School Board Candidate Interview: Courtney VandeBunte

Courtney copy

Ms. Courtney VandeBunte has been kind enough to answer a collection of questions, that we here at the Buzz have put together. Below you can read the questions that were posed to her, and her written responses.

* What is the biggest issue facing our schools in Flagler right now?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I think one of the bigger issues our schools are facing right now are our reading levels, and the decrease in other pre-covid academic levels. School closures and remote learning was hard on everyone, and Flagler Schools has a strategic plan that identifies our weaknesses in reading and other foundational areas among a variety of grade levels. It is imperative that Flagler Schools stick to that strategic plan and continue collecting and monitoring data, including increasing their communication efforts with teachers and families, on how we can help our students achieve their maximum potential. I think Flagler is on a good path to increase reading levels, and if we stay on this path, we can bring our district and schools up to the grade-levels they were pre-covid. This will make us eligible for “A+” funding that we can then put towards improving our schools since one of the other large issues our schools are facing is the continued reduction in budget.

* What do you feel needs to be done to handle our transportation issues?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

Flagler needs to continue its efforts of holding job fairs, changing job descriptions, reorganization the department, approving hourly rate increases, and so on. From attending the workshops and meetings, I know that the transportation department just went through a pretty big “re-organization” with updated job descriptions that make finding qualified applicants easier. The recent approval of the $17.50 hourly rate for bus drivers, as well as the including Commercial Driver License (CDL) training, is an effective strategy to recruit bus drivers. In fact, at the last job fair, a bus driver came from St. John’s county to work in Flagler. I think Flagler is headed in the right direction with addressing our transportation issues. As a Boad member, I would add the importance of bus aides to increase safety and take some of the responsibility off of the bus driver’s shoulders to further reduce turnover within the transportation department.

Do you feel the rezoning of the middle and high schools has solved the issue of overcrowded schools?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I feel that it was a necessary (logistically and legislatively) step towards addressing increased enrollment. Flagler will eventually need a new high school and middle school and before that can start, rezoning had to occur.

* Where do you stand on the idea of building at least one more middle and high school, if not two?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

Although enrollment was flat the past few years, it is now increasing and a new middle and high school will eventually be necessary. I think the superintendent is experienced in working with growing districts and is going through the necessary steps to determine when an additional middle and/or high school will be built.

Where do you stand on the tax dollars allocated for each student following that student no matter where they go, be it public school, private school or home education?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I think it is harmful to the future of public education. The school district is the only local municipality that has a decreasing budget…not even taking into account the tax dollars lost to “scholarships”. It is operating with $1.5 million less than it had 10 years ago, not accounting for inflation. Every other local government here in Flagler has seen budgetary increases. But due to the school board not being able to set its own property tax rate, their budget continues to decrease as the state continues to decreases their property tax rate (11.4% in 1995 to 5.5% in 2022). Add on the fact that those tax dollars can be lost to private/religious schools, and it has resulted in the leanest budget yet. $6 million dollars were allocated towards private and religious institutions last year leaving the district with very little in reserves. If this trend continues, the quality of public education will decrease.

Where do you stand in regards to the homeschooling community in Palm Coast? Do you feel they should have access to public school programs and sports? Do you agree with the regulations they have to follow as home educators?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I think families have the right to decide if their child is homeschooled or not, based on their unique beliefs and circumstances, and if they do decide to homeschool, they should be able to access after school programs and sports, just like their neighbors. I agree that there should be regulations to ensure students are adequately prepared for their future.

* Do you believe our public school curriculum is where it needs to be? If not, please explain what you feel it needs. If you believe it is good please elaborate.

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

Our public school curriculum is set by the state. The new B.E.S.T standards and FAST assessments are being implemented this year for the first time as a replacement of the FSA, and focus on the fundamentals of reading, writing, and mathematics. Although it is too early to tell if these new initiatives are effective, I believe that the progress monitoring nature of the FAST assessments combined with the specifics of the BEST standards has the potential to result in increased academic achievement. Based on my experience as an educator, it is essential to be able to monitor students progress on an individual basis to help them achieve important academic gains.

*How do you plan to deal with bullying? The zero tolerance system does not always work. What are your plans to help ensure no student is bullied at school?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

As an educator, I thankfully did not encounter bullying on a regular basis. I think part of the reason why was due to my classroom management skills and my incorporation of social emotional learning practices. This is a relatively new concept in education, and as a Board member, I will advocate for training and resources devoted to helping teachers and staff create learning spaces that give all students a voice. After all, students learn best when they feel safe and valued, and that’s our number one priority…helping students reach their maximum learning potential in a safe and inclusive learning environment.

*What do you suggest we do to help stop kids today from making threats to their classmates and schools? What do you feel is the best course of action regarding this?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I think my answer to the previous question applies here as well. But I will add that it is important for students to understand the consequences of their words. I think the relationship that Flagler Schools has with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office has a strong foundation. The FCSO has done a good job in the past of communicating with students and families that there are consequences to their words. I would like to see this relationship continue to grow.

*Transparency – Do you feel the current school board is transparent? If no, please explain your thoughts on
why and your suggestions to change that; if yes, please elaborate.

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I don’t think the issue with the current board is transparency as much as it is unity. While transparency is vital, so is unity. There were too many times that the current board lost focus of the main goal: providing our children with the highest quality education possible. There were too many meetings and workshops where precious time was wasted arguing about differences of personal beliefs, and inserting their own personal agendas into the discussion. As a Board member, I will uphold policy and contribute to new policies that will have all of the children’s and families’ rights and best interests at heart, not just my own.

*Do you feel there are enough extra curricular activities for our students of all ages to help keep them busy and out of trouble?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I feel there could always be more! I know this year that Indian Trails has added some after school sports options and I would be open to discussing more options for students…sports, arts, music, community service, and so on! Unfortunately, with the budget being the lowest its been in 10+ years, creativity in providing funding for additional activities will be necessary.

*Do you feel our disciplinary system currently employed in our schools is adequate? Why or why not?

Ms. VandeBunte’s Response:

I feel that it is improving and needs to continue. Programs like “Capturing Kids Hearts” provide a good example for how Flagler Schools is working towards implementing an accepting and safe environment for students where they feel safe to learn and communicate. This program provides teachers and staff with the tools and resources necessary to build meaningful relationships with students…and as a former teacher of 9 years, I know that disciplinary action drastically decreases when meaningful relationships are present. There is always room for improvement, and learning never stops…even at the district level. That is why it is so important to continue making space for discussions about discipline and educationally equity and how we can work together as a district to help guide all of our kids towards academic success.


We have reached out to Ms. VandeBunte’s opponent, Mr. Will Furry, but we have yet to receive a response to our inquires for answers to our interview questions. We will continue to reach out in an effort to provide the residents of Flagler County with as much information on the candidates as possible.

By Krys DeWind

Krys DeWind has been a Flagler County resident since 2016. She is active in her community and is always looking for ways to better it. She has a community first attitude which is one of the central founding ideals of the Flagler County Buzz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *