A glimpse of a new era: Why I am thankful for the impasse resolution

The 15-month impasse war began in one era; and it will end in another. I believe common sense and common purpose, against all odds, have won. And I believe that is a victory worth celebrating, while also recognizing the years of hard work we have ahead of us. I believe this negotiated deal for 16-17 and 17-18 — and the tortured process that got us here — will establish four very important concepts. 1) Like the 7069 lawsuit, this deal begins to align labor and leadership in Polk against the real enemy — Tallahassee. 2) Getting money and resources in the pocket of the people who do the work is more important than fund balance — or doing the state’s dirty work for it. Dropping the fund balance from 5 percent from 4 percent is the fundamental difference between how the negotiation began and how it ended. That is an undisputed bargaining victory for the people who work for us. If our state wants us to maintain a growing fund balance, it needs to provide the money to do it — or allow us to raise our own. Today, it does neither. Until it does, I will prioritize providing the service I took an oath to provide. 3) Negotiation works best when it is open, collaborative, and productively confrontational. The hearing model works better, much better, than the executive session model. This bargain demonstrates that. PEA and its lawyers very skillfully won the impasse hearing before the special magistrate. With that record in hand, impasse itself could not survive all of us all getting into a room together to hash out what was possible. It took two weeks to get a deal once the sides really began to negotiate. That made a giant impression on me and confirmed what I had long believed during the overall negotiation. When we agree on what options are, the options become pretty easy to pick. 4) Organized teachers and staff are not an enemy – or at least not an enemy your district wants to have any more. They skillfully fought a war for survival as a meaningful political and bargaining force that can influence the direction for this district in the future. And they won it because they had the better arguments, the better cause, and the better representation. Believe me when I tell you, those were not the positions of the...

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The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The final Tenoroc report has been issued. It is anti-climactic. It’s a somewhat strange rehash of elements of the first report. It seems more oriented to Jason Looney’s handling of the school as a whole. But there are some important findings of fact. Perhaps the most important is that Looney completely botched the professional development plan used to justify not rehiring Brandi Garcia Blanchard. And he has no explanation for why. Here is what the investigator said about it. I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly. The PDP is what Looney and the Polk District used to justify getting rid of Blanchard. It’s the instrument that has kept her unemployed and tainted her record and career. It’s why she is still unemployed — and why we are not taking advantage of the services of a bilingual Hispanic administrator in a district with 33 percent Hispanic kids and 6 percent Hispanic administrators. Not sustained/unsubstantiated are very different from “unfounded” Nevertheless, the newest investigative report finds claims of wrongdoing against Looney “not substantiated.” That does not mean unfounded or exonerated. It means they don’t see enough evidence to support allegations. It means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That is also what investigators found in 2010 in the George Jenkins High School investigation involving similar allegations against Looney at an entirely different school with an entirely different cast of characters. The precise phrase then was “not sustained,” which meant “insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.” However, according to investigators in the most recent Tenoroc report, Looney told them that the Jenkins investigation “had been completely unfounded.” That is false. In fact, “unfounded” was an option for a finding in that report. Investigators chose “not sustained.” Unfounded would have meant “allegation is false or not based on valid facts.” It was not unfounded, much less “completely.” Here are...

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Dear Lakeland First, part 1: Kelli Stargel is a much, much, much, much, much higher value target

Dear Lakeland First, part 1: Kelli Stargel is a much, much, much, much, much higher value target

If an arsonist was standing in your front yard, casually flame-throwing your house, would you focus all of your intensity and resources on which firefighter has a better hose nozzle? Of course not. Yet, that’s precisely what the Lakeland First PAC — and really all of political Lakeland and Polk County is doing. And it shows the deep misunderstanding of political power in Florida — and its real world consequences. That misunderstanding causes inattention and inertia. Those forces have plagued our city and county and state for a long time. Changing that understanding is incredibly important for a better future in our city, county, and state. Kelli Stargel is the arsonist in the metaphor above. The Florida Legislature is the flamethrower. Her bosses in Tallahassee (they are not in Polk County, I assure you) have ordered her — with her eager cooperation — to douse us in perdition. She’s been doing it in plain sight for YEARS. And every year, people thank her for it. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. Stargel’s malicious and terrible record This is just a partial record of Stargel’s general policy and institutional destruction within Polk County: Polk’s per pupil education funding has dropped from the mid-50s to 64th of 67 Florida Counties on Stargel’s watch. She and your legislators have only now allowed that funding to return to its to pre-2008 recession levels. But the needs are 2017 needs, not 2008. She’s a key enabler of the teacher-hating state policies that have caused chronic teacher stress and shortages in Polk and Florida as a whole. She cast the deciding vote on HB 7069. Her absurd VAM teacher evaluation equation and forced transfers caused epic, destructive chaos to Polk schools two years in a row. She’s the number one reason the state is now threatening to close Kathleen High, Kathleen Middle, Mulberry High and as many as a dozen other schools in next two years after actively sabotaging them — with no plan at all for serving those kids in the aftermath. (More on this in part 2.) She’s done whatever she can to help Senate President Joe Negron hurt Polk State College and the people it serves. You can take a deep dive on that here. She’s fought to limit the affordable four-year degrees that Polk State can offer to her working class constituents. Why? Because Negron prefers expensive universities and for-profit higher education scams to...

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The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles, part 2: Lazy editorial editor of struggling community newspaper slanders 7,000 teachers — and makes it harder for reporters, the executive editor, and the publisher to find subscribers

The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles, part 2: Lazy editorial editor of struggling community newspaper slanders 7,000 teachers — and makes it harder for reporters, the executive editor, and the publisher to find subscribers

Late update (8:30 p.m.): GREAT NEWS. Just had a fantastic conversation with Brian Burns, Ledger publisher. He received more than 120 emails from you guys today. There will be a full correction. But more than that, The Ledger is going to write a big editorial addressing the issue and soliciting teacher voices for a big editorial page blowout (maybe Sunday.) Brian wants to hear your experiences — how we can support you in real ways. What the real challenges are. I’m really excited by this. I think Brian is a great potential ally in helping improve the daily experiences of our people and kids. I would ask everybody this. The Ledger has heard you loud and clear. Let’s call off the dogs on critical emails — and start supplying voices that share the reality of being a teacher/para/prinicipal/educator in Polk County (good, bad, ugly). And remember this, folks. You are powerful when you want to be. ———————————————— There are many parallels between school districts and institutional newspapers like The Ledger. The parallels between reporters and teachers are particularly deep. The Ledger, like the Polk School district, has very dedicated, talented reporters doing a hard job for no money and very little respect. By and large, great teachers and great reporters do what they do because they love to serve the people of their communities. And they’re willing to suffer for it. Bill Thompson isn’t one of those people. He is the editorial page editor of the The Ledger, the newspaper equivalent of an educrat. He doesn’t do any reporting. He just writes stuff about stuff other people write — and The Ledger calls it the paper’s voice. That voice wrote this on Sunday about the mandatory pep rally our teachers were required to attend in the blazing heat last week. Last week, Polk teachers threw themselves a big pep rally at Tigertown to boost morale. We believe they deserve our appreciation for all they do. Yet, unless they are willing to accept that as the only attaboy they get in the near future, they should concretely signal that 2 percent is sufficient — if the School Board will do likewise. That first paragraph is a weaponized falsehood, designed to create rhetorical momentum for the paragraph that follows. I don’t know if Thompson was willfully dishonest in writing this or just breathtakingly lazy. You can decide. It’s a distinction without...

