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West Volusia residents will vote in two School Board primaries Tuesday, Aug. 28, to elect representatives for Districts 1 and 5.

Voters in District 1 may have a tough time choosing among the three candidates hoping to win the seat left vacant when Dr. John Hill declined to run for a second term.

Candidates Leslie LaRue, Jamie Haynes and Al Bouie voice similar opinions: They all want to zero in on the needs of children and teachers, they are all cautious about charter schools, and they all hope people realize that adequately funded education is a wise investment for our society in the long run.

All three candidates have worked in Volusia County Schools. All three have put children through the public-school system here.

Maybe you like to vote by political party? LaRue is registered with no party affiliation (NPA), Haynes is a Republican, and Bouie is a Democrat.

But this is a nonpartisan race. All voters in District 1 may cast ballots in the primary. If none of the three wins a majority of the votes that day, the top two will proceed to a runoff in the general election Tuesday, Nov. 6.

District 1 covers DeLand, Northwest Volusia, Orange City, Lake Helen and most of DeBary.

LaRue entered the race first, in January. Haynes jumped in in May, and Bouie qualified to run at the last minute, June 22.

Bouie explained the reason for his late entry. Although he had thought about running for a School Board seat for more than a year, he said, he would not have entered this race if his friend Bill Kelly, whom Bouie had supported, had not been forced by a health problem to drop out.

Despite the late start, Bouie already reports $3,935.46 in his campaign war chest, including $1,785.46 he lent his campaign, mostly to pay the qualifying fee, and the rest contributed over just a few weeks by five people.

LaRue has the largest number of contributors, at 32, including 17 teachers. She’s amassed $3,952 for her campaign, including a little over $1,000 she and her husband contributed, including $960 in cash plus some in-kind contributions.

Haynes, the sister of current District 1 School Board Member Hill, has raised $2,735 in campaign cash, including $500 she lent her campaign, plus donations from seven contributors. 

Haynes is the only one of the three candidates to have qualified to run by collecting signatures from District 1 voters, instead of paying the qualifying fee.

District 5 covers Deltona, the rest of DeBary, and a swath of unincorporated rural areas stretching north to Daytona Park Estates in DeLand. 

Voters in that district will be choosing among incumbent Melody Johnson, a physician’s assistant, and challengers Ruben Colón, who works for Florida Hospital, and Robert Mann, an electrical engineer at Kennedy Space Center.

Johnson is the money-leader in that race. As of the last report, she had raised $12,518.18 for her campaign from contributors, and spent $3,783.15. Colón had raised $9,464.50 — including $5,474.50 in loans from himself — and spent $8,448.41. Mann had raised $3,803.47 — including $2,508.40 in loans to himself — and spent $2,399.90.

— Overview by Barb Shepherd


 


 

DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES

Profiles by Barb Shepherd

 

Al Bouie

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PLANTING TREES — Candidate Al Bouie, left, does some landscaping work at DeLand High School as part of a Rotary project.” width=”696″ height=”1008″ />

PLANTING TREES — Candidate Al Bouie, left, does some landscaping work at DeLand High School as part of a Rotary project.

Al Bouie would like to see Volusia County’s school system return to its statewide reputation for success.

“There was a time when people would come to Volusia County to see how things were done,” Bouie said.

He regrets the contention that has arisen of late, especially between teachers and the school district, in a time of tight budgets that has seen teachers fighting for benefits.

“Next to our children, our teachers are our most precious resource,” Bouie said. “We can’t afford to be this distracted.”

Bouie said his experience during 47 years in education in Volusia County gives him the knowledge to help get things back on track.

He’s been a teacher and a principal at the elementary, middle-school and high-school levels, worked as the science-curriculum supervisor, and headed up teacher recruitment and retention. 

After retirement in 2008, which was followed by a precious time with his father during his dad’s last days, Bouie went to Bethune-Cookman University for six years, where he worked as a curriculum coordinator and in a support program designed to help freshmen succeed.

“I can relate to teachers at every level, I can relate to principals at every level, and I can relate to support staff,” Bouie said. “I believe I know what an effective school looks like.”

