By Erika Webb
For Hometown News
Judy Conte still loves being a member of the Volusia County School Board. She's held the District 4 seat for two decades and she's not ready to give it up yet.
The last time she faced opposition for her seat, she swept the vote by 62 percent. Prior to that, she'd gone unchallenged for 12 years.
On Aug. 14 Ms. Conte, 70, will face three challengers: Linda Costello, Walter Fordham and Charles King in the non-partisan race.
Ms. Conte grew up in Daytona Beach, graduated from Seabreeze High School, Daytona Beach Community College and Florida State University. She has worked as a social worker, English teacher, coordinator of FUTURES' Volusia Compact Adopt-a-Future program, Volusia County Council member, and executive director of the Volusia Literacy Council.
She served more than 20 years as a PTA and School Advisory Council leader before being elected to the school board.
Ms. Conte has also been active in many community organizations.
She's been chairman of the Volusia County School Board five times.
Ms. Conte is in favor of the proposed tax referendum which will be presented to voters on the Nov. 6 ballot. The tax, equivalent to $1 of $1,000 of taxable value, is expected to raise an estimated $100 million over the next four years for academic programs, teacher recruitment and retention and extracurricular activities. One quarter of it would replace a four-year "critical needs" tax due to expire next year.
"My responsibility is not just to parents and taxpayers, but to the students," she said. "It's every child's right to be educated to the best of their ability and we do. And that's expensive."
She's also in favor of more school time for students in this country, including longer school days and more of them.
"American students are as bright as any in the world and, yet, they go to school less than any developed nation in the world," Ms. Conte said.
What she doesn't favor is lack of local control over schools.
Part of her reasoning that "public education is under threat at the moment" has to do with what the Florida Legislature has handed down in recent years.
She strongly opposes the "Religious Freedom Amendment" certified for the Nov. 6 ballot. Passage of Amendment 8 would repeal a ban of public dollars for religious funding. The measure means a revision of the Florida Constitution to allow vouchers at private schools.
Ms. Conte said the public needs to realize these funds wouldn't just go to certain religiously affiliated private schools. Her concern is how the amendment would interact with the constitutional restrictions, at state and federal levels, against religious discrimination.
"Who's to decide what's a valid religion, and what isn't? I don't know if people understand the money could go to Madrasas, the Islamic schools," she said.
She also feels recent diversions of state funds to charter schools - primary and middle schools receiving public funds, without being subject to many of the constraints placed on public schools - is the state's way of moving toward public school privatization. Ms. Conte said the concept of charter schools has been "sold to the public" as a means of better educating less fortunate students, but she feels it's a tactic to make public schools "more like private schools."
"Of late, (the) state legislature has been eroding local control of schools. This is a very important matter, not just for me. I think it's important for the community," she said.
With regard to standardized test scores, she said, "What's great is sometimes what's difficult. We are that melting pot and people come from all over."
She said she wouldn't trade that cultural integration.
"A test is just one part of a person's education. Often you learn more in a class in which you make a C than one in which you made an A," she said.
Ms. Conte has been married to Jack Battenfield for four and a half years.
"I kept my last name because Conte fits better on a yard sign," she said. "It sounds tacky, but it's the truth. Poor dear, this is his first campaign."
She has three children and, her husband's included, 11 grandchildren.
Ms. Conte said her 96-year-old mother still lives in the area, and wants to hold a sign for her daughter in this election.
"She's amazing. She delivered Meals on Wheels to 'old people' until she was 92," Ms. Conte said.
Another family member and integral member of her campaign crew is her "moderately annoying brother."
Two very important possessions of people in public office, according to Ms. Conte, are "a sense of perspective and a sense of humor".
And, what about tenure?
"People say, 'She's been there too long,'" Ms. Conte said. "Well, I didn't put myself in office!"