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A battle for the future of the Polk District, part 2: Leadership demands some personal risk

A battle for the future of the Polk District, part 2: Leadership demands some personal risk

School Board Attorney Wes Bridges sent this note to School Board members yesterday concerning the Tenoroc High School issue. Ladies and Gentlemen: I have been asked to advise you that the Florida School Boards Association has been contacted in connection with comments published about a Polk County high school principal. The individual complained that such comments may constitute an abuse of power and misconduct in office.  FSBA is not an executive branch agency, nor is it a regulatory body.  Accordingly, it has no police or enforcement powers.  It is, however, close to the center of the education universe in Florida, and if its officers are receiving calls, governmental agencies may be, as well. Concerns were also raised about the board’s potential liability exposure for comments made by individual board members.  Generally, school boards would not be liable for the statements of individual board members not accompanied by concomitant action by the school board, but that doesn’t mean any potential lawsuit would not name the school board and require defense. It would appear that happenings in Polk County are visible in Tallahassee.  I will keep you informed if I receive further information. The second part is too opaque to know who or what, exactly, Wes is talking about. Perhaps we’ll find out in coming days. Maybe it’s Tim Harris; maybe it’s me. Both? Who knows? But I was already aware of the first part. I heard a few days ago from a firsthand source that Jason Looney is inquiring about ways to file some sort of complaint against me. That does not surprise me. Indeed, it would not surprise me if he sued me, whether as part of the board or personally. In either case, I’m quite comfortable with my actions. I will happily look every voter and taxpayer in the eye and explain myself, without apology or regret. And I will happily accept their verdict at the ballot box. If I have to defend myself personally, legally, I’ll hire a lawyer and mount a vigorous defense. Vigorous. Liability and morality Let’s be very clear about what’s happened here: I was contacted by multiple people concerned that Brandi Garcia Blanchard had been victimized by behavior that would violate the Board’s written sexual harassment policies. I performed some due diligence. And then I reported these concerns to my staff chain of command. I did not go public. Neither did Brandi Blanchard for...

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The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ chronicles, part 1: Nobody is entitled to taxpayer business, Tim Harris.

The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ chronicles, part 1: Nobody is entitled to taxpayer business, Tim Harris.

During his Aug. 31 appearance at the mandatory meeting for Tenoroc High School faculty, Tim Harris said a lot of things. I’m going to be looking closely at some of them in coming days. But I want to start here, because it relates to the bizarre and embarrassing spectacle with our financial advisor RFQ. In this passage, Tim advised school district employees about how to vote for School Board members. He cited a specific professional characteristic that I was accused of lacking during the campaign. Since I have been on the board, it has become even more obvious to me to be a good board member [inaudible phrase] you need to have previous board experience at a pretty significant level to be an effective leader in that position. Just think about that when you vote for people for public office: have they ever served on a corporate board or a major non-profit board before they run for a public office? There is something to be said for experience. There’s something also to be said for a fresh voice and a fresh face. [Inaudible phrase] Presumably, Tim thinks this experience will help one make better, more efficient business decisions. Well, let’s test that in the financial advisor RFQ. A good faith process Quick background: As I understand it, there are really only two firms in Florida that specialize in School District financial advice: Ford & Associates and PFM. The Polk District has used Ford for years, perhaps decades. The long-term incumbent board members often refer to the principal as “Jerry.” Not too long ago, PFM approached district staff and suggested a debt restructuring that saved taxpayers some millions of dollars. That apparently got staff to thinking about whether we would benefit from competition for this professional service. And the School Board agreed to move forward with a Request for Qualifications. Now, let’s be clear: PFM didn’t approach us out of the goodness of their hearts. They were trying to demonstrate their value so that they could get a crack at our/taxpayer business. It was a sales strategy, something that happens endlessly in business. If we had simply switched to PFM quietly, that would have been hinky and uncool. But that’s not what we did. We created an RFQ. We recruited a committee of finance experts who do not work for the Polk School District. And we asked them to rank...

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The educational empathy gap; and an offer of peace with honor in the great Neil Combee “thank you” war of 2017

The educational empathy gap; and an offer of peace with honor in the great Neil Combee “thank you” war of 2017

I’m very protective of our people, particularly when I feel like they’re working hard and suffering to do their jobs. If people hurt them, like our Legislature often does, I try to make it painful for the people doing the hurting. That’s basically my entire philosophy of public jerkiness. I try to make it costly to harm people over whom you have power in the hope that you won’t harm them anymore. I fancy myself as the guy who beats up the bullies — at least figuratively and on keyboards. It’s my vanity. I tell you this to explain the great “Thank You” War of 2017. You saw a lot of it in this silly post from immediately after the hurricane. Bottom line: I took Neil and Richard Corcoran and others to task for not publicly thanking the traditional public school employees who formed the backbone of the Florida shelter system during Irma. By contrast, they effusively thanked police and first responders, etc. I used that fact to make the point that Neil and Corcoran and Kelli Stargel don’t have much regard for public school employees — or their lives, sacrifices, and contributions. In response, Neil thanked them sarcastically. Hijinks ensued. And that was kind of it. I make no pretense: I need the Legislature to change, whether in who serves there or how the existing people choose to serve. Everything I do in regards to Florida’s terrible state government revolves around that goal. It’s a serious goal, even when I’m snarky about it, as I was in this case. The new battle I hadn’t thought much more about the thank you war until Wednesday. That’s when I learned through an email from Neil’s assistant that he’s been trying to get a detailed list of people who specifically stayed the night of Irma at shelters rather than their homes. He also wants addresses so he can send them personal thank you notes. He only wants this for people who specifically passed the night of Irma at the shelters. That is a smaller subset of the overall list of hundreds of names who staffed shelters at some point. Both lists must be compiled from hundreds of makeshift paper timesheets designed to capture time for possible FEMA reimbursement. Here’s an example of one time sheet I was asked to fill out for my time at Phillip O’Brien. [I screwed this particular...

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A battle for the leadership culture and soul of the Polk School District, part 1: the Tenoroc/GJ investigations reveal comprehensive, catastrophic leadership failure

A battle for the leadership culture and soul of the Polk School District, part 1: the Tenoroc/GJ investigations reveal comprehensive, catastrophic leadership failure

In the last seven years, the Polk School District has twice investigated multiple allegations of sexual harassment against current Tenoroc High School Principal Jason Looney. To my knowledge, all of the players are different in the two investigations except Jason Looney. He is the common element. The first was at George Jenkins High School in 2010. The second is at Tenoroc High School in 2017. The investigations are remarkably similar. They both involve allegations of direct sexual harassment from Looney toward specific women in his chain of command. And secondarily, they involve allegations of a wider hostile work environment of sexualized drama swirling around him. This includes multiple suggestions of affairs with staff, based on both firsthand staff observations and rumor, that affect his leadership decisions and the overall work environment for many people. Both aspects of the allegations would constitute violations of the Polk District’s written sexual harassment policies. The first investigation, at Jenkins, also focused on the behavior of his wife, Laquita Looney, who worked at Jenkins at the time. She was transferred in 2010, alleging mistreatment by a different staff member. The Tenoroc investigation is technically two investigations. One of the two investigative reports became public on Monday. The other isn’t yet fully complete. According to the first investigation, the second Tenoroc investigation focuses on “allegations of improper hiring practices of Tenoroc staff by Mr. Looney. School financial accounts mismanaged by the financial secretary with Mr. Looney’s knowledge. Teachers bullied into changing grades by Mr. Looney.” Today, I’m beginning to address the sexual harassment investigations. Looney has denied all the charges made against him in every investigation made public. Like LeRoy, but more Ultimately, the district’s Looney investigators in 2010 and 2017, just like the outside investigators for the Kathryn LeRoy report, returned findings of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the publicly available reports. The official phrase for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ was “not sustained” in 2010. It’s “not substantiated” in 2017. That’s a very different word from “exonerated” or “unfounded”, both of which were options in 2010, at least. In both cases, investigators said they found insufficient evidence to verify the firsthand accusations made. But the investigators in both cases included extensive detail about the accusations and testimony and how they interacted. I find this detail incredibly important to consider. Ultimately, these cases all pit Looney’s word against his accusers. You’ll find multiple, detailed accusations that Looney answers by saying, essentially, no, didn’t happen....