A year out of college, Bouie was hired at DeLand High School when Volusia County public schools were just beginning to desegregate. He was the first black male teacher hired at DeLand High, and he relished the opportunity to share with students his love for biology and chemistry in a well-equipped school, as well as to coach sports.

“I thought, this is my happily ever after — right here,” Bouie said.

But it wasn’t to be. Bouie’s skills and work ethic kept getting noticed by supervisors, who recommended him for advanced roles, and he worked his way through a master’s degree and doctorate, and various leadership roles.

Given Bouie’s childhood, perhaps his continual advancement shouldn’t have been a surprise. As a child growing up in Tallahassee, Bouie said, he worked every summer alongside his father, who managed the hog farm at Florida A&M University, along with running his own barbershop. Bouie drove the tractor, and ate sandwiches with his father for lunch.

“My mom sent me to work with my father during the summers. Work was what I learned to do,” he said. “I thought that’s what everyone did.”

Growing up alongside four siblings, Bouie watched his parents model hard work. They set goals and worked toward them, he said, saving up until they could pay in full, for example, to add a room to the house.

“Banks weren’t loaning money in those days, especially to people of color,” Bouie said.

He’s grateful now for the experience.

“Now that I can look back on it, I can say, thank God for Alberta and Willie Frank Bouie,” he said. “They gave me so much.”

Now Bouie looks forward to helping the School Board refocus on effective schools. Creating a successful school district will require bringing together parents, the Florida Legislature, local government, and even local health care providers, he said.

“People who are hungry are not going to make education their top priority,” Bouie said. “People who are sick and can’t get proper health care are not going to make education their top priority.”

School safety (but no guns for teachers), vocational education, and making charter schools play by the same rules as other public schools are all things he would like to work on, always keeping children as the top priority.

“If our decisions at the School Board level are not made to benefit the children, we don’t need to be making those decisions,” he said.


Jamie Haynes

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LISTENING — Candidate Jamie Haynes speaks at the Free Volusia County Rally in DeBary June 23. Haynes has worked for Volusia County Schools for more than three decades. ” width=”680″ height=”1024″ />

LISTENING — Candidate Jamie Haynes speaks at the Free Volusia County Rally in DeBary June 23. Haynes has worked for Volusia County Schools for more than three decades. 

“I get in trouble, I’ll be honest with you,” Jamie Haynes said, unabashedly.

Haynes’ role as coordinator of the school system’s Title I summer-enrichment programs requires her to pull together the services of the transportation department, food service, teachers, curriculum specialists, human resources, facilities, and so on.

“I have to work with every department of the school system,” she said.

If something’s not right, Haynes isn’t shy about saying so. It’s for the kids.

“I’ve always had a passion for kids and teaching kids,” she said.

Haynes is starting her 32nd year of working for Volusia County Schools, including 23 years as a classroom teacher.

Educated in Tennessee, she had the opportunity to sit in her Aunt Katy Lockney’s English classes at DeLand High School while visiting other relatives who had retired in the DeLand area during Spring Break and summer vacations.

After Haynes graduated with a teaching degree, her aunt encouraged her to come to growing Volusia County, where there were plenty of job openings for teachers.

“I came, and I haven’t looked back,” she said.

Starting at Enterprise Elementary, she has moved through a variety of roles in the school system, much of it as a single parent with two children at home. She’s taught every elementary grade except fourth, and also taught high-school math.

She first stepped out of the classroom when the first Florida Department of Education school grades came out. As a lead teacher on assignment, Haynes said, she was tasked with mentoring teachers at schools with poor grades, to help them be more effective.

She has served as a reading coach and an academic coach, has overseen tutoring programs, helped teachers design lesson plans, learned grant-writing and managed large budgets.

“I learned a lot of things, but I still got to spend my time with kids and teachers,” Haynes said.

Her strength, she said, is in taking a big idea and breaking it down into tasks necessary to reach the goal. On the School Board, she said, her experience and approach will allow her to be the voice that makes the others stop and think.

When the School Board deliberates, she said, every decision should be weighed as to how it will affect children and teachers.

“The first two things are what the student needs and what the teacher needs in that classroom,” she said. “Those should be the first two things that are looked at, not the last two things.”

