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#childsafety | Christy Chong, Flagler County School Board Candidate: The Live Interview


Christy Chong. (Kirk Chong)

Christy Chong is one of seven candidates in three races for Flagler County School Board in the Aug. 23 primary election. She is running against incumbent Trevor Tucker.

School board elections–for Districts 1, 2 and 4–are non-partisan races: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in the two races–whether registered Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party.

If you are a registered voter in Flagler County, you may cast a vote in all three races regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in–or whether you are out of state or living abroad, in which case absentee ballots may be sent in.

The election on Aug. 23 will decide the winners in District 1 between incumbent Jill Woolbright and Sally Hunt, and in District 4 between Tucker and Chong. District 2, where incumbent Janet McDonald has opted not to run (she is running for a county commission seat) is a three-way race between Lance Alred, Will Furry and Courtney VandeBunte. The race in this case would be decided only if a candidate wins better than 50 percent of the vote. Short of that, the top two vote-getters will go on to a run-off, to be decided in the general election on Nov. 8.

FlaglerLive submitted 14 identical questions to the school board candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked. Questions appear in bold. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in bold and italics, and may be awaiting answers. When a candidate fails to answer a question, that’s noted in red. The questions and follow-ups attempt to elicit precise answers, but the candidates don’t always comply.

School board members serve four-year terms and are paid $36,000 a year. The amount is set by the Legislature, not the local school board. It increases by a shade under $1,000 each year. Last spring the Legislature passed HB1467, a bill, enacted this year, that institutes a 12-year term limit for school board members. But the clock doesn’t start ticking until November. In other words, any school board member who has served one or more term by then will not have that time counted against the tenure. The restriction is on consecutive years only.

To vote: see a sample ballot here. Early voting is between Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at four sites in the county, listed here. You may vote early at any of the four sites regardless of your precinct location. To vote by mail, request your mail-in ballot here. Because of the Legislature’s new law, restricting voting convenience, drop boxes are available, but only to a limited degree. The ballot drop box at the Elections Office will be monitored by a staff member beginning 60 days prior to the election, through Election Day. This drop box will no longer be available after office hours or on weekends, except during the early voting period. Other drop boxes will be available at early voting locations, but only during the days of early voting, and only during voting hours. Mail ballots must be received in the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted. If returning your ballot by mail, please allow at least ten days for delivery.  A postmark does not extend this deadline. You may track your ballot here. All other election-procedure related inquiries can be answered at the Elections Office’s website.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

Christy Chong: The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: June 10, 1983, New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Current job: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) at Island Doctors.
Net worth: Click here for financial disclosure form. Chong’s resume.
Political affiliation (keeping in mind that school board races are non-partisan): Republican.
Websites and Social Media: ChristyforFlagler.com, and on Facebook. 

1.     What is your vision for public education in Flagler County and how are you uniquely qualified to help enact it within the limitations of the job? If you’re an incumbent, what examples illustrate how you yourself, as opposed to the board collectively, made a difference in enacting your vision in your previous years on the board? If you’re a challenger, what have you done to prepare, so that you’re ready from day one?

As a mom of three in Flagler Schools, I want to see parents get more involved in our children’s education and policy. I stand for parental rights, school choice, and curriculum transparency. Some key issues that are important to me are focusing on reading and literacy, making sure our children become adults that are prepared to lead us in the future. I want to review safety measures and make sure we are doing all that we can to keep our children safe. Our schools must remain open; I think the Covid shut downs have caused long term consequences that are still affecting our children today. I will say no to mandates knowing that each child is different, has different circumstances, and these kinds of decisions should be left up to the parents. I would like to continue to focus on improving VPK and access to quality early learning opportunities. I support competitive teacher pay and a livable wage. These are some of the key issues that I believe will ensure student success. As a nurse practitioner working in healthcare I am accustomed to working in intense situations and staying calm to make critical decisions. I have worked in family medicine and urgent care for the past six years. As an RN I worked in the ER and in labor & delivery. I also train students on the University level in the healthcare field. In order to prepare for this role I have been attending school board meetings, staying up to date on current school issues within our county, and following the decisions and votes of each of our school board members.

How often have you been able to attend meetings and workshops in the last six months, and how will you manage to put in the often very long hours of afternoon workshops and evening meetings, in addition to other demands of a school member’s job (individual meetings, preparation for meetings and workshops), while still keeping up with a presumably demanding work schedule?

I have been attending the evening meetings for the last six months. I work during the day but watch the workshops online. My boss has been very supportive of me running, and if I win, I will adjust my work hours at my regular job so that I can work at the school board.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

2.     Who among school board members of the past 10 years or so do your most closely identify with, and why? Who in the world at large, and among the living, do you consider a role model of political or intellectual leadership?
I most closely identify with board members Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald for their conservative values. At large, I believe Governor DeSantis has been a great political leader.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

3. Candidates often have a list of things they plan to accomplish if elected. As one five board members, what is your understanding of the power of—and limitations on–an individual member, and how would you go about exercising this power and respecting its limits to accomplish specific goals?