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Explain what’s going on with Akes; don’t bring back Jacque Bowen; and don’t step backward toward LeRoy’s Jacksonville

Explain what’s going on with Akes; don’t bring back Jacque Bowen; and don’t step backward toward LeRoy’s Jacksonville

[Late update 2:35 p.m. Monday: Superintendent Byrd just let me know a few minutes ago that Marc Hutek — currently assistant superintendent of career, technical, adult, and multiple pathways — will fill John Small’s deputy superintendent role on an interim basis. Mrs. Byrd will decide what to do long-term in the spring. From my point-of-view, that’s fine. It doesn’t fully address the issues I’ve raised here. But it does suggest a more deliberate approach than I feared on Friday.] Two important personnel developments in the last week or so have left a vacuum at the top of the district’s organization. The first is the retirement of John Small, a longtime fixture at the Polk district and Jackie Byrd’s deputy superintendent. The second is a restructuring of duties for Michael Akes, the fairly newly hired chief academic officer and associate superintendent of teaching and learning services. This restructuring has the feel of a demotion. Jackie Byrd has not publicly discussed Akes’ reshaped role; nor has she clearly explained it to internal and external stakeholders. But my basic understanding suggests that Akes’ titles are no longer correct. As I understand it, he will be focused primarily on “turnaround” schools, rather than broad academic policy direction. That’s troubling to me. I’ve heard mostly good things about Akes’ performance. He is hard-driving, I’m told, and sometimes hard-edged in his dealing with the organization. But he’s also clear, responsive and will listen. I find him one of the easier district officials to engage. And he seems to get things done. Akes seems to have the respect of most folks I’ve talked to. A number of people have openly praised him to me. I don’t get that for many — if any — other district leaders. When I talk to the public about the state of our school system, I have cited Akes’ hire as a positive overall development. Moreover, Akes hasn’t yet been in place for a year. That’s very little time in an organization of this size to have any systemic effect. If a change is necessary, it would be wise to explain the necessity in public and to our key internal stakeholders. This sudden uncertainty has, very naturally, led to speculation and rumors within the organization. Several of them have come to my ears. The most concerning to me is the idea that Small’s retirement and Akes’ job change paves the way to bring...

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From Richard Corcoran’s teacher-hating brain to Neil Combee’s big, sarcastic mouth

From Richard Corcoran’s teacher-hating brain to Neil Combee’s big, sarcastic mouth

State Rep. Neil Combee is a sycophantic puppet of Richard Corcoran, the imperial Speaker of the House who fancies himself Florida’s dictator. Trust me, whatever Neil says about public education does not emerge from his own brain. Until a few months ago, he did not even know that he sets the Polk School District’s funding levels. HE. DID. NOT. KNOW. Told me this personally. He did not know the basics of his own job — the one you’ve all given him. I also told him during one chat: “You’re on Richard Corcoran’s side against your own community.” To which he replied: “That’s right. And more every day.” This is a quote. Go ask him if you don’t believe me. Neil is nothing if not chatty, which I is why I love him in my way. But our disagreements and positions are about the public good, not private affection. Separating the two is one of my few skills. So I want you to look at Richard Corcoran’s intellectual and moral contempt for traditional public school employees and students laundered through Neil Combee’s rather ignorant mouth. Yes, that is a sarcastic, contemptuous “thank you” to Polk County School employees who suffered all Irma week to serve the people who took shelter in our schools. Try to imagine Neil saying, sarcastically: “Thanks to all the police and first responders who for doing their jobs in the cars and trucks taxpayers give them.” Actually, it’s impossible to imagine that. But this despicable tweet is no different, except that only a handful of hourly custodial staff at Polk schools got paid to staff shelters. Yet, staffed they were, with limited help from the Red Cross. It’s important to know all this about Neil because he recently announced that he’s asked to play a larger role in education this year in the Legislature. So you can expect he will bring this level of contempt to the job. All available evidence suggests he’ll do whatever his master tells him to do to hurt you, if you are a traditional community school employee, parent, or student. I want to put that marker down right now — so it’s not easy for him to do it. Everybody reading this should call or email Neil and tell him what you think of his public behavior. And tell him how you expect him to behave in Tallahassee during the 2018...

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There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

There can only be one centerpiece of your city; should it be an eternal source of conflict?

I’ve probably studied and written more about Confederate monuments than anyone in Lakeland. I know the history of Lakeland’s specific monument and several others around the state. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of the intent of the people who erected them. I’ve worked very, very hard to understand it from their point-of-view. [See this long, deep chapter from my book, Age of Barbarity.] And that intent comes with a large degree of historical and human complexity. I can also confidently say that the people who raised these monuments gave no meaningful thought to the human complexity of the people who might have objected to these monuments at the time of their dedication. The people who might have objected to Lakeland’s monument in 1910 Lakeland or Florida had no power. And Lakeland and Florida treated them that way. They were at the very literal mercy of the people who built the monuments. All monuments everywhere are about power. I would like to see Lakeland’s Confederate monument moved to a museum where it could be studied and understood through the prism of history and context of its time. I think these monuments are important to American history in their way. They are evidence of something. This modern period of conflict over them reflects another important moment in American history. It’s also evidence of something. Studying that something, and trying to understand it, is the nature of history. But what you’ve just read is merely my personal position, based on much thought and research. I’m asking you to put that aside for a moment. I’d like you to consider a much simpler question. How many symbolic centerpieces can your city have? I can’t see any other answer but 1. Can you? The definition of a centerpiece is that it’s the centerpiece Herein lies the core problem of Lakeland’s monument. It’s less the existence than the location. The monument is the centerpiece of the park that is the centerpiece of our downtown that is the centerpiece of our city. It’s ground zero of our city. And now it’s ground zero for social conflict — forever, as long as it holds that spot. You see this illustrated quite nicely this morning in The Ledger’s collection of monument letters from readers. They sprawl across an entire page in the editorial section, restating the now familiar contours of inflexible argument on this issue. Other than an election, I...

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Clarifying the record on the Tenoroc investigation

The Polk School District is investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Tenoroc High School Principal Jason Looney. This investigation started at some point in July. Several of the complainants, including the woman most directly affected, came to me with their stories. I forwarded them to our HR officials and top staff. I told our staff through internal emails that I take the allegations very seriously and that I expected a serious investigation. For the record, I also forwarded the stories and perspectives of staff supporters of Mr. Looney. After some initial concern, I’ve been convinced for weeks that we are investigating these allegations seriously. This is a sad and ugly and hurtful situation. My supervisory relationship policy suggestion and very public vote against administrative appointments relate closely to this Tenoroc issue. I had hoped that we could complete the investigation before having to address it in public with school and person names. However, School Board Member Tim Harris severely complicated that wish on Thursday of last week. Harris attended a mandatory staff meeting at Tenoroc, in front of Jason Looney, and gave a 12-minute speech. He made a dismissive reference to “rumors” — and he said both he and the superintendent supported Mr. Looney. The superintendent did not attend, and to my knowledge, she did not authorize Harris to speak on her behalf. I will republish a transcript of Harris’ speech below so you can see it. I am addressing this today because I’m afraid that Harris’ appearance and message at Tenoroc on behalf of the superintendent might discourage open and honest testimony or statements. I think I need to clarify the record. At our School Board work session yesterday (Tuesday), I asked Harris if he knew there was an ongoing investigation of Looney when he went to Tenoroc. “No sir,” he replied. I think that’s important for people to know. I think it’s also important to know that the superintendent said the investigation is ongoing. Below you’ll find a link to the clip of the brief discussion. The first couple of minutes are audio only for some technology reason. You will hear me make reference to a 2010 investigation of Mr. Looney for sexual harassment when he was an assistant principal at George Jenkins High School. I have read it. The allegations were all based on eyewitness accounts, and the investigators said they could not verify them. Mr. Looney...

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 3: a sociopathic model breeds sociopathic behavior. You can’t reason with it.

