The board should make Ralph Arza apologize, in person, before approving his real estate venture

The board should make Ralph Arza apologize, in person, before approving his real estate venture

Here’s one of my top personal axioms about power: don’t thank it or apologize to it. As a board member, I will never ask for an apology or thanks from anyone. For official power to expect either, in my view, is both gross and weak. Indeed, there is no act more impotent in public life than publicly soliciting an apology and having that request ignored. And that brings us to BridgePrep and its key spokesman Ralph Arza — convicted witness tamperer; noted racist; disgraced former lawmaker; close political ally of the Florida Department of Education, Manny Diaz, and Kelli Stargel; and true face of Florida’s “choice” movement. At this point, Florida’s choice movement is much more accurately described as Florida’s “grift” movement. See full background here. On Tuesday of this week, School Board Chair Lynn Wilson twice called on Arza to apologize for sending nasty, threatening, insulting letters to new Polk board members Lisa Miller and Sarah Fortney. It’s darkly hilarious that Arza singled out the two new female members and ignored me. I guess you can add “would-be intimidator of women” to his list of credits. Except, he picked the wrong two women. Both times, Chairman Wilson asked for this apology from Arza just before he joined with Kay Fields, Sarabeth Reynolds, and Lori Cunningham in moving Arza’s school forward. See one clip here for his full statement from the work session. Key quote: “I thought that letter was misguided, terribly inappropriate, ill-conceived, ill-advised, and terribly unfortunate…I’m going to make a public appeal to Mr. Arza to apologize to those board members.” Let me say this first: I like Lynn Wilson a lot. I think he’s a great chair with a deft touch in managing the personalities and intensities of this now very active board and very engaged public. He did yeoman’s work with the sales tax. Had he been challenged in his election in 2018, I would have given him money and publicly supported him. This is less a critique of Lynn than an analysis of how local school boards are often overmatched in the grifter bloodsport that Florida education governance has become. It’s an analysis of how local boards advertise their own irrelevance and often fail to use the few actual powers at their disposal. Lynn Wilson, Sarabeth Reynolds, Lori Cunningham, and Kay Fields each have the power, individually, to make Ralph Arza apologize in person...

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The teacher, the server, and the grifters: fight for the living in Florida’s dead, dishonest, corrupt model

The teacher, the server, and the grifters: fight for the living in Florida’s dead, dishonest, corrupt model

My family recently took a friend out to dinner at a Lakeland chain restaurant. As we were sitting down, I heard a customer say to her server: “One day, we’ll live in a world where teachers won’t have to wait tables as a second job.” As you can imagine, that peaked my interest. When the server, a young woman, came over to our table, I asked if she was a teacher. She said she is. She had spent that day managing fourth graders and teaching them math at a low-income, traditional Polk elementary school, a school that is roughly equal parts black, white, and Hispanic. She radiated kindness and competence. She told us, among other things, that she works shifts at this restaurant so that she can keep teaching, which she loves. And I have reason to believe, based on some subsequent correspondence, that she’s a leader among teachers at her school. She’s also an outstanding server, by the way. (Until I told her, she didn’t recognize me or know who I am, as near as I can tell, a usefully humbling realization.) Later, she sent me a thank you email, a kindness as admirable as it is absurd. This line hit me: “I work so hard and it’s the little things at school teaching and at [the restaurant] that count.” Compare and contrast with the (small) army of the dead Conversing with this virtuous young woman, who is so much better than we deserve, makes for an extremely helpful contrast with the relative handful of elected and unelected grifters who run and/or command your state government and education system. This includes both elected officials, and perhaps more importantly, the small army of unelected educrat grifters and hangers-on who enrich or support themselves and wield unelected power through the weakness and bad faith of our legislators. All of these “servant leaders”could and should wake up every day, like I do, thinking about how to create that world in which this young woman need not take chicken finger orders so that she can keep helping kids understand fractions. They could and should wake up every morning, like I do, thinking about how to provide behavioral supports that make her job less stressful and diminish disruptions in her classroom. They could and should wake up, like I do, grateful that she’s so honorable and decent. But they don’t. They wake up thinking about...

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Do the impossible better: of bullying, empathy, and organizational leadership