Many employees of Volusia County Schools, Haynes said, have never spent time in the classroom.

“They want to tell you what it’s like, or what it should be like,” she said.

Eventually, Haynes went to work for the school system’s Title I program. Title I is a federal program that provides funding to enrich offerings at schools with high numbers of children from poor families.

In 2008, she said, 26 schools qualified for Title I help. Today, even with more restrictive qualifying standards, more than 50 of Volusia County’s 85 schools are Title I schools.

“We have the largest number of children we’ve ever had on free and reduced-price lunch, and it just keeps going up,” Haynes said.

Currently, Haynes is the Title I technology and summer-program coordinator.

And, yes, she’s the sister of Dr. John Hill, who currently holds the District 1 seat on the School Board, but decided not to run for re-election.

Haynes said she was surprised four years ago when her brother announced his plans to run for the School Board, something she had long thought about doing.

“Since my second year of being in Volusia County, since I went to my first School Board meeting … I always knew that might be the next step,” she said.

Her brother, she said, managed to bring about positive changes in the school system’s construction policies. 

Now she’s ready to go to work, starting with making sure elementary-school teachers have textbooks again — whether hardcover or electronic — and working to bring more financial transparency to the school system’s $840-million-plus budget.


Leslie LaRue

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LISTENING — Candidate Leslie LaRue, left, chats with her daughter Lauren LaRue and friend Jon Covert at Chess Park in Downtown DeLand.” width=”696″ height=”522″ />

LISTENING — Candidate Leslie LaRue, left, chats with her daughter Lauren LaRue and friend Jon Covert at Chess Park in Downtown DeLand.

If Leslie LaRue is elected to represent District 1 on the five-member Volusia County School Board, not much will change for her on board meeting days. She’s been attending the School Board’s meetings for the past five years.

In addition to her full-time job as registrar for George Marks Elementary School, LaRue is treasurer of the school PTA,  is chair of the School Advisory Council at DeLand High School, and serves on the District Advisory Committee for the school system, which she also formerly chaired.

Before taking a paid job with the school system in 2017, LaRue volunteered. In the 2016-17 school year, for example, she gave more than 900 hours.

“I live a life of proven service and advocacy for each and every student,” LaRue said. “It’s not just idle words; it’s action.”

Now, she wants a seat on the dais. Friends urged her to run, she said, for the School Board District 1 seat being left vacant by Dr. John Hill’s decision not to run for re-election.

LaRue is well-versed in the school district’s challenges. In 2014, she chaired the campaign to ask voters to extend the half-cent sales tax for schools, and she’s been to Tallahassee to lobby legislators about the damage done to Volusia County Schools by the district-cost-differential funding formula.

Both locally and on the state level, LaRue said, what she sees missing is a parent’s perspective.

“I feel that we leave parents and teachers out of a lot of the decision-making,” she said.

LaRue and her husband, Jeff, have two children in Volusia County Schools: 11-year-old Ainsley at DeLand Middle and 8-year-old Kylie at George Marks. Lauren, the oldest, graduated from DeLand High School and is in her second year at Flagler College in St. Augustine, where she earned straight A’s as a freshman. The LaRues lost a fourth child, Chloe, to cystic fibrosis in 2002.

Although many of today’s school-system decision-makers may have had educational careers, Leslie LaRue said, they may still not fully understand what’s going on in 2018.

“What happened in the classroom 10 years ago is vastly different from what’s happening today,” she said.

The opioid-addiction crisis and economic challenges have a significant percentage of the school population “always in survival mode,” LaRue said. That makes teaching a special challenge, and threatens the school system’s ability to maintain a level playing field for all students.

“School is the one place that’s still supposed to be equitable for all people,” she said.

LaRue said she has an analytical, fact-based approach to problems that enables her to earn the respect of others around the table. At 28, she said, she was working in marketing for an engineering firm with 10 offices, a job that put her in touch with the company’s CEO and other principals.

“They were in their 40s and 50s, and they asked me what I thought,” LaRue said with a laugh.

On the School Board, LaRue would like to work to put more resources into the classroom, especially to boost early childhood education.