Let’s take a visceral human tour of what Florida’s sociopathic education model looks like in real life for real people — children and adults alike. We’ll start at the end, with these three marvelous young women from Stambaugh Middle School, a traditional zoned middle school in Auburndale. This video is short. Watch it. Here’s the background: some time in the last few weeks, Polk was ordered by some detached bureaucrat in Tallahassee to forcibly transfer several dozen teachers from about a dozen schools — after the school year started — because of their score on Kelli Stargel’s/Florida’s discredited value-added model equation (VAM). Failure to do the transfers came with explicit and implicit threats to funding for our schools that most need it. Understandably, our district obeyed — without really consulting the School Board. I think we should have considered saying no and facing the consequences. But I didn’t raise enough hell about it to be effective. That’s my fault. And so these young women came to our School Board meeting to tell us about the human effects of our state government’s thuggery and our local decision not to stand up against it. Behold the human consequences of a sociopathic education model that creates sociopathic institutional behavior. And understand this: nobody in state government from Richard Corcoran to Hershel Lyons to Pam Stewart to Kelli Stargel to Neil Combee to Rick Scott to Joe Negron gaves a rat’s rear end about “choice” for these girls. Choice in Florida is a lie. 70 to 75 percent of parents and kids choose traditional schools like Stambaugh. Your state enjoys punishing and hurting them. Here’s a key quote from one these extremely articulate girls: “A lot of these kids are suffering because of the educational situation. These subs cannot help us the way our teachers can. You guys are tearing us away from those teachers that we’ve had for so long and known from many years prior. I would like to say that these teachers who are being replaced have been some the best supporters and encouragers I’ve ever had. And I think that is really hurting everybody at Stambaugh Middle School.” In case you’ve forgotten, or don’t know, VAM is this equation for deciding teacher effectiveness and merit pay, which Polk County’s main state senator Kelli Stargel takes credit for helping create. VAM is big government social engineering at its absolute worst....

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Join the 7069 suit, part 2: the public must take back the power to kill VAM and drive common purpose

Join the 7069 suit, part 2: the public must take back the power to kill VAM and drive common purpose

I have taken to saying recently that the state government in Tallahassee is a disease on education — and that local districts present the symptoms. I know nothing that better represents this than our most recent VAM transfers. These transfers also represent how little power the voting public has to influence the educational policies of their own communities and state. No elected body signed off on these transfers, which were a product entirely of coercive interaction between bureaucrats in Tallahassee and bureaucrats in Bartow. The public had no say. That’s how everybody in power seems to want it. Taking back our say, as a public, is vital to changing Florida’s dead and corrupt model of education. That’s another reason I’ll be voting to sue over 7069 Tuesday night. I sit on my School Board; but I represent my community. My community demands better of Tallahassee, and it demands better of its district. We have to kill that disease in Tallahassee and treat the symptoms at home in a meaningful way — rather than endlessly creating new ones. Here’s the latest. What happened with the VAM transfers? As best that I can piece together, some time in the last few weeks, bureaucrats at the Department of Education offered some sort of Godfather’s choice to our Polk District leadership: transfer a bunch of teachers because of the VAM scores in last two years (yes, VAM has been discredited and made optional moving ahead; doesn’t seem to matter); or your turnaround plans aren’t approved for various schools and you can’t apply for additional money made available by 7069 — yes, the same law I hope we’re planning to sue over Tuesday night. I received this brief explanation of timing directly from the superintendent this evening: The application deadline was August 15, 2017. The statute allows for funding of “up to $2000 per student”. According to FDOE guidance, they will be funding “up to” 25 traditional schools (although statute allows for up to 50). The amount any approved school is allotted will depend on how many applications are approved and how many students attend each approved school. They will notify districts by October 1. And when did we get the VAM scores that dictated the transfers? We received the 2016-17 VAM data from the state the evening of August 3, 2017 – one week prior to school opening. Prior to that, our only...

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“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

“Sanguinary fields”: how a Confederate monument came to dominate a Florida county’s dead

You are looking at the Putnam County Confederate monument. It was erected in 1924, three years after the 1921 dedication of a tiny little plaque to the multiracial Putnam County veterans who gave their lives for democracy in World War I. You can’t see that monument in this picture. It’s off to the right. Try to Google an image of it. You won’t find it. I wrote the piece that follows somewhere around 2011, as part of my book Age of Barbarity: the Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida, which I published in 2013. The book focuses closely on the rise and and fall of Florida’s powerful and popular 1920s Ku Klux Klan. My family, led by great grandfather J.V. Walton, played a complex and important role in defeating the mainstream political power of the Klan. Simultaneously, my family played a pivotal role in memorializing Confederate myth and raising this monument. This piece dives deep into those complexities. It’s long. But I think it holds up well in today’s ongoing battles over monuments and memory. I’m sort of an educator now, I guess. And I think you could do worse on this subject than this chapter. ———- In the last few decades, historians have looked far more critically at the Lost Cause myth of the Confederacy and how the battles over the historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction shaped modern America. Those battle lines are often considered as North versus South, black versus white, industry versus agriculture. But the post World War I conflicts in Palatka and Florida show that this battle played out within southern whites and Confederate nostalgists as well. Any cursory reading of contemporary sources makes it clear that virtually all southern whites venerated Confederate soldiers. The Reconstruction Knights of the Ku Klux Klan proved a more complex question. Many white Protestants, perhaps even most, goaded by Thomas Dixon and D.W. Griffith, the creators of The Birth of a Nation, saw the Bedford Forrest klansmen as straight up heroes. But many others perceived them as a necessary evil. The distinction would matter in the 1920s. In January 1924, the Palatka Times-Herald published a history of Palatka’s “Patton Anderson” chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. My great great aunt Susie Lee Walton wrote it. Weedie, as she is known to the family, also read this history aloud at the chapter’s first 1924...

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Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

Join the 7069 lawsuit, part 1: an elegant fight for good faith in state government

America’s worst, most corrupt School Board sits in Tallahassee in comfy state legislator chairs. Your vote for a local School Board member matters little or nothing to them. Their behavior shows they believe they can do anything to you — or allow anything to happen –and get away with it. Therein lies the elegance of the 7069 lawsuit. It’s not the charter school stuff or even the Title 1 theft. Lawyers can hit those tennis balls back and forth all day. Rather, the transformative value of the suit comes from challenging the bad faith nature of 7069’s political creation. In short, our corrupt legislators created an unvetted, haphazard buffet of hooey – and called it a meal. They did it at the 11th hour of the session. They gave no thought to implementing it. And they were completely indifferent to the opinions and observations of the officials elected by their communities to oversee education. Even more importantly, they were indifferent to the human experience of the people who must execute and learn on the ground. To state the obvious: that is not how a good faith partner behaves. That’s how an abusive spouse behaves. The 7069 suit is the governmental equivalent of a restraining order. A derelict partner I’m not a lawyer, but most analyses I’ve heard indicate that 7069 is most vulnerable legally to the “single subject” doctrine. That’s the idea that you don’t cram multiple varieties of unvetted hooey into a single law. You don’t do that because it shows bad faith to the people who elected you — and that you are supposed to serve. 7069, above all else, is a massive steaming pile of bad faith dumped on Florida’s local communities. Challenging it provides a clear community declaration: you are acting in bad faith, legislators. I am fully confident my community wants me to make that statement. And I will proudly vote to make it on Aug. 22. The vast majority of what you experience in Florida schools, as a parent or teacher or student or taxpayer, emanates directly from our one-party Legislature and governor. The rest of it reflects incentives created by Tallahassee that shape behavior hundreds of miles away. Those incentives are generally terrible and often reward abusive leadership and management at the local level. In truth, one can argue there is no such thing as a local School Board. Our funding comes...

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Changing culture requires confronting it: explaining my administrator vote

Changing culture requires confronting it: explaining my administrator vote

Take a look at the brief clip that follows. It comes from last week’s regular School Board meeting. In it, I explain why I felt it morally and ethically necessary to vote against a slate of administrator hires and promotions. In short, the circumstances of two specific appointments trouble me deeply. Our HR department has said it is reviewing both of them, based on my prodding. With that in mind, I let top district staff know on the Monday afternoon before the meeting that I could not support these administrator appointments. And then I raised it again at the work session Tuesday morning. You can see that discussion starting at the 2:57:00 mark in the video that follows. My goal in providing this advance notice was to avoid surprising or embarrassing people on Tuesday evening. Typically, the new administrator introductions make for a happy occasion. The appointees often bring their families to share in celebration. Kay Fields and I agree At the end of the work session discussion, you can hear Chair Kay Fields say: “The only thing that I’ll say about his situation here is that I think it’s very important for us as board members to understand our role. Our role is not to hire and fire. That’s Miss Jackie’s role.” She’s referring to Superintendent Jackie Byrd. I want to address that for a moment. In short, I agree. I wrote about that last week in an essay about my personnel philosophy. You can read at this link. Key passage: Personnel issues and changes are among the thorniest of issues for an active School Board member. I only supervise four employees. The vast majority of the rest report up to one of those four: the superintendent. Yet, serving 100,000 kids well requires a healthy human organism of 13,000 employees (and we really need more) willing to do hard, hard work for generally substandard pay. I believe I’m responsible for establishing a culture, through policy and comment, that reflects my community’s expectations of leadership and fairness. I’m responsible for the setting conditions that allow that organism to thrive at all levels… …The three [personnel issues] I mentioned are the only three in which I’ve intervened. And I did so because they involve allegations of abusive or unethical behavior. I felt it was my duty to intervene. I’m not intervening directly in a number of other personnel decisions whose...

