The KONK Life Questionnaire

Conducted by Mark Howell

Stuart Kessler


KONK Life has invited the candidates in the upcoming elections to answer the following 20 questions about themselves and their candidacy.


Q: Stu Kessler, tell us your name, age, what office you’re running for and any previous offices held.


A: I am 58 and running for School Board District 1. I currently serve as the chair of the Volunteer Monroe County School Board Audit and Finance Committee and was also on the 2013 School Board Strategic Planning Committee. Before moving to the Keys in 2004, I was on the school board of a suburban Philadelphia school district for 20 years.


Q: Explain your platform and why you are running:

A: I was on the Strategic Planning Committee, which last year created a plan to establish ethical and competent management, adopt state-of-the-art technology and educational programs, and that we treat employees with fairness and respect. I have been disappointed that this plan has not been implemented as intended, and one of my priorities would be the good faith and effective implementation of the strategic plan.

The Monroe County School District is the highest funding per student in the state, has excellent teachers and a fully capable student body in comparison to most districts. There is no legitimate reason we should not be the top district in the state and be able to provide our students with a rich and diverse educational experience.

However, since joining the Audit and Finance Committee, I have become aware of just how poorly managed the district really is. It appears that the students and teachers are its lowest priority. Teacher morale hit quite a low this year when the administration mistakenly tied the governor’s teacher-raise money first to restoring furlough days (which was illegal) and then to the settlement of the teachers’ contract (which was not necessary for the distribution) that delayed the payment by almost a year.

We have enough resources to provide a rich and diverse program for the students and to treat the teachers with fairness and respect. However these resources are squandered by mismanagement. It is simply not fair to the kids.

I hope to provide the district with visionary, ethical, informed and experienced leadership, where “doing the right thing” is the only acceptable thing to do. My 22 years of experience on a school board and volunteer support boards means that I understand the complexity of School Board governance. I have proven that I know what it takes to make a difference because I have done it before.


Q: Detail how you differ from your competing candidates:

A: I am the only candidate with extensive school board governance experience, yet at the same time not an incumbent. My involvement with the school board’s Audit and Finance Committee means that I know the district’s finances and operational issues as well as anyone. Not only can I hit the ground running, but I understand the problems and have the proven experience solving them. I will not have the long training period other candidates will have – and can begin solving problems on day one.


Q: Tell us your personal history: Education; professional career; family life and how long you’ve lived in the Keys or the county and your relationship to the Florida Keys and/or Key West.

A: I have a master’s degree in business administration (finance) and a law degree. I moved with my family to the Keys in 2004 when my children were in 11th, 9th and 5th grade. They have all since graduated from Key West High School. My wife of 30 years is a teacher and my jobs in the Keys have always been in the public sector. I was originally employed a teacher and then worked for the county and state. All of my experiences in the Keys have added to my knowledge and understanding of school governance.                        



Q: Touch on your personal passions in addition to the above:


A: I am passionate about people being honest. I am passionate about people stepping up to be the best they can be, to not accept mediocrity, to solve problems and not sweep them under the rug.


Q: Describe where, in your view, we are going wrong in the Keys and/or Key West:


A: The Keys does so many things right. I have found this community to be open, caring and supportive. I have made good friends. My wife and children have made good friends. However, the local politics can be rough and very personal. Sometimes this results in the election of candidates who have agendas that are not in the best interest of the community. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of the school board where the children are the ultimate victims.



Q: Tell us the political flash points you expect to encounter if elected:


A: There needs to be change for the school district to perform as it should. There will be those with vested interests who resist change. I am hoping everyone will remember that the children are the priority.


Q: Tell us anything you feel you need to explain or any misapprehension you believe voters may have of you:

A: Part of my volunteer position on the school district’s Audit Committee is to find and point out errors. Some have criticized me because people think it isn’t “nice” or polite to point out errors. Maybe that is true to a certain extent but it is part of the job and I feel it is important or nothing will improve. I always try to make constructive criticisms, never personal. Most people who know me know I am actually a pretty nice guy despite my public persona.


Q: Give us your view on the partisan divisiveness in politics today and any solution to it you might have:


A: I am frustrated by partisan politics. People in public service should do what is best not for themselves but for the community, country and world in which we live. Voters need to become more informed and elect candidates who care about doing the right thing – and have the courage to make it happen.


Q: Given that gender equality, income parity, voting rights and sexual preferences continue as big political issues nationwide today, tell us on which side of the aisle you stand:


A: I generally believe that people know what is best for themselves and they should have the legal right to make choices for themselves unless it hurts others. The right to vote should not be impaired. The current income disparity can be traced to a series of short- sighted government policies that are too voluminous to discuss here.


Q: And how about immigration, gun control and capital punishment:

A: These are not really school board issues.


Q: Name your favorite movie:

A: “The Grapes of Wrath.”


Q: Your favorite TV show:

A: “The Daily Show.”


Q: Your favorite TV talking head:

A: I watch all the opinion news shows to hear all sides. One of my favorites was Keith Olbermann when he was on. I am currently a fan of Meet the Press and appreciate the contributions of many people and perspectives, but I feel all the “spin” is hurting our democracy.


Q: Your favorite newspaper columnist:

A: Right now, I am a fan of Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post because he posed for a picture with me after the recent Take Stock in Children Graduation.



Q: Your favorite book:

A: Biography of John Adams.


Q: Your favorite character in American history:

A: John Adams. He believed in doing what was best for his new country and was frequently misunderstood in his efforts to do the right thing because he had a different perspective than other people.


Q: Your favorite person in Florida Keys and/or Key West history:

A: My favorite story involves many people. It is the story of Conch Republic Independence – “we seceded where others failed.”


Q: Your favorite quote or proverb:

A: Don’t kill the messenger.


Q: Is there any secret strength you’d like to reveal about yourself at this point:

A: First, I have pretty good radar for the spin and nonsense government bureaucracies like the school district uses for excuses for failure. In the school board realm, I often find that I am only one who has not “drunk the Kool Aid” so it is lonely until the others realize that they have been lied to. Second, is the strength of my family. Our support of each other allows us to be true to who we are as individuals and strive to be the best we can be.


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