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Zorc seeking to revitalize local School District

Photo: Laura Zorc: ‘There will be a lot of changes in how we’re doing business.’

Newly-elected school board member Laura Zorc may be the district’s best hope for revitalizing the School District and reversing a trend toward deteriorating grades and facilities. The district’s last overall report card showed it’s about a point below the state’s average, which is very average indeed.

“I don’t want our kids to just pass. I want us to be above average,” said Zorc, who brings enthusiasm, determination and considerable experience with educational issues to her new $34,000-a-year job. “I want to be an innovative school board member. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”

Zorc formed Florida Parents Against Common Core in 2013, which now boasts 20,000 members, and became enough of a force that Gov. Rick Scott tried to make common cause with her by appointing her to the 10-member “Keep Florida Learning” state committee.

She was not impressed with the committee’s work – “I was there as the token anti-Common Core person, but everything had already been decided” –  but she learned a lot about the legislative process and made valuable connections, including an open line to Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

Her connections in the Senate are impressive too: “Joe Negron endorsed me and he is our new president of the Florida Senate,” Zorc said. “Both he and Sen. Thad Altman contributed to my campaign.”

Zorc’s relationship with local parents is stellar. She was vice president and is now president of the Indian River County Council Parent Teachers’ Association.

She has a degree in business administration, with an emphasis in accounting, and is an independent operations manager consultant. Before she married Tim Zorc, now District 3 County Commissioner, in 2003, she was an operations manager for several shop-at-home television stations. She plans to apply that knowledge to the district’s operations, which have been criticized as fiscally unsound and lacking in transparency.

“There will be a lot of changes in how we’re doing business,” Zorc said. “I want detailed, itemized reports on where the money is going.”

She disapproves of how the district funds construction projects, using one-year lease-buy-back financing, otherwise known as Certificates of Participation. The financing method circumvents the referendum process for issuing long-term bonds, but still encumbers tax dollars – without citizen input or permission. 

“The school board recently issued about $33 million more in certificates of participation debt,” Zorc said, “but the board wasn’t given a full explanation by district staff before making the decision.”

She wants staff reporting to be more thorough and timely, so the board can better perform its fiscal oversight duties instead of being a rubber stamp for murky staff budgets and proposals. 

“I’ve already warned district staff that I want information on policy and significant debt at least two weeks in advance [of a meeting]. I will always vote ‘no’ on such issues if presented one week before hand,” she said.

Zorc is unabashedly in favor of charter schools and feels their funding should be equal to that of other district schools. When it comes to divvying up local property taxes, she’ll vote for equality.

She’s against the district using funds to litigate against charters.

Another focus will be Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, educational programs. “I want to make sure that every school that wants to have innovative STEM classes will have the money to get them up and running,” she said.

Graduation rates and their effect on the local economy concern her, too. “We should be following up with each student who isn’t graduating and get them back in school or into adult education. Our unemployment rate is high. Every student should be ready for college or a career. You can’t get into a trade, you can’t take trade certification tests, without a high-school diploma or a G.E.D.”

Zorc, who defeated Douglas Wight in the August primary, garnering 60 percent of the vote, and brushed off an inconsequential write-in challenge on Nov. 8, was sworn in Nov. 22.