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All schools are everyone’s schools

All schools are everyone’s schools

Polk County School Board members are divided into districts based on our residence. But we are elected and paid countywide. I live in District 1, in central and south Lakeland. Stakeholders for the schools in my district have every right to expect special attention from me. But I do not think of them as my schools, to the exclusion of responsibility to other schools or interests of other board members. If a fellow board member learns something important about Cleveland Court (to which I owe an overdue visit), I expect that board member to act. Likewise, if I learn something important about a school on the Ridge, I’m going to act on that. One of the more demanding and gratifying aspects of this job, and arguably the least public and political, is constituent service. I think if people interface with me and have a good customer/human experience, I am helping the system as a whole. So I take everybody’s call — and act if necessary and appropriate. Districts are not silos This is not a unanimous position on our School Board, however. My colleague Tim Harris, particularly, thinks in terms of geographic silos, organized by district. He says this quite a bit. It was particularly clear recently in a constituent issue I shared with staff. The staff forwarded this information to all board members via email. Tim replied, “Since this involves a district 7 school…I wonder why [the constituent] didn’t reach out to me? [Note: I removed identifying aspects from Tim’s note. And for Sunshine purposes, he was not responding to me. I feel certain he hit “reply all” without seeing that other board members had been added. We had no exchange. And I immediately removed all board member addresses from the email.] In defense of Tim, there is a certain geographic logic and reality that underpins this point-of-view. It’s physically impossible for me to spend as much time in the Northeast Polk community as my own in Lakeland. And during graduation season, he very graciously switched an attendee duty so that I could attend the graduation for Harrison, one of “my” high schools. I was very grateful. There are some logistical benefits to thinking this way. But, overall, I think this is a debilitating approach to tackling the core mission required of us each day: humanely, equitably, and competently educate 100,000 kids in Polk County. Actions reverberate through...

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Power, sex, and leadership: an urgent policy need

Power, sex, and leadership: an urgent policy need

Since June, I’ve become aware of three personnel decisions or relationships tainted by allegations of favoritism or mistreatment tied to undisclosed consensual sexual relationships. I’ve been made aware by the public or close stakeholders who provided detailed accusations. I make no claims about the truth of the allegations — only their existence and detail. One of three has already resolved itself with the departure of the top two officials in the District’s Accountability department. Two others are school-based. I’ve shared the same information given to me with District leadership and HR. I am satisfied for now that the information is being investigated. I am awaiting the outcome before speaking further on any details. Why I’m speaking publicly now I debated with myself whether to say anything at all publicly until the investigations have run their course. But Kathryn LeRoy’s behavior with a top subordinate tore gaping holes in the morale and direction of the school district for a year before it became public. Silence was deadly. And I harshly criticized the School Board for its silence and inaction, before and during last year’s campaign. Moreover, people with knowledge of the school and departmental communities surrounding these issues are openly talking about them. Nobody’s silence will change that. It just lets the poison circulate indefinitely. Just as important, I want the people in our schools and district facilities to know that I will take allegations of abuse of power — sexual and otherwise — very, very seriously. The people who report abuse of power are always the most vulnerable to repercussions from that power. They need to know that their political leadership will hold their operational leadership accountable for a culture of fair and responsible leadership. That is how we will build common purpose and trust together. So everyone should know: I am watching what happens here extremely closely. The toxicity that grows up around these issues is deadly to a sense of community. I won’t have it, if I can do anything at all about it. The first thing I can do about it, systemically, I’ve already set in motion. A policy proposal Polk County schools have a sexual harassment policy and a nepotism policy. But we have no written policy concerning supervisors and non-marital romantic relationships. Apparently, very few districts have one. I have asked staff to formulate a policy that: — Mandates disclosure of any romantic/sexual relationship...

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A deep dive on the Bryant Stadium problem and deal

A deep dive on the Bryant Stadium problem and deal

I am a conceptual supporter of purchasing Bryant Stadium from the City of Lakeland. I think it is likely the best overall option for the Polk district, the city of Lakeland (as a community), and for Lakeland High School’s overall athletics program, which I consider an important educational and community function. I think of athletics as an engagement tool. I liken athletics to like art, FFA, ROTC, band, and so many other educational functions that don’t produce test scores — but do produce memories, experience, and character development. There’s a reason many elite prep/private schools require all their kids to play a sport at some level. There is real educational value in teaming and competition, when properly modulated and governed. But if you made me vote tomorrow, I couldn’t support this deal. I still have too many questions; and I don’t think we’ve had an adequate public discussion yet. I blame myself, not my staff, for that. I’ll explain why below. And I am pleased that Bryant Stadium is the first topic we’re going to discuss at the work session a week from Tuesday, July 25th. I asked for this last week; but staff may have had this in mind to do anyway. The terms of the deal, as I understand them, seem reasonable. Two $600,000 payments ($1.2 million) for that property seems more than fair on the surface. We would also get the cell tower revenue, although I’m not certain what that is. Indeed, I think we have not had a precise enough accounting of the cost-benefit of buying the stadium (maintenance v. revenue, etc.) I want to see that. But even more importantly, I think we have put the specifics of the deal before the problem of Bryant Stadium’s future — and the future of field and stadium-based athletics and marching band for Lakeland High. I feel pretty certain that whatever we decide to do with Bryant Stadium, the people who are unhappy with the outcome will object to it far more intensely than the people who support it will cheer. Politically, this is a no-win situation. If I’m going to do something that will displease just about everybody, I at least want to make a decision that addresses the key underlying issues. I’m not comfortable on that yet. Maybe I can get comfortable on Tuesday; maybe I can’t. But I intend to make the decision I...

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How money matters in community education, part 1: 1200 teachers to hire

How money matters in community education, part 1: 1200 teachers to hire

This series of posts is primarily aimed at Polk’s business community and the wider community that doesn’t follow the intricacies of education policy and politics. It’s aimed at answering some basic questions: What are the real world consequences of years of self-defeating state stinginess in education funding? What does money buy? Why are community districts talking about money? Buying the basics of the service First and foremost, money buys personnel. It buys the fundamental delivery of the public education services that 100,000 Polk kids and families demand — and that the state constitution requires communities to provide. Indeed, state government provides most of the funding and virtually all of the mandates through which local districts fulfill constitutional obligations. Here is the funding breakdown in a pie chart. With that in mind, consider this: The Polk County School District would like to hire 1,200 teachers before the next year starts. That’s about 18 percent of our teacher force. Let that sink in. It’s the first exhibit in what money means to a community school district. It means basic staffing. What if the Lakeland Police Department was down 20 percent of the force? Would that be a crisis? A national, state, and local problem Here is a note from Polk Schools HR Director Teddra Porteous explaining where the 1,200 figure comes from. The 1200 is for overall hiring for the 17-18 school year if we were to hire them before school started, which is ideal. Essentially, it’s a combination of the amount of vacancies from natural attrition (retirements and resignations) we will have, the number of current provisional and long term subs in our classrooms and the anticipated vacancies when we open schools for the 17-18 school year. Lord knows, Polk has had localized employee relations problems. See this recent grievance hearing as an example. But the aversion to the teaching profession, when the demand for service is constantly growing, is commonplace virtually everywhere in Florida. See this link. Demoralization of teachers is real even in the “highest performing,” wealthiest districts. I have spoken to multiple of those administrators. This is what happens when you starve public schools and immiserate the teaching profession for 20 years. The teacher shortage, in Polk and elsewhere, reflects a combination of pay and stress level that human beings will not accept at scale. I wouldn’t accept it. That public education functions at all is attributable...

