David Graham, candidate for Sarasota County School Board for District 2, decided to run because he felt the community no longer had a say in district matters.
Graham, 53, was born in Indianapolis. His family moved to Sarasota when he was a teen. He moved back north at age 20 after his father died, and returned in 2016, which he said had always been a dream of his.
He is a graduate of Riverview High School in Sarasota, and has three boys and two grandchildren.
Graham is currently the data management coordinator for the school district, a member of the SC/TA union, a Florida Department of Education Eligible 6-12 business teacher, and a professional photographer.
The Sun asked Graham about his candidacy, issues he cares about, and his hopes for the district’s future.
Why do you want to serve on the School Board?
I felt like I and the community had lost its trust in the board. The board is divided and fighting all the time. This must end. The School Board members are not our leaders, they are our representatives of our community. Students, parents, teachers and staff should all be included and listened to. The board needs to take that input and factor that into their decisions. It is clear right now that special interests and outside influences have too loud a voice. I have no other allegiance other than to the school district and what is best for our students, teachers, and staff.
What issues in the district are important to you?
First and foremost, the COVID crisis. We need a comprehensive plan to address teaching in the fall, including distance and hybrid learning. We will also have serious financial issues to deal with over the next few years. We must be prepared for a significant reduction in funding from the state and we must be proactive to address this. My 30-year business background gives me the skills to help address this critical issue. The board is also currently hiring a new superintendent. I was a strong advocate for pushing to get a highly qualified experienced person in the job before the start of the new school year.
What would you like to see implemented or incorporated into the district?
I would like to have a student committee participate throughout the year. The students have told me repeatedly most do not understand how the school board works and that their opinions do not matter. I believe having a standing student committee will address this issue and provide a better platform for communication. I would also like to see a community action committee created to work with the district throughout the year. I would like to see the new harassment and bullying policy fully implemented and communicated. I would like to see a more comprehensive professional development plan, which also includes incorporating best practices from outside the district and educating our people. I want to make sure that we have a comprehensive and enhanced sanitation plan that is fully executed.
What is your position about the school tax referendum?
The tax referendum is critical to the community and the school district. It has allowed for additional class time, additional teachers, and programs that we otherwise could not afford. The referendum helps to provide funding to keep our district A-rated. The special election is in March, which has now become a hot topic. Some board members want to move the election to the general election to save costs. As someone who traditionally votes in the general election, the idea is appealing as many more voters would have the opportunity to be heard. However, I believe it would be much harder to educate the community and allow the voters to focus on this critical issue. We must continue to educate the community about what the referendum does and how that money is used. I believe that we should keep the special election for the time being and revisit the idea of moving it.
How do you believe the board could better work together?
We must put the students, community, and employees first in every decision always. There is a reason school board elections are non-partisan. The people on the board all come from different backgrounds and have different viewpoints and relationships. We must put politics aside and the personal attacks must stop. We need to listen to everyone’s point of view and try and put ourselves into the other person’s shoes. We need to relearn the art of compromise where all parties are satisfied but no one is 100% happy all the time. By working together, we can have more outcomes where everyone agrees on an issue. We must set a better example for the community.
Do you believe Sarasota County residents trust the School Board? If not, why, and what can be done to regain that trust?
I believe that we have lost the trust of the community, which is why I am running in this election. The lawsuits, the superintendent issues, the public scandals that made the news, all contributed to losing this trust. Whether it is on social media, the news, or in the board meetings as board members we must maintain our professional demeanor and always be civil and understanding to the other point of view. We must not tolerate harassment or bullying. We expect this from our students, teachers, and administrators and we must lead by example so we can earn the community’s trust back.
Where do you think the school district should be in five years?
Hopefully, in five years we will have been able to put this crisis behind us while implementing the lessons learned and best practices throughout the District. I would like to see large grade-level reading improvements. Our minority groups are still significantly behind. In five years, I would like to see all our schools be A- and B-rated schools. When a child reads at level, all their classes become easier to learn. If you have a hard time reading, you have a hard time getting all your classwork done. We also must address the teacher’s pay issues over the next five years. Living in Sarasota County is expensive. Our teachers pay should provide a comfortable living wage here in Sarasota County. We need to work with the community on affordable housing options for our teachers and staff so we can continue to attract quality teachers to the area.
What have you done in your life that would help you be a good school board member?
I have served for most of my life in one manner or another. I have worked at the federal and state government level as a business intelligence consultant. I have taught at the university and corporate setting. I have been a business owner and have dealt with million-dollar contracts and billion-dollar companies and organizations. I have a deep understanding of the district budget and how we can work to make sure every dollar we have is maximized. I am active with our community and I am always open to having a conversation day or night.
Anything else you would like to add?
Many people do not know that the School Board election is on Aug. 18. I would encourage everyone to get educated about this very important election. Please register to vote and ask for by mail so no matter where we are in this crisis you will have a chance to make your voice heard.