She points out that state figures show it costs about $32,000 a year to house a prisoner, while Volusia County spends about $13,650 per year per child on education.

“It’s cheaper to educate than it is to incarcerate,” LaRue said.

She would like to see the school system stop spending money on the latest educational shiny toy, and recognize that it’s teachers who really make the difference.

As a School Board member, LaRue said, she would regularly visit schools in District 1 during the teachers’ lunch hours, to listen to them and their concerns.

“We spend money on programs … that they think are going to replace a teacher, and they don’t,” LaRue said. “Guess what? The countries where teachers are respected are the academic leaders.”



 

DISTRICT 5 CANDIDATES

Profiles by Erika Webb

 

Ruben Colón

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ON THE TRAIL — Candidate Ruben Colón campaigns at a recent event hosted by the Deltona Woman’s Club. ” width=”696″ height=”532″ />

ON THE TRAIL — Candidate Ruben Colón campaigns at a recent event hosted by the Deltona Woman’s Club. 

In the race for the Volusia County School Board’s District 5 seat, showing up and standing up are Ruben Colón’s strongest vows.

School safety and human capital, including happy, fairly compensated teachers and staff members, are his top priorities.

“What two things are more important?” Colón asked The Beacon.

“My priority is a single point of entry in all schools,” he said. “We should be having every fence company in the county put a fence around every school, not just those on the east side.”

Colón said there is a direct correlation between happy, fairly compensated teachers under a stable administrative branch and school success. 

Since 2014, he noted, Deltona’s 15 schools have experienced more than 100 transitions of principals and assistant principals, resulting in declining student performance. 

Losing 400-500 educators per year to higher-paying districts, according to Volusia United Educators President Andrew Spar, is not serving Volusia County’s students, Colón said. 

He said teachers’ working conditions must improve.  

“Teachers teach students,” Colón said. “We’ve gotten wrapped up and lost sight of the people who actually teach our children. We’re doing it backward; we’re setting our [goals] for everything we want, and then what’s left over goes to the teachers.”

He added, “Deltona is known as the breeding ground of principals; that’s got to stop. Teachers have a new boss every year; that negatively affects students.”

Colón, 41, moved to Deltona from North Miami Beach in 2002.

A respiratory therapist, he now works as a clinical informatics specialist at Florida Hospital, and serves as a liaison with high-school internship programs.

Colón said he is the best candidate for the School Board because he’s studied the data and is already in the trenches, forging community partnerships, such as the one between his employer and schools in his district.

Colón said West Volusia has a scarcity of high-school academies and vocational programs, compared to East Volusia.

“Florida Hospital Fish Memorial is the only hospital taking student interns from Pine Ridge and Deltona High,” he said. “This year, we’re adding University High. The work I’ve done has led to 1,300 Volusia County students being interns that wouldn’t have before.”

While 76 percent is an improved graduation rate, Colón said, he wouldn’t call it a successful one.

“Of counties greater than 2,500 graduates, we have the second lowest graduation rate,” Colón said. “This should concern every taxpayer.”

Of 41 academies in Volusia County, 12 are in West Volusia and Deltona has four of them, according to the Volusia County School District. 

“Twenty percent of Volusia County students are in Deltona,” he said. “It’s the largest city, so the tax contribution is high. But the area that needs it the most is not getting a fair number of academies.”

Colón said the opportunity inequity is a systematic failure.

“Students enrolled in VCS Academies have an impressive 94-percent graduation rate,” Colón said. “Why wouldn’t you bring them here, where it’s most needed?” 

He vows to be a regular at schools, including private schools, home-school groups and charter schools.

“Why not? Those kids are in my district, too. Why wouldn’t I go support the amazing things they are doing?” he asked.

Colón said he will knock on doors, lots of them, to try to secure more business partners for schools to help bridge the gap when funding runs low.

 “Chronic absenteeism is a huge problem,” he said. “I look forward to knocking on doors and to ask students why they’re home and not in school.”

Determined to work on changing what can be changed, Colón said he agrees with his opponent, Melody Johnson, and what he called her “noble cause,” Florida’s school-district funding formula, called the district cost differential, which shifts funds from Volusia County to other school districts that, supposedly, require more dollars.