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“We let you win:” Tallahassee’s arrogance, thuggery, and cowardice in 1 Tweet

“We let you win:” Tallahassee’s arrogance, thuggery, and cowardice in 1 Tweet

This is a really funny, if pretty sinister, tweet. It’s been memory-holed; but I got a picture of it before it disappeared. Check it out. It’s the Tallahassee education establishment opening the kimono on who they really are just a bit. (You can click to embiggen.) Now let me give you the background. Meet Shawn R. Frost and Rebecca Negron. Rebecca Negron is a Martin County School Board member and the the wife of Senate President Joe “Schools of Fraud” Negron. You should know Joe Negron as the person who gives Kelli Stargel her marching orders for harming her own community. Rebecca Negron serves on the board of a thing called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. It was formed in the last couple years as competition for the long-standing Florida School Board Association.  It touts itself as “conservative.” But it’s not. It’s really just a platform for sustaining the old Common Core/Test-and-Punish Florida model; crushing traditional schools and teachers; and setting up morally fraudulent charter schools to profit. The spokesman for FCSBM says “we” let Billy win Shawn R. Frost, who goes by the Twitter handle @strategyshawn, is named as the group’s media contact/spokesman. He is the author of the memory-holed tweet above. Frost, Rebecca Negron, and the FCSBM are big supporters of “Schools-of-Fraud” and the starvation budget. Its part of their business plan, errrr, policy vision. I did not know who Shawn was until a couple days ago; but he and I engaged in some good-natured Twitter trash talk Friday morning over Schools-of-Fraud. My election came up as a way of explaining to him that I believe my community elected me to fight his vision for Florida education. Much to my amazement and flattery, Shawn seemed to know all about the circumstances of that campaign. He knew my opponent, the issues, that I ran on “change.” He even used the word “educrat” at one point. I got under his skin just a touch, and he started vowing to defeat me in 2020 through his awesome powers. My fingers laughed at him through a keyboard, and he responded by sending the tweet you see above. “We let you win. Underestimate me at your peril.” We let you win. Think about that for a second. He thinks he’s talking about me. But he’s really talking everyone who worked an early voting shift; every teacher who read and shared my...

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The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

As of today, I consider it mandatory that we honor previously established Level raises (sometimes known as steps) for all Polk School District employees. It will cost us about $4.3 million. We have the money to do it. It’s a simple choice between fulfilling our core function for our community or maintaining a “growing savings account” of dead money that Kelli Stargel and Tallahassee can raid at any time and divert toward fraud. I’ll explain below. I will vote for nothing out of the impasse process that does not include that. But I can go higher if anyone has the courage to join me. And I will openly use any failure to support level raises against other board members politically. I feel like I have no choice. And I want to be as clear about that now as I can be. I don’t want to surprise anyone. The survival of community government is stake If community education — even the idea of community-based government — is going to beat back the assault from Kelli Stargel and our endlessly corrupt Florida Legislators, we have to unify our key community stakeholders. That extends across governments. I was thrilled to see County Commissioner George Lindsey unload on our dreadful legislators. George and I are not normally seen as on the same ideological side. But I think this illustrates how meaningless ideology and party really are in this discussion. It’s really a question of whether you’re for or against fraud — or “malfeasance,” as George put it. I know Mayor Gene Fultz in Lake Wales and Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer are great friends of community education, who are deeply aware of how it fits into community government. And how the state is harming both. But it’s going to be hard to unify our community governments to fight the Tallahassee fraud if the School District can’t even unify our own internal stakeholders. That’s where the teacher impasse is so destructive — and why the last year, culminating in this Legislative Session, is so clarifying. Give Tallahassee everything; get nothing in return It is obvious that the Polk School Board and district leadership, back in May or June of 2016, made a decision to take teachers to impasse. It’s why they hired a Tallahassee-wired anti-labor lawyer. It’s why they offered nothing and then said: “Counter.” It’s why we’ve gotten nowhere. I believe, through close...

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Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Florida law, grounded in the Florida Constitution, requires all people of our communities to send their children to school. It’s a pretty direct and simple requirement. It’s one half of the deal that has underpinned human development in Florida and America for generations. The other half of the deal is that our communities must take these kids into our schools and care for them. Their parents, capability, motivation, or behavior do not matter. In Florida, your state government created constitutional instruments — like the Polk School District — to provide this compulsory education. It applies to normal education, gifted, 504s, ELLs, and IEPs alike. The state government provides most of the money to meet that obligation, while requiring local communities to contribute as well. The federal government kicks in a smaller amount. Here’s the breakdown in Polk. Today, your state government, your flesh and blood legislators, are abandoning their part of that deal. They want to destroy the arrangement. And they want to replace it with nothing. It’s true they want to use compulsory education laws as captive money for educational hucksters, as I’ll show you in a second. But they have no systemic ideas or moral commitment to anything but destruction and fraud. The last undead groan of a zombie model You saw it last summer when your state government used Kelli Stargel’s fraudulent VAM equation (shown above) to force the displacement of dozens of teachers in the neediest Polk schools. And then replaced them with nothing but a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That’s a metaphor for all of Florida education policy of the last 20 years. It despises the idea of community. It despises most kids. It despises teachers. And it will never, ever, ever hold itself accountable for the on-the-ground human impacts of its policies. This year, your legislators plan to provide even fewer resources per student to execute more absurd and anti-human unfunded mandates. They are refusing local pleas to fund our own educational systems because Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran have Republican primaries to run in the future. They will again prevent local School Boards from re-establishing a local option property tax taken away during the financial crisis of 2008. And they are imposing the rollback rate for local counties on property taxes used for schools. That should be an entirely local decision. With those two funding sources, we could give our Polk teachers significant raises. Without...

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A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

Here is the link to Part 1: The Future of Lake Wales is in Lake Wales, not Jefferson County. What follows is part 2. ——————————————————————————————————————- Lake Wales fascinates, excites, and frustrates me for the same reason. All the pieces exist there, right now, for an entirely new, community-based model of education with something for just about everyone. This model could equitably and cooperatively merge compulsory and non-compulsory community education. I think it would have the political clout to tell Florida’s corrupt and awful Department/Board of Education/Legislature to go flagellate itself — and likely get away with it. Unfortunately, as I understand it, LWCS simply wants the Polk School Board to turn McLaughlin over to it with no strings attached. Absent that, they’ll move toward a second charter Bok. LWCS has no interest in keeping a zoned, compulsory education middle school. That’s what I perceive from the letter that LWCS board member and general counsel Robin Gibson, my cousin, whom I like and love, sent to the School Board on April 3. I probably can’t stop a second Bok — at least not at this moment in time. But I know I can’t just hand over McLaughlin. I knew that well before I did serious fact-finding. I must have a zoned middle school in Lake Wales to protect neighboring communities. Turning over McLaughlin takes that zoning away. I made that position clear repeatedly in part 1 and in many other conversations. I can’t and won’t vote to outsource Lake Wales’ student behavior and ESE issues to other communities. That’s the likeliest outcome of doing away with a zoned middle school in Lake Wales. I will show you the data. Let’s go big — and equitable Unfortunately, Florida law does not allow for charter school zoning. That’s the key structural impediment to any deal with LWCS to unify the middle school community and the overall school system in Lake Wales. So we need a waiver, or special legislation that allows geographic limits. And if we’re going to do that, let’s merge how we do ESE and arts education. Let’s give everybody in that community both the stability of neighborhood-based compulsory education and access to choices that work best for each individual. Let’s have both providers work together in the best interest of the many kids who move between them. Let’s set up a standing cooperation committee.  I’ll volunteer as the School Board’s representative. Let’s work toward...

