Board Members who not only attend Board Meetings but also stay connected with our schools on a daily or weekly basis. They attend events, visit classrooms and provide support. I support our School Board Members and stand beside them and all of OCSD. The credit does not go to me or the School Board Members for the successes our district has accomplished. I know our School Board Members would agree that the credit goes to our outstanding students, families, teachers, staff, administrators and community. For each of you, we are grateful.Marcus Chambers, Okaloosa County School District Superintendent
WKRG News 5 has reached out to Yes for Okaloosa County Schools for a response from Pat Ryan directly.