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Four vying for school board District 4 seat

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Aug 2, 2022

Cape Coral voters can cast a ballot in two of the four non-partisan Lee County School Board races in the Aug. 23 election.

The Cape is split between two districts, seats 1 and 4, depending on address, which will determine in which of the two voters may cast a ballot.

The District 1 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Pine Island — features four candidates, Christine DeVigili, Kathy Fanny, Sam Fisher and Cathy Stout.

The District 4 race, to be decided by voters who live in the district — which includes parts of Cape Coral, North Fort Myers and Dunbar — features four candidates, Jason “Big Mama” Jones; Debbie Jordan, the incumbent; Dan Severson and Gerri Ware.

Seat 6 is at-large, meaning voters countywide may cast a ballot in a three-way race featuring Tia Collin, Jada Langford Fleming and Denise Nystrom.

The seat for District 5 is also up for grabs.

In District 4:

Jason “Big Mama” Jones

Jason “Big Mama” Jones has lived in North Fort Myers with his wife and children for six years and has lived in Lee County since 2008. His children have gone through the School District of Lee County with his oldest daughter graduating from Mariner High School five years ago. He currently has a daughter in middle school and his son is a soon-to-be kindergartener.

“My wife Sara and I have a 12-year personal investment in the Lee County schools. The sharp decline in quality education and nutrition has been shocking. There needs to be more focus on children’s safety. Also, I feel parents’ voices need to be heard and their parental rights protected. As a parent I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore. I need to be their voice,” Jones said.

With a direct connection with the education system, he said he will make a positive impact on children’s lives by improving school safety, bringing nutritional focus to school meals, putting kids’ education first and ensuring parents have a voice.

“We have to secure our schools, improve our nutritional plan, listen to our parents and kids, and stop over spending. I would tackle the latter first. We must stop overpaying for everything and cut the waste, which will help accomplish our goals,” Jones said.

As a radio personality and small business owner in Lee County, he said he has worked with parents for years, listening to their concerns about their children.

“I have utilized my popularity on radio to help children and families in Lee County with food drives, school supplies, bicycle drives, and helping with youth activities and sports. I have already helped create nutritional change for our children. I am proud to have been working with Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno over the years with bus stop safety. Changing lives for the better has been my life mission for years,” Jones said.

Debbie Jordan

Debbie Jordan, the current board chair, has lived in the same Fort Myers home for 33 years, where she has raised her children. A 49-year resident of Lee County, she says her grandchildren and future generations have inspired her to run for another term.

She was first elected to the board in 2018 and is most proud of keeping schools open, so that children could continue to learn and stay safe during the pandemic.

“The last two years have been like non-other, yet our students have had so many districts wins, national, state, and local recognitions. I have seen students who have gone through times that we never had to as kids, let alone young adults, but our students succeeded,” Jordan said.

As a small business owner of a hospitality management company, Nina Rose Events, she said she understands both people and business, and how everyone can work together to get a job done.

If reelected, she will bring her ability to serve and lead, as well as her understanding of the budget to the table. Jordan said she will continue to work on the proximity plan for elementary and middle schools and spend time reading and being prepared to make the decisions needed.

“We need a person who can listen and care about every student, administrator, teacher, faculty, and all support staff. They matter,” Jordan said, adding that she will continue to work with colleagues, parents and families to ensure the best outcome for students.

Dan Severson

After a friend approached him in church a year ago about running for the school board, Dan Severson, who has lived in the southeast Cape since 2015, decided to attend several school board meetings.

“It became apparent there was a disconnect with the board and the community it was elected to serve,” he said. “Rather than responding to the concerns, they seem to be weighing what would cause the least amount of conflict rather than doing the right thing, which to me means listening to the parents, doctors and pastors that had taken the time to attend and speak.”

Severson was a state legislator for eight years, four of which were in executive leadership, and an officer in the United States Navy for 22 years flying fighter aircraft. He said he was assigned to numerous leadership positions before retiring as a commander with numerous medals.

“During my transition from military to civilian, I also earned my substitute license for K-12 and taught for three years in surrounding school districts,” Severson said. “I believe my military leadership, legislative knowledge and substitute teaching experience gives me a solid base from which to draw as a stabilizing element to the school board.”

He said he would first tackle budget transparency, as well as an audit to determine how taxpayer dollars are spent. He cited background knowledge of working with large budgets, logistics issues and personnel matters.

“With three years at Navy Personnel Command, a solid background in personnel management and four years on K-12 and higher education in the legislature, I have experience on budget and resource management. As a substitute teacher across three school districts, I taught in all grades second through 12 and calculus and physical education to EBD and special needs assistant,” Severson said.

His goal would be to work collaboratively with other board members to bring new conservative solutions to busing transportation, expensive and inadequate medical coverage, budget transparency and retention issues currently challenging the district.

Gerri Ware

An advocate for more than 50 years prompted Gerri Ware to toss her hat in the ring for the third time. The first two bids were in 1982 and 2018.

“This clearly depicts commitment and determination to improve the quality of our children’s education,” she said.

She built her home in the Dunbar area in 1978.

Ware is a registered nurse and currently serves as a waiver support coordinator for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. She has 40 clients, all of whom she makes sure receive the services they need.

Her background also includes 15 years of teaching nursing in Collier County at the Vocational Technical School, as she has a MS degree in supervision and administration of adult and vocational education.

“This endowed me with an understanding of the learning process and how to assist individuals with becoming productive citizens,” Ware said.

She said she will continue to advocate for the best education for the children, adding the most precious and powerful tool that we have is the heart, passion and commitment.

“We must advocate for all children. That is why I run because I have consistently attended school board meetings, listening and trying to discern how may I make the board a better one,” she said. “I possess the skill set of synergism . . . able to listen and help to arrive at the solution which is best for all children, not what I want. I would like to be part of a board that doesn’t waste a lot of time arguing in order to reach a decision.”

Ware said District 4 has a history of neglecting the Dunbar community and she is committed to changing that.

“I will advocate for all children. No matter our differences, I share a profound belief that we, collectively, can make a real difference in the battles for democracy, as well as the education of our children,” she said.

Her first task would be addressing the issues brought on by the fast-growing and diverse population — equity, failing schools and teacher and school bus drivers’ salaries.