Board members have to work together. There are five elected for a reason. We have to be able to reasonably hear each other out and come to the best decision’s for the children in Flagler schools.

What is your understanding of the limits of your authority as a school board member, and what would be an example of overstepping that authority?

Christy Chong did not answer the question.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

4. Tell us who you are as a person—what human qualities and shortcomings you’ll bring (or have brought) to the board, what your temperament is like: if you’re an incumbent, what do you consider may have been a mistake or a misjudgment on your part in your official capacity—something you’d do over, differently–in your last term? If you’re a challenger, apply the question to your work or civic involvement in recent years.

I am a wife, a mother, and a Christian. I am also an Advanced Practice Nurse and would like to highlight that nursing has been ranked as the most trusted profession, highest in honesty and ethics for 20 years in a row. My background has taught me to be calm in all situations in order to critically make the best decisions under pressure. In healthcare there is no room for error when peoples lives are in your hands. I would use the same care and caution as a school board member. I would call myself honest, someone with integrity, and a hard worker.

Can you give us an example of a mistake or an error in judgment you committed at work or in your civic involvements in the last few years, and how it may have guided you to do things differently? 

Because of HIPAA I cannot give any specific patient examples. But as I said, when you work in healthcare, there is no room for error when peoples lives are in your hands. I am proud of the patient care I have given over the years. It’s always important to collaborate with other physicians to ensure the best care for the patient and get them the treatment they need. In healthcare you are always learning and never know absolutely everything. If I make it on the school board, we will as well have to collaborate and workshop different issues to make the best decisions for our children.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.
5. Finances are always a challenge. Let’s imagine that during the next term, the district will contend with the kind of recession it contended with between 2008 and 2010, when revenue fell sharply. What two or three program areas, aside from instruction, would you consider cutting, and what areas would you consider too critical?

Areas I consider too critical to cut aside from instruction: safety and security, student support and behavior, counseling and mental health. Asking what areas to cut is a very difficult question. Typically, when a budget is cut, things like music, arts, and gym seem to suffer. However, these things are critically important to the development of a child. I would like to avoid cutting programs at all costs and work to find the money for these things.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

6. Setting aside Covid policies and procedures, what are the district’s three brightest successes and the three failures that affected students most in the past two to four years? What will be your chief priorities regarding student achievement, within the limits of the doable—that is, four years from now, what can we look back to and say: you were responsible?

I really feel that it is impossible to address this question without considering Covid, which affected nearly every aspect of our lives and children’s lives. One of my children was in kindergarten when schools shut down, this affected his reading and literacy greatly, as I’m sure it affected many children his age. I am thankful that Flagler was able to return to in-person instruction the following Fall, but there was still many challenges to overcome. But I will say that one of Flagler Schools successes was that we used technology early on in Covid. Even though it was hard for my young children to focus on online learning, I was able to see some of our very best teachers and their styles of teaching. I also believe another success was getting kids back to school in the Fall. I know that during the summer of 2020 it was “all hands on deck” to get children in Flagler County back in school.

There’s no question that Covid’s effects were vast, that they persist to some degree, a challenge the board is grappling with to this day, and that successes and failures associated with the pandemic are legion. But the question attempts to get at your perspective on and understanding of the district beyond that, since your four years on the board will be focused on issues far less related to covid than they would have been a year or two ago (as the board’s focus already is). To that end, can you give us your thoughts on three specific failures you see in the system currently that you’d work with your colleagues to tackle? Can you name an overriding priority you would make your signature issue?

I think an overriding priority now as Florida continues to grow is the capacity of our schools. Our last home was in Eagle Lakes which will now be Radiance. They are now planning to add 1,200 homes there with no plans for road infrastructure. Over 400 of these homes will be non-age restricted. Where will all these children be going to school? Flagler is growing. It’s now more important than ever to make sure we have space in our schools for children and families moving here. Other failures I would like to work on would be adding the guardian program to Flagler which is already in 45 counties and previously voted against, improving our school district grades, and continuing to improve education and get kids back to their reading grade level and literacy post Covid.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.
7. This year, the district’s half-penny sales surtax expires. It’s on the November ballot. The district will seek to renew it for the third time for the next 10 years. It’s been in effect for 20 years. Evaluate its worth, explaining how you see where it’s paid off, how you see where it has not. Do you support its renewal, openly advocating for it on the campaign trail, and the focus areas for the next 10 years’ spending. Would you alter its scope in any way and fund different items?