“The DCD is unfair,” Colón said.

It’s also not likely to change, in his opinion.

“It’s mathematical. The majority of the Florida Legislature represent counties that benefit from this funding formula,” Colón said. “No elected official is ever going to vote to cut funding to their schools.”

His focus will be on, “How do we take the money we do have and find a way to make that money as productive as possible?


Melody Johnson

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THE JOHNSONS — Nathan and Melody Johnson with their three adopted children: Shannon, 20; Nick, 18; and Chase, 14.” width=”696″ height=”680″ />

THE JOHNSONS — Nathan and Melody Johnson with their three adopted children: Shannon, 20; Nick, 18; and Chase, 14.

District 5 incumbent Melody Johnson has served on the Volusia County School Board since 2014.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 8, 1968, Johnson graduated from high school in Dixon, Missouri. She has lived in Deltona for 12 years, and works as a physician’s assistant in Port Orange.

Johnson has worked in the medical field, primarily in pediatrics, for 25 years. She also is a registered nurse and is certified as a nursing assistant, medical technician and emergency medical technician.

She was a member of the Timbercrest Elementary School PTA and the School Advisory Council at Galaxy Middle School, and served as a guardian ad litem representing youth in the court system, and was a member of a sexual-abuse board in Highlands County.

Johnson and her husband, Nathan Johnson, worked as house parents for at-risk girls and with boys in the juvenile-justice program in Sevierville, Tennessee. 

The couple also have been foster parents and, in 2013, adopted three children.

As the only School Board member to have a child currently enrolled in public school here, Johnson said her interest is broad and vested. 

“Each decision I make, I have to ask: ‘How will this affect all students; how will this affect my son?’” she said.

Johnson said she visits each of the 15 school sites in her district regularly, and offers a free stress-management and wellness program to all school personnel, including bus drivers.

Four years’ experience and the courage to “tackle some of the bigger issues that some said were hopeless” make Johnson the best candidate, she told The Beacon. 

One of those “bigger issues” is the district cost differential — tax revenue generated in Volusia County and sent to Tallahassee for allocation to other school districts throughout the state, because of a funding formula that discounts Volusia County’s costs.

It’s money that should be returned to Volusia County for the benefit of its residents and not allocated to wealthier districts, Johnson said. 

Her awareness-building campaign against what she views as a flawed funding formula has reached all Florida counties and various other states.

“It’s brought $4.2 million back to the district, that fight,” Johnson said. “Thirty-one counties got extra money back because I rattled the cages of the Senate and the House of Representatives.”

If elected to a second term, Johnson said, she intends to push for more. 

“We’ve lost $150 million since 2004,” she said. “It’s not Volusia’s responsibility to pay for Dade or Collier.”

Johnson wants voters to know that championing this cause did not detract from her other duties.

“I did all of this on my own time,” she said. “I never missed a School Board meeting for this.”

She also has scaled back her workweek to two days to have more time for school-related business.

“I wanted to be available to serve the people,” she said. “That’s why I was elected.”

During her tenure, she said, the district’s grade has risen from a “C” to a solid “B,” the graduation rate is the highest it’s ever been at 76 percent, and the School Board has worked to provide more options to disadvantaged students.

Johnson points out that 100 percent of Deltona schools are Title I, meaning they have a large percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

“We are the poorest in the county,” Johnson said.

She noted the current School Board works closely with colleges and universities, manufacturing and trade associations, and area business partners to create and expand opportunities, she said.

“I want to see career/technical for kids who aren’t ready for college and who don’t want to go into debt,” Johnson said.

To that end, she has acted as a liaison to forge partnerships between such businesses as  NASCAR and Florida Hospitals.

“I have been instrumental in helping to bolster our health academies at Deltona and Pine Ridge high schools,” she said. “It’s not about title or position for me; it’s truly about helping.”  


Robert Mann

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PROUD COACH — Here is Robert Mann, with Alysia Inosencio who invited her soccer coach to join her as she signed papers to receive an athletic scholarship to college.” width=”696″ height=”578″ />

PROUD COACH — Here is Robert Mann, with Alysia Inosencio who invited her soccer coach to join her as she signed papers to receive an athletic scholarship to college.

