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School Board races at a glance

By Staff | Jul 24, 2020

There are primaries for each of the three Lee County School Board seats up for grabs but voters countywide may only cast a ballot in one of the nonpartisan races.

The seats for Districts 2 and 3 will be determined by voters who live in those districts only while all voters, regardless of party affiliation or the district in which they live, can cast ballots in the District 7 race, which is at-large.

The relatively new format of seven board members went into effect in 2016 after voters passed an amendment that changed the five-member all elected-at-large board into a seven-member board with five members elected within their district and two elected district wide.

School Board District 2 includes the areas of South Fort Myers, Cypress Lake, Franklin Park, Dunbar, Villas, Tanglewood, Orangewood, San Carlos and Three Oaks.

School Board District 3 includes the areas of Heights, Lexington, Rayma C. Page, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Pinewoods and Bonita Springs.

There are four candidates running in District 2 in the Aug. 18 nonpartisan primary — Emory Cavin, Charla Strange Fox, Melisa Giovannelli, the incumbent, and John F. “Jeff” McCullers.

Three candidates are running in the primary in District 3 — Brian Digrazio, Chris Patricca, the incumbent, and Jacqueline Perez.

The Primary candidates for the School Board at Large 7 seat are George Peter Bohatch, Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan, the incumbent, and Curt Sheard.

The top vote getter in the Aug. 18 Primary Election will advance to the Nov. 3 General Election.

The candidates, at a glance, are:

School Board At Large 7:

(Everyone votes)

* George Peter Bohatch

Why are you running for the school board?

“I’m running for change and to bring much-needed school based and district level experience to the board. The current board is very “dysfunctional,” seldom focusing on the issues at hand. Teamwork is non-existent. The constant “bickering” and personal attacks towards each other do nothing for improving the education of our students. My extensive team-building experience would be an asset to the board. In addition, my experience as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, district director and executive director is needed during these ever changing times.”

His three top issues are health, safety and security for students and staff members; student assignment plan and staff compensation.

* Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan, incumbent

Why are you running for the school board?

“My job is not finished. Critical elements of high achieving school districts are a high performing superintendent, a flexible, forward thinking strategic plan, and a professional, high quality school board. Five years ago, we hired a Superintendent who has proven to be an effective education leader-respected by educators, business leaders, and community members. Four years ago we implemented a District Strategic Plan (Envision 2020). It has proven to be effective-for three years our graduation rates have increased, student achievement in language arts and math has improved at all levels, and the achievement gap for minorities is narrowing.

Her three top issues are funding, learning readiness and community collaboration.

* Curt Sheard

Why are you running for the school board?

“It is my desire to provide a fresh perspective while utilizing my business skills, military training and community service time to add value to the board. It is my goal to be the catalyst of positive change which will in turn make our school district more desirable.”

His top three issues are accountability, transparency and student safety.

School Board District 2:

(District 2 voters only; this race may not appear on your ballot.)

* Emory Cavin

Why are you running for the school board?

“I was taught from a very young age that the most valuable and even priceless gift my family could give me was an education, more than money or possessions. I am 18 years old and graduated from Fort Myers High School earlier this year, which gives me an unconventional perspective on this position. For the past four years, I have been involved with my school and community in my roles as Student Government President, student representative on Fort Myers High School’s School Advisory Committee, and representative on the School Board Student Advisory Committee. In that role, I had opportunities to speak and give short speeches about the issues our faculty, staff, and students face to the board and the public. I also worked for four years in the Communications and Production Department at the school district where I created video news stories about various faculty, staff, students, and parents. This position gave me the unique opportunity of visiting almost every school in the district and forming real connections with the people that give so much of their blood, sweat, and tears to our students.

Altogether, these positions gave me a firsthand view of the way school board policy affects real people. Now, I hope to give back to my community by making sure that our district’s employees get the respect they deserve and create an environment for them that will allow them to continue to mold our children into the prepared, confident, and open-minded adults of the future.”

