By Billie Criswell
Sitting in the office of Interim Superintendent of the Indian River School District, Mark Steele, it’s evident he’s accessible, open and ready to get down to business. With a no-nonsense attitude, Steele’s career spans 36 years. He began as a high school math and physics teacher and worked his way up to Assistant Principal, Principal, Assistant Superintendent, and now Superintendent. Today, he’s focused on passing the current expense referendum so he can address the various challenges of the district, institute pragmatic approaches and work from the bottom up.
“I want to be a community Superintendent.” Steele starts right in, “that means a strategic plan that goes out five to ten years.” This will include identifying the five most important issues the school district currently faces. To allay any doubts, the community will gain unprecedented transparency. Communication is a key responsibility of the Superintendent, and as such, he intends to create an independent finance committee that meets four times per year. In the same spirit, he also plans to post monthly budget balance sheets on the district’s website.
“We have a perfect storm brewing,” Steele says forebodingly. From State budgets cuts and the exponential growth of our district, passing the referendum on March 2nd is of paramount importance. As Steele points out, Indian River School District students, whether they go on to college or not, have historically been successful within our communities, but if programs are cut, this could greatly affect them.
Why is it so important that the referendum passes? Steele drew a grim picture that extends to 2020 and beyond should we fail in our responsibility to students. Indian River is one of the largest employers in the county, with 1,500 employees. With 150 employees facing the loss of their jobs, 90 of those teachers, class sizes would certainly swell. For incoming first graders, imagine a classroom packed with 35 plus kids. Any child who may need additional attention in a variety of subject areas could easily slip between the cracks, and this kind of learning deficit could impact their entire school experience. This same learning deficit would also affect incoming high-schoolers, whose college-bound abilities may become deficient without proper attention. Steele stresses empathically, “Class size matters.”
“Here’s the bottom line,” he explains, “whether you are talking education or you are talking business, you have to have a well-oiled operation. If the machine breaks down, the product suffers. We have to educate students. Without the referendum, our machine will break.” Steele does not mince words. With a hand shake, and an air of optimism, he is poised to put things right in the district. Steele asserts he is placing his faith in his community of more than 30 years to do the right thing.
Steele would like to urge everyone in the community to come out and support the current expense referendum by voting FOR on March 2nd. There are several locations for the community to come vote and polls will be open from 10 A.M. until 8 P.M. For more information, visit irsd.net/referendum