I support and will vote for continuation of the half cent sales tax referendum. This tax augments the money we lose as a debtor county caused by the Florida legislature, every year giving our tax dollars to much larger, more able counties that have a broader tax base. These monies are vital and help support technology and many other curricular needs.

Your first and last sentence are clear, but your middle sentence is concerning, as it does not seem to be accurate: while the county’s  state revenue is at a relative deficit compared to most other counties, that’s in other funding streams entirely–namely, the per-pupil funding formula, which the sales surtax has nothing to do with. The surtax, as in many other counties that opt for it–through the sales tax or through property taxes–is a discretionary option that the district uses as stated, the way, say, Palm Beach uses a surtax to augment teacher salaries. Do you see it differently? Are you comfortable with its proposed scope–it could, for instance, be used to finance new school construction, not just technology–or would you redirect its purpose in any way? 

Christy Chong did not answer the question.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

8. On July 1 Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt enters the third and, for now, final year of her current contract. Assuming you have followed the school board closely in preparation for your run (or are immersed in it as an incumbent), give us your evaluation of Mittlestadt as a leader, as an educational visionary and as an executive. Would you renew her contract? If yes, tell us on what terms. If not, tell us why. Along those lines, what is your experience and success in recruiting and hiring senior executives?

This issue is too critical to the success of our school district to comment on from a taxpayer/parent perspective without knowing the inside details. I will say that as a board member I would give this intense deliberation.

Certainly, but voters generally like to know how their prospective board members perceive the district’s leadership, precisely as taxpayers and parents. You have an advantage: Based on your attendance of board meetings and workshops, as you noted earlier, can you give us your thoughts on the superintendent, based on what you and the rest of us have seen over the last two years (and understanding that she is among the most inscrutable executives any local government has known)?

Christy Chong did not answer the question.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

9. The County Commission through the sheriff pays for roughly half the cost of sheriff’s deputies in schools but it doesn’t have to: security is a district responsibility. Despite that, the school board has at times spoken of the growing financial burden of its share of the contract. What is your opinion of the district’s relationship and contract with the sheriff’s office? If arming staff as opposed to contracting with the sheriff is the more affordable way to go, would you? Alternately, would you be willing to arm civilians in addition to existing deputies, and if so, what sort of ratio of armed civilians per campus would you want, and how would that relieve the district’s financial costs of security? Going that route, do we risk over-weaponizing campuses?

I have had the opportunity to listen to Sheriff Staly on the safety of our schools, and I agree with him on many issues.  I would support the guardian program in addition to our existing deputies, but not to replace them. We need trained professionals in our schools. The safety of our children is of utmost importance today. Screening and training for the guardian program would be covered by state funds. As long as proper screening and background checks are done, staff can be trained to aid in a deadly threat active shooter situation. No, I do not think we risk over-weaponizing campuses.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.
10. The Flagler Home Builders Association and the County Commission successfully blocked a doubling of school impact fees this year, scaling back the school board’s original plan. First, who pays impact fees? Second, do you think either the School Board was unreasonable in proposing its original impact fee schedule, or was the County Commission unreasonable to block it? Setting Florida’s strange statutory requirements aside in this regard, should the County Commission even have a say in ratifying or blocking the policies of a school board? Should home builders?

Impact fees are a one time tax on new construction. This cost is passed onto homeowners one time during the purchase of a new home. Educational impact fees are a responsibility of the school board. The Flagler Board of County Commissioners in fact put a moratorium on their county impact fee for eight years, just lifting it in 2021. The original proposed impact fees were much higher, I believe the revised fees are more reasonable and are thousands less than St. Johns and Volusia County, still keeping Flagler County a more affordable place to live. I do think that the county commission and school board have to work together because an issue like this affects so many different aspects. We need to do what is best for our students and as a board member I will keep Flagler Schools, Flagler’s #1 asset.

The median price of a home–new or not new–in Flagler is now $400,000, having gone up 36 percent in the past year and having doubled since 2018, according to the Flagler County Realtors Association, though school impact fees were still the same as they were in 2005 ($3,500) and, as you noted, the county only recently reinstituted its impact fee schedule. Where, then, is the relationship between impact fees and affordability, and would you vote against subsequent increases in school impact fees, since the board intends to increase them every time the district’s population increases by 500 students?