His three top issues are making sure that teachers who have invested their entire professional lives invested in students feel valued in the district; funding and board unity.

* Charla Strange Fox

Why are you running for the school board?

“As an educator, I know first-hand the needs of our students. I see how state mandates impact teaching and learning. An educated workforce is a work force that creates economic stability and growth for our community. If our community is serious about our students’ success, then we need to get serious about doing what works for our kids.”

Her top three issues are safety in the COVID-19 era, funding cuts and support for teachers and support professionals.

* Melisa Giovannelli, incumbent

Why are you running for the school board?

“I am running for re-election because I want to continue my work as being the voice of the people and for the people. I bring public awareness of the needs of our District with my relationships throughout the community. When you have tax dollars at stake and a $1.6 Billion Dollar Budget you have to question how things are done and how the money is being spent. I was elected to protect the children and our tax dollars. I am not the go-along get-along elected official. I am not part of the establishment, I will continue to advocate for students, parents and teachers. I will continue to ask the hard questions: Are we supporting out students and teachers? Are our students and staff safe? Are we making sound decisions? Is the District being fiscally responsible? Are we making sure All students are being educated to their utmost ability? All these questions should aid and lead to increased graduation rates as all students are entitled to a free and appropriate education.”

Her top three issues are transparency, accountability and fiscally responsible; student achievement and student and staff safety.

* John F. “Jeff” McCullers

Why are you running for the school board?

“I want to live in a town with great schools, and I can help make sure that happens. My entire 35-year career in education was repaying a debt I owed to my own teachers. I have served students and teachers and families all of my life, and I want to continue paying it forward.”

His top three issues are leadership, stewardship and weathering the storm of the global economic shutdown and ongoing pandemic.

School Board District 3:

(District 3 voters only; this race may not appear on your ballot.)

* Brian Digrazio

Why are you running for the school board?

“I am running for School Board for a multitude of reasons. The biggest inspiration for taking on this endeavor is my children. I currently have three kids, ages 5, 4, and 1. As well as one on the way. All of them will attend district public schools. I believe the district does a lot of things well, but there are also several opportunities for improvement. My biggest concern is the safety of our students. Whether it’s bullying, serious safety incidents, or COVID-19, we must meet this basic need in order to be successful in educating our children. With my experience as a Critical Care RN, I feel I can help bring about some of the needed changes in order for the district to achieve its vision of being a world class school system.”

His top three issues are safety, fiscal responsibility, proximity plan and employee pay increases.

* Chris Patricca, incumbent

Why are you running for the school board?

“I am running for re-election to the Lee County School Board District 3, so that I can build upon the successes that have been accomplished during my first term. Over the past three and a half years, our students have earned the highest graduation rates in the history of Lee County; we have no schools graded a “D” or an “F” and the number of “A” and “B” schools are increasing; we are decreasing achievement gaps year after year; and we secured additional revenue to build and maintain schools in the face of a $130MM per year decrease in state funding at a time when our district is growing at a rate of 1,500 new students per year. Finally, as a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association Board of Directors and the Vice President of the Florida School Boards Association, I have access to colleagues, education leaders, and legislators across the state and across the nation. This allows me to identify best practices from other districts and bring those practices back to Lee County, to benefit our children and our community.”

Her top three issues are reopening and operating schools during a global pandemic, increasing opportunities for students to receive education and certifications in the trades and recruiting and retaining high quality staff.

* Jacqueline Perez

Why are you running for the school board?

“I am running for school board because I know that the district can be better. I have been a longtime advocate for change in the district. I have assisted parents and students to gain access to the services needed for children to find success in the classroom. I have spoken for employees that needed an advocate to express their frustrations. After some small victories I realized that I was not achieving the goal of bringing real change to the district from the outside. In order to do this I needed to be on the inside to successfully attempt to achieve positive changes.”

Her top three issues are accountability for financial responsibility and oversight; commitment for quality education and employee compensation and transparency for easier public record accessibility.