Do the impossible better: of bullying, empathy, and organizational leadership

Any school is defined by human beings and their relationships. More than any other function of government, American public schools embody all the beauty and horror of human relationships in America. We are ground zero for making this fractious, experimental, violent, and challenging country work. Considering everything that flows into public education from America, it is utterly miraculous how many of the human interactions that our underpaid and criminally undersupported school staff produce and oversee each day reflect the best of our country and community. This achievement is particularly miraculous in Florida, where the true power behind public schools — your state government — does not care at all about the human climate or relationships within schools. In fact, it does whatever it can to gin up conflict within them by starving human resources and pumping in stresses and pressures that it can try to use to destroy public education as a public good. Take that as a fact. Your legislators are not going to help us with the human climate in public schools. Not for students; not for employees. Not for anyone. The better the human experience in a public school the harder it is for grifters who prey on human misery to sell escape. And those grifters are in power. Any kind of bad news from the trillions of human interactions that occur in public schools every day is good news for Tallahassee. Moreover, schools of all kinds have always, always, always been places where developing human beings display their best and worst instincts. Read any literature from any age. I wrote about my own pretty horrific childhood experience with organized, school-based cruelty in this essay about bullying, which I urge you to read. This happened in roughly 1985, at the hands of my friends, many of whom today are pillars of their communities, and several of whom remain close friends of mine today. What happened to me, a pretty strong and happy kid, holds its own in the horror department compared to most childhood bullying stories I’ve heard as a board member. Kids those days sucked. And sometimes I did, too. None of that excuses me, as one of your educational leaders here in Polk County, from doing everything in my power to ensure a loving and consistent climate of human relationships with the resources that we have available. It does not excuse me — or...

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The perils of thanking power, pt 3: the Sheriff Peter Hagan standard for Civics, History, and fearful elected officials

The perils of thanking power, pt 3: the Sheriff Peter Hagan standard for Civics, History, and fearful elected officials

You can find parts 1 and 2 of this linked below. Part 2 revolved, in part, around a fellow School Board member saying this to me about the irresponsible and dangerous voucher expansion: “I think we all oppose it. But it’s going to happen.” She used that as a reason not to confront our legislators about it too forcefully or honestly, in our language or our official positioning. Keep that phrase in mind as you read this. The immediate stakes involved are very different, of course. As are the consequences for acting. But in the end, we elected officials win power from the public when we’re elected to act on its behalf. We’re elected to use that power to do our duty. And then we face the consequences for what we do or don’t do. Elected officials today risk so few personal consequences. Maybe we lose a committee assignment; or someone talks mean to us on twitter; or we lose an election. Yet, the fear of those things still paralyzes. Sheriff Peter Hagan’s story challenges that paralysis across generations like no other of which I’m aware. Enjoy. ——————————————————————————————————————- On March 1, 1923, just after 1 a.m., a Gainesville lynch mob arrived in Palatka to attack the Putnam County jail. I would bet much money that this mob included some of the same men who wiped out Rosewood three months earlier; but I don’t know that with certainty. The mob had come to abduct and murder a black man named Arthur Johnson, who was accused of killing a white road crew worker in downtown Gainesville. The two men had quarreled when the black man did not defer to the white man as they bumped into each other on a sidewalk. The accused killer was taken to Palatka for his own safety. Putnam County Sheriff Peter Monroe Hagan met the mob at the front door. What happened next is a singular, largely unknown, moment in American history. I know of no historical act by any elected official that so completely unifies personal, physical, moral, professional, and political courage. It is the most radical example I have ever studied of a person of official power doing a job with no regard to keeping his job or power. It is without question Florida’s bravest, most righteous act of state-sanctioned violence ever leveled against its citizens. That is probably true for the US, too....

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The perils of thanking power, pt 2: it’s not savvy; it’s complicity and surrender to menace

The perils of thanking power, pt 2: it’s not savvy; it’s complicity and surrender to menace

Let’s be very clear about the function of the taxpayer-funded voucher program Gov. DeSantis and your Legislature are hellbent on creating: it feeds vulnerable children to grifters and abusers with your money and without any quality oversight at all. It does this by pillaging the tax money you provide to serve and educate children — including services for vulnerable and abused children — in existing public schools. I laid this out in detail in this article. Please reread it if you doubt anything I’m saying here. No one on your School Board really disagrees with my position or point-of-view on this. Indeed, my fellow Board Member Sarabeth Reynolds, who has spoken to many legislators, says state government essentially agrees with me about its own plan. As evidence, please watch the three minute clip below from our last work session and our discussion about how to address the voucher expansion politically. The context for our discussion is a bill that would, in theory, impose some after-the-fact penalties for voucher school operators that grift and abuse their kids. For instance, if you sexually abuse a child, as Pastor Tiger is accused of doing, you forfeit your right to run another voucher grift in the future. That’s a pretty low bar. Understand that these schools are already employing many people who can’t get hired at real schools for various reasons. It’s also not clear who, personally, would have the responsibility for deciding someone is a bad actor or how that person would know. This is because no one is creating any kind of voucher oversight mechanism that can be held accountable by the public in the way a public school system is very publicly and confrontationally held accountable. This clip has a couple of remarkable exchanges between me and Board Member Sarabeth Reynolds. Reynolds: “After talking to representatives and senators, I think they are very concerned, particularly the “pop up” private schools — not necessarily Lakeland Christian and All Saints, that have been around for a long time. It’s the ones that are popping up in shopping centers and have six kids that are consistently popping up…” Townsend: “They’re so concerned about it that they’re going to feed them tax money with no oversight at all.” Reynolds: I’m telling you — that is, those are, when we bring that up, they just don’t realize they’re there. Every representative and senator that we talked to,...

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