After a four-year hiatus, one of Polk County’s storied politicians has tossed his hat back into the political ring. Randy Wilkinson, onetime school board member and three-term county commissioner, has opted to chase another school board seat in this year’s August non-partisan election.
Wilkinson is chasing the seat held by veteran School Board member Hazel Sellers who represents Bartow, Mulberry, Fort Meade and Southwest Polk County.
The controversial and outspoken Wilkinson has survived events that would have killed other political careers, including two arrests, one for domestic violence and the other for driving while impaired, both of which were tossed when they reached a judge. He was re-elected shortly after each incident, according to reports.
Today, Wilkinson says he is semi-retired even though he is a certified financial consultant, and spends much of his time devoted to his two young daughters. He also says he is a substitute teacher across the county.
“That’s what got me interested in running again,” he said. “That and those two little girls. I want the best education for them that they can get.”
Wilkinson, 60, has had a varied career outside politics as well. He’s been a legislative liaison in Virginia, a youth minister and served as chief librarian in Hardee County. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carson Newman College, along with a master’s degree in Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master’s degree in library science from the University of South Florida.
He promotes his stance as a conservative Christian and a strong supporter of limiting taxes and government. He said he would oppose any property increase if he is elected.
“It bothers me,” he said, “The schools’ financial management, or should I say lack of it. I believe we could cut some of the administrators out of the district office and use that money to help fix the schools.
“I can’t sit by and watch money just frittered away,” he added.
Wilkinson also maintained that discipline is the schools, particularly high schools, is lax.
“We have a lack of discipline,” he said. “And a lack of rigor. Kids need to be challenged, but they need role models too. They have to learn that certain behaviors are not acceptable.”
The candidate also said he believed the District’s academy system was “a good start” but “needs improvement. That’s only a half step to more vocational skills that students need available to them.”
Wilkinson said he plans to meet with Superintendent Kathryn LeRoy and the other six board members about the goals set for the district.
Calling himself a “budget hawk” he says he wants a “good close look at he budget and see where things can be cut. I know there are cost savings out there that may need to start with some district staff.”
He said LeRoy’s upper level staff hired after she took over in June should have been met with staff cuts to make up the budget.
“That was $750,000 that could have gone into the classroom,” he said. I operate by the Golden Rule and I also am paid to make decisions for myself. If nobody questions what’s being recommended by staff what is the point of having a school board?
“I want to find ways to trim the budget and I know it can be done. There needs to be cutbacks in the administration staff. You can’t keep throwing people at the problems. You need to solve the problems with the people you have. If that doesn’t work, replace people who can solve the problems,not just add more people.
“My role is to ask questions and to push for change,” he said. “I’m not pointing fingers at the superintendent. I’m pointing at the board,” he said. This is one area I disagree with Hazel on.”
On discipline, Wilkinson added the district sends mixed messages to its teachers.
“Teachers can’t discipline students. That’s the problem. We need to bring back in-school suspensions and see if we can’t take away cell phones. I believe they are the root of the bullying problem.”
In conclusion, the candidate said, “I want to prepare each and every student for the work force, and be realistic. Every child has gifts and we need to help them use them to the fullest. We need to have high expectations and see that they know what they are and be there to help them reach them.”