As a young family that has bought and sold homes, I understand the importance of keeping Flagler affordable for the middle class. We cannot continue to price out families from owning a home in this current market. But growth is a reality, and we need to add schools for our growing population. We definitely have to find a balance which comes down to hard, objective numbers. I would need to see the budget before voting to keep raising impact fees. We need to make sure tax dollars are properly used.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

11. Flagler County’s population has grown substantially in the last decade and a half, from an estimated population of 89,000 in 2006 to 119,000 last year, according to UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Yet school enrollment has been remarkably flat since 2007. One reason is a big demographic shift as the proportion of older residents has grown while that of school-age residents has shrunk. The population grew by 33 percent. The 65-and-over population grew by 70 percent, from 21,400 people 65 and over to 36,500. Private, religious, virtual schools and home-schooling are also factors. What is the future of traditional public education in your view, and are Flagler schools doing enough to counter enrollment erosion from traditional public schools?

While many in the future may choose to homeschool or do virtual school, I still believe there is a huge need for public school. We have seen the effects of Covid, and there is no substitution for in-person instruction. Some families like the flexibility of virtual school, but there are still many parents that need their children to attend public school. I agree that demographics has played a part but I do not see mention of our very large charter schools. These charters account for 1500 students approximately, the majority being elementary and middle school age. They do not show in Flagler School’s population numbers, but they do take millions from the Flagler Schools budget. If we look at the true student population, I would not say that enrollment is flat. Flagler Schools may not have control over the demographic shift but I believe they have worked hard to maintain enrollment in our public schools.

Note: Imagine School at Town Center is the only charter school in the county, with an enrollment of roughly 850 to 870 students that is, in fact, reflected in the district’s total population of just over 13,000. Both Imagine’s population and the district’s have been flat since the 2008 school-year, as this graph shows, with Imagine’s numbers in green. 

Christy Chong did not answer the question.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

12. Two of the more contested bills in the last legislative sessions were HB1557, at times referred to as the “don’t say gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, and HB7, the so-called “anti-woke” bill, which restricts conversations about racism and sexism in schools. Residents now have the ability to sue the district when faced with allegations of infractions, and the district has to assume legal costs regardless. If you were to propose amendments or re-writes of the two laws at the next legislative session, what, if any, would those recommendations be? HB1557 bill reinforces our rights as parents to make decisions about the upbringing of our children in public schools. It does not say “don’t say gay” anywhere in the bill. HB7 is based on the fundamental truth that all individuals are equal before the law and have inalienable rights and prevents discrimination. I would not make any amendments to these bills. I support a parents right to make decisions about the upbringing of their children. And I support provisions to protect individual freedom and prevent discrimination.
See how Trevor Tucker answered.

13. The U.S. Supreme Court has been especially friendly to the re-emergence of religious expression in public schools, or the erosions of restrictions on the use of public funds for parochial education, with more such decisions likely ahead, such as a test of the prayer-in-school standard that would go further than the Coach Kennedy case we saw this term. Do you favor a return to pre-Engle days, the 1962 decision that found school-sponsored prayer in schools unconstitutional even if participation is not required?

While participation is not required, I do believe that prayer is a first amendment right, and no one should be prohibited from the free exercise thereof. I support prayer in schools. As Justice Gorsuch stated “The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and non religious views alike.” The Constitution protects our right to religious expression.

Understanding that a student’s or a school employee’s right to pray individually could not be infringed (as long as it’s not disruptive of ongoing classes or such things), or that that right was never taken away, the direction of the Supreme court is toward expanding the ability of faculty or school employees to pray with students, opening the way to possible further expansion. In that context, would you support a return to pre-1962 standards, when explicit school-sponsored prayer–not just a moment of silence–was allowed, if not common?

Yes I support teachers and faculty praying with students should students request prayer. In the past when I worked at Advent Health, staff had the option to where a prayer pin that let patients know they could ask for prayer. Perhaps something like that could be an option in schools. Yes I would support school sponsored nondenominational prayer. Students would still be able to absent themselves if they did not want to participate.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

14.  Have you ever been charged with a felony or a misdemeanor anywhere in Flagler, Florida or the United States (other than a speeding ticket), or faced a civil action other than a divorce, but including bankruptcies, or faced any investigative or disciplinary action through a professional board such as the bar or a medical board? Have you ever been demoted? If so, please explain, including cases where charges or claims did not lead to conviction or disciplinary action.

No.

See how Trevor Tucker answered.

 

2022 Election Candidates, Flagler County

Races
Candidates
County Commission District 2 Greg Hansen, incumbent (Rep) Janet McDonald (Rep) Denise Calderwood (Rep)
County Commission District 4 Joe Mullins, incumbent (Rep) Leann Pennington (Rep) Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)
School Board District 1 Jill Woolbright, incumbent Sally Hunt
School Board District 2 Lance Alred Will Furry Courtney VandeBunte
School Board District 4 Trevor Tucker, incumbent Christy Chong
Palm Coast City Council Seat 2 Theresa Carli Pontieri Sims Jones Shauna Kanter / Alan Lowe
Palm Coast City Council Seat 4 Cathy heighter Fernando Melendez



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