If not for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery — used to determine qualification for enlistment in the U.S. Armed Forces — Robert Mann said he might have remained in the dark about what he was capable of.

The school system didn’t find that spark in him. He might have ended up in a dead-end job. His children might have followed suit. And so on.

The middle child of a single mother who had to work long hours to support three boys — the youngest with Down syndrome — Mann said he fell through the cracks in Volusia County Schools. 

That is the scenario he wants to prevent for today’s students.

“There’s something for everybody to do, and I want to make sure everybody is equipped,” 50-year-old Mann told The Beacon. “Not everybody’s going to go to college; nor should they. There are trade jobs and unions around here to help.”

If a student’s aptitude — however obscure — can be shaped for college, it should be, Mann said.

“In high school, no one talked to me about college,” he said. “It’s not like I got smarter by osmosis. Someone should have recognized that.” 

He said students’ gifts, whether suited for higher academia, trade school, entrepreneurship or the military, should be identified and honed through vocational programs, enhanced by partnerships between schools and the public/private sector.

“They need to know there are different paths available, and they can be successful in whatever they do,” Mann said. 

His high score on the military’s Aptitude Battery opened the door to choices. Each military branch wooed him. 

“Of course, [the movie] Rambo came out then, so you know which branch stood out the most,” he said with a laugh.

In the Army, Mann worked in avionics and started college.

“I joined the military because I wasn’t going to go to college and wound up in the Army, going to college,” he said. 

Now, 34 years later, Mann, who was born and raised in DeLand, is an electrical engineer at Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 

Daily, that reality humbles him.

“You could have never told me I could be an engineer working at Kennedy Space Center with the nation’s space program, being their lead electrical engineer,” Mann said.

Because his abilities were overlooked in school, Mann said, he had to start at the bottom, taking the most basic courses in college before embarking on the extremely challenging ones needed to complete the engineering program at the University of Central Florida.  

He said a disconnect exists between inadequately paid teachers who must reach into their own pockets and donate time to do their jobs, and students not being encouraged to dream.

Since 2003, Mann has been a Church of Christ preacher, traveling throughout Central Florida to share the Gospel that has been shared with him since childhood. Also, for 18 years, he has coached competitive club soccer at the beginner to college levels. That job, he said, is more about teaching life than sports skills.

“Sports provide a good way of giving you a snapshot of life,” said Mann, whose three daughters all have participated.

God gets first credit for the talents of Robert and Camir Mann’s girls, their father said. Those talents include playing classical piano, performing arts, singing soprano in four languages and being driven academic and athletic achievers.

His youngest daughter, Shawna, 17, is president of the senior class at Deltona High School. 

“But I also encouraged sports because it’s like the workplace,” Mann said. “It takes teamwork and individual parts to make the whole. I just think it’s a great life lesson. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you’re ahead.”

Having coached many teachers’ children, Mann has seen something troubling at practice sessions and games: The teachers bring work with them.

“I only want them to bring their kid,” he said.

The school district and state government have taken advantage of teachers and support staff, he said. 

“Where’s the money?” he asked, referring to tax revenue collected in the district and redirected at the state level to larger counties.

“We want every penny, and we need to make sure legislators get that money back,” Mann said. 

Among other things, district officials should scour the community for volunteers to assist teachers. It should provide the necessary tools and resources. Teachers should be adequately paid and shown appreciation, according to Mann. 

“You equip the teachers and you’re going to have incredible students,” he said.

Having mentored students in Texas, and at Chisholm Community Center in DeLand — including helping a student who was flunking math to achieve her first “A” on a test — Mann said he understands what it takes to motivate students.

He also said his time serving on the West Volusia Hospital Authority allowed him to be a voice for those stricken by poverty. 

Mann said he wants to advocate similarly for students and for teachers. 

He offered a favorite quote, “from the Apollo days,” Mann said: “Failure is not an option.”

“If I can be an engineer at Kennedy Space Center with so many odds against me, I can only imagine where other kids can go if they’re caught early on,” he said. “I don’t want anyone else falling through the cracks.” 

He adds, “The one who may cure cancer could have fallen through the cracks.”

 

 

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