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There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

Update: Senator Stargel posted a Facebook comment in response to this post. I’m republishing it here: “I hate to add to this post because I don’t want to start an extended conversation on Facebook, that at this busy time of session, I don’t have time to complete but…. Billy, I believe we had a free and open conversation. There is no need to fear. You were given more time to speak at our meeting than your fellow school board members. I know that we disagree on many things but I have never been hostile or closed minded to differing opinions and I don’t plan to start now. I still have an open door policy to productive and civil discussion, especially when it relates to our school children. I look forward to working with you and the rest of our school board as we move forward addressing the challenges of educating the children in our county, whether those challenges are large or small. I don’t know where you got the impression that I would stoop to retaliation at the expense of our children, but that is untrue.” I responded like this: “I appreciate the note. And the reassurance. And we can have productive discussions at any time. My phone number is 8632094037. You can start the discussion by publicly reflecting on the lives of the 4,000 families that were disrupted by your VAM equation. That’s what I asked you to do in the meeting. But you showed no interest in considering the impact of your public policy on their lives. If you’re interested in that now, I find that encouraging. I’m eager discuss it with you. Thanks.” ——————————————————————————————- State Sen. Kelli Stargel is utterly and completely unrepentant about VAM — and its effects on kids and teachers. She knows the state of Florida used her statistical laughingstock of an equation to subject 4,000 Polk County middle school families to at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies through February at our five state-stigmatized middle schools. She doesn’t care. She made that clear last week when I confronted her face-to-face about it in her Tallahassee office. This is the same politician who put out campaign mailers in 2016 attacking education “bureaucrats” and gushing about “our hard-working and exceptional teachers.” That material was as fraudulent as her VAM. I think it’s important for all of you, as Polk County (and Lake County) voters, to...

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1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

Here’s a math problem for the FSA. Add together Florida’s fraudulent school grades + Kelli Stargel’s VAM + the teacher shortage + the uninformed, incompetent brutality of your state Board of Education + the Florida education model’s dripping contempt for every single person in a zoned school that isn’t Highlands Grove. Take that sum and multiply it by the cowardly silence of all your politicians — except one. What’s the answer? About 1,800 years of lost teacher/instructional time in six months. And an obvious violation of Florida’s constitutional right to “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” Quick refresher: late last summer, the state Board of Education seized control of five Polk middle schools. The BoE used Kelli Stargel’s VAM equation, this monstrosity… ..to forcibly transfer dozens of teachers just after the school year started. Neither the Board of Education nor the Polk District had any plan for replacing these certified teachers. After all, there’s a massive teacher shortage. The Polk District did not have the people to replace the people forced to move. So the kids at Boone, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Addair, Westwood, and Dension got a patchwork of subs and administrator fill-ins. You may remember that BoE Member Gary Chartrand punctuated this abuse when he got caught on a hot mike saying, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” See this post for those details. Chartrand and the horrible, awful, disgusting people on the state Board of Education have long since moved on. If you are one of the 75 percent of people in Polk County or Florida in a traditional zoned school, they do not care about your child or your life or your choice. They will not waste a second of conscience on it. When they look at you, they \_(ツ)_/¯. You should understand that. However, we in Polk County do not have the luxury of \_(ツ)_/¯. And on February 28, the Polk School Board got a full report on the real-world consequences of the BoE’s fun. 1,800 years Through the first six months or so of this year, Polk’s five “TOP” middle schools combined had suffered at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies. That means an active class for which no permanent certified or provisional teacher was in place. 2,617 days. If you...

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Let’s replace impasse with good faith and move fully into the post-LeRoy era

Kathryn LeRoy dug Polk County a massive, massive educational hole. She was helped by an inattentive and misguided School Board and a less than engaged public (myself included in the latter). We will be clawing our way out of her four years for more than four years. From the failed LIIS system to the insane and pointless assessment/testing structure to the $100,000 diplomas of Acceleration Academy to the TOP schools to the most recent disruptive magnet school zoning plan to god-knows-what-else will come out, the new Polk board members and staff leadership are working diligently through serious inherited problems. I am asking everybody, from the bottom of my heart, to understand the enormity of what LeRoy left us and what we have to do to fix it. It will take time and patience and persistence. And we’ll have to do it in a teacher shortage era. That leads us to one of the worst of these problems inherited from LeRoy’s tenure: the fundamentally adversarial relationship between leadership and staff. This year’s “negotiations” started a few months after LeRoy left. That’s true. But it’s important to remember that every board member except Lynn Wilson back in January 2016 publicly praised Leroy’s performance. They didn’t like her personal behavior, as documented in the whistleblower report and subsequent investigation. But, except for Lynn, they liked her overall leadership approach and results. That included the heavy-handed approach to our people. If we could start over from scratch with the current board and the Byrd/Akes leadership combination, I think we’d be in a very different place with our teachers and staff. But we can’t start over. The School Board put itself in this position back in May and June, when Sarabeth Reynolds and I were not part of it. We are not in control of the board now. But I think we are influencing it culturally. I can’t talk about our negotiating positions. And I don’t know how all this will play out in mediation. I think our teachers and staff will probably be disappointed with even the best case scenario this year. I do not want to raise hopes dishonestly. But I do expect our negotiators to act in better faith when we go to mediation on Friday. And I fully believe this is a year of transition. Next year should be much, much better in negotiations. Sarabeth and I will be in...

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There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it’s good to talk about hard things.

There is no magnet school death panel. There will be no magnet school death panel. But it’s good to talk about hard things.

The Ledger’s Madison Fantozzi quoted me – accurately, I think — as saying this at last week’s School Board work session: “I’m probably done with magnet schools until we sit down and go through the ones we have [and what their purposes are].” I was responding to the new magnet school plan for Combee Elementary and Lake Alfred Addair Middle. I don’t like it. I think it’s disruptive for too many kids. I think it’s going to hurt Boone Middle, which really can’t afford to be hurt. And I’m not the only board member who felt that way. I’ll get the YouTube video up as soon as I can. But the plan is also more than a year old. It dates to the LeRoy administration. We’ve spent more than a $1 million in federal money. And we can’t really stop it now without doing greater harm. I never had a chance to vote when I could have made a productive difference. In recent years, education systems in America, Florida, and Polk County have displayed powerful talent and willingness to make non-ideal situations worse. I don’t want to do that. Believe it or not, when it comes to kids, I am a first-do-no-harm kind of guy. What is our magnet school policy? I would like to have a long sit down with my fellow board members to go through our existing magnet schools; examine their demographics and community relationships; and come up with a coherent policy framework that guides creation of any future magnets. Today, our policy seems to be: hey, there’s a grant; let’s create a magnet school. I would prefer we have a magnet school policy that articulates what we’re actually trying to accomplish. Anyway, the “until” in my quote apparently did not make it clear that I was talking about any future magnet schools.  I’ve been mostly out of town since last Wednesday helping take care of my dad, who was having surgery. I came home last night to a forwarded email circulating amongst some Lincoln and Lawton Chiles Middle parents. Here’s the key excerpt: One of the school board members has apparently asked for a special session to investigate each magnet school and decide if they should continue.  It was brought up in the February work session during discussion about rezoning 2 new magnet schools.  The rezoning issue is back on the agenda at the April meeting.  I have...

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A Bok-McLaughlin vision, part 1: the future of Lake Wales should be Lake Wales. Not Jefferson County.

A Bok-McLaughlin vision, part 1: the future of Lake Wales should be Lake Wales. Not Jefferson County.

I still sincerely believe we can make a deal that unites the Lake Wales middle-school age community. But I’m less optimistic than I was a couple weeks ago. I’m very troubled to learn that Lake Wales Charter Schools wants to take over the Jefferson County schools. Jefferson County is a tiny rural county near Tallahassee. It is 280 miles away from Lake Wales. The state is putting Jefferson County’s two zoned public schools up to bid. Lake Wales Charter apparently wants in on the action. That suggests to me that Lake Wales Charter Schools is something other than I thought it was. Follow this link for a pretty detailed account from Redefined, a Jeb Bush-foundation-backed website that has long sought to destroy the experience of geographically-distinct community schools that most Florida kids attend. Hurting that experience is very helpful in selling “choice.” Here’s the key excerpt: Another candidate, the Lake Wales charter network, operates six schools in central Florida, and may soon add a seventh. A majority of the system’s students are children of color, and it includes two schools that list 100 percent of their students as economically disadvantaged. [Billy insert — I haven’t verified the data in this Redefined piece. Just quoting it for reference. I have my own data below.] Lake Wales has some things in common with Jefferson. It’s a system of charter schools that were converted from traditional public schools after a community demanded change. Jesse Jackson, the Lake Wales superintendent, met with district officials on Friday. He said he got to know Jefferson County during his previous job. He was the director of Florida State University’s lab school, which drew hundreds of Jefferson students into neighboring Leon County. He said the Lake Wales schools, once under-enrolled, have attracted parents who previously sent their children to private schools, or to public options in neighboring towns. Now, most of the charter schools have waiting lists. With the right leadership, he said, the school could gain the trust of educators who might come to work there. It could attract financial support from donors in and around Tallahassee. And it could convince parents to invest their time — and re-enroll their children — in Jefferson public schools. “Our approach would be a whole-community approach,” he said. “It won’t just be trying to make the school better. It will be an effort, as we do in Lake Wales, to make the entire community better.” Quite...

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The Roosevelt process: good government is often messy

The Roosevelt process: good government is often messy

Roosevelt Academy in Lake Wales is an anomaly. It’s essentially a 6-12th grade district magnet school for ESE students. It’s not actually a magnet school; but that’s what it most closely resembles in enrollment structure. There are few, if any, similar schools in Florida. Kids apply to the Roosevelt program, which for many, many years has quietly provided a job skills and vocational program built around the ESE special diploma. As long as the special diploma existed, no one paid Roosevelt much attention. So it was able to largely shape its enrollment and education model with very little interference. The push for change Florida is now doing away with the special diploma option that Roosevelt has used. I don’t want to jump headfirst into that debate here. But here’s the reasoning: the special diploma limits what its holders can do. They can’t serve in the military, for instance. The fear is that allowing the special diploma limits what ESE students can achieve with proper support and inclusion with general education population. The counterargument is that they often don’t get proper support and end up dropping out of general education and life.  Roosevelt advocates generally come down on the anti-drop-out side of that. And the school has created a unique and calm environment, with very impressive experiential agriculture and vocational programs that seem to engage its kids. Here are a couple of pictures of the hydroponics the kids help operate and the woodworking products they’ve created. Of course, ESE, like so many educratic words, contains multitudes. And the experience of an ESE student, like any student, isn’t an either/or proposition. Ideally, all students get the support they need to thrive as best they can. The two schools of thought above need not be in conflict. But there are limited resources to spend. And that leads us to the Roosevelt question. How governing should work Roosevelt’s future is a complex and thorny question, in which many people with different points-of-view make good arguments. Thanks to the public process that is occurring, we’re getting to hear all of them. And it’s helping shape a future. It’s not necessarily fun. There was a fairly tense public meeting this week in which district leadership and my fellow board member Lynn Wilson took questions and heat from Roosevelt parents. Madison Fantozzi with The Ledger has a good account of the back-and-forth. I wasn’t there. During the...

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The Teacher Party, part 2: no more fraudulent school grades; an untested year; and Pasi Sahlberg for Education Commissioner

The key to ending the fraudulent #JebamaBetsyCore model of Florida education lies in the 2018 governor’s race. I believe the Teacher Party needs a candidate who will run on these foundational issues. End any policy that depends on an incomprehensible equation. That means we end VAM. (We may even end VAM this year.) And we end the fraudulent, destructive, stigmatizing school grades. Have an untested year to overhaul the fraudulent “accountability” system. Maybe we’ll even like the untested year so much, we’ll keep it. Replace Education Commissioner Pam Stewart with a commissioner who rejects the Florida model. Pick someone who has a vision for something Finlandish. I recommend Pasi Sahlberg or someone from the Tony Wagner/Ted Dintersmith orbit. Trust me, in education circles, the chance to remake the Florida model into something exciting and humane would attract much interest from high-powered people. And those names would signal a change as profound as the fraudulent school grade era that Jeb brought in 1999. There are many, many other individual changes and reforms a Teacher Party candidate could and would make. (Ending third grade retention is huge for me.) But those three would effectively break the Florida model. They would help us begin to rebuild it around motivated teachers. It would send a massive signal to would-be teachers and the country as a whole. After all, #JebamaBetsyCore has tried to inflict the Florida model on the rest of the country over the years. You’ll notice I haven’t said a word about unions, vouchers, poverty, or choice. Give me those three reforms, and I won’t need to. In that model, as you’re just starting to see in Polk County, the different choices can work together collaboratively and productively. In this model, ALL SCHOOL CHOICES are honored, not just those that Pam Stewart and Gary Chartrand and Betsy DeVos market as “escape” from the zoned schools that most kids attend. Let’s take a closer look at how these three points deliver much-needed relief and offer new hope. Take away the power of fraud The fraudulent Florida education model lags the country as a whole in graduation rate and exceeds it in teacher shortage. School grades are the cornerstone of the fraud. In fact, you will never hear me say the phrase “school grade” again without the word “fraudulent” in front of it. Fraudulent school grades exist to stigmatize the children, parents, and teachers of...

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The Teacher Party, part 1: we need teachers much more than they need us

The Teacher Party, part 1: we need teachers much more than they need us

Every morning, roughly 100,000 Polk County residents access seven or more hours of intense person-to-person public service from the Polk County School District. That’s 15 to 20 percent of our population. For at least half of the waking day. Every day. Nothing compares to that level of sustained human-to-human service demand from that many individual customers. No other product or service provided primarily by human beings can match its scope. Not law enforcement. Not Publix. Not health care. Not even the military. Our teachers do not patrol. They engage. Every day. For hours. With children. Think about the demands of engagement with your own children. Now multiply it by 80 or 100 or 150. Every day. For 6-8 hours. More if you’re a coach or band or club leader. This demand will not diminish in the coming decades. As surely as we can predict anything about the future, it’s this: if we remain an industrialized, networked, knowledge-based society, the demand for publicly-funded education services will not decrease. The only way the demand goes down is if society collapses. Everyone should wrap their heads around that. Teachers are the crucial delivery mechanism of this service. All the administrators, consultants, school board members, and editorial writers could spontaneously combust tomorrow. If teachers and paras and bus drivers didn’t, kids might not even notice. Flip that around, and we’ve got nothing. Unless you believe you can sit kids down in front of hopelessly outdated computers seven hours a day and say you’re adequately preparing them for life. If you believe that, you should say so. But we don’t even coach sports teams by computer. We’re going to coach literacy and humanity and citizenship that way? Simple raw pragmatism I am known as an advocate for teachers. I have many times made the moral case for creating an education model that supports them and honors the energy they bleed and suffering they endure today. The moral case for teachers is the prerequisite for responding to the even greater moral case for supporting and developing kids as human beings and citizens. The Florida model of education offends me, morally, because it despises teachers and considers them utterly disposable. By doing so, it shows that it despises kids and considers them utterly disposable. However, my offense is pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things. And the moral argument for teachers has carried very little...

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Impasse has already cost us $75,000 and wasted 7 months. Let’s change our negotiating parameters.

Impasse has already cost us $75,000 and wasted 7 months. Let’s change our negotiating parameters.

First thing Monday morning, I will submit a request to Supt. Jackie Byrd to schedule an emergency School Board session to change negotiating parameters. I’m happy to have this meeting in public. But we can do it in executive session if other board members insist. I have no idea whether we will schedule one. But my observations tell me we’re not going to change the dynamics in this negotiation unless the School Board changes the direction we’ve given our lawyers and negotiators. Here is my three-fold recommendation for new parameters: 1) Eliminate from negotiation anything not related to this year’s salaries. Let’s just go status quo on whether health insurance and teacher evaluation can sit in the collective bargaining agreement. We’ve wasted far too much time and energy on abstractions. Let’s get real. 2) Instruct our finance staff to provide three options for salary increases, ranging from .5 to 3.0 percent. Provide one option structured as 1-time bonus. Lay out clearly the trade-offs related to fund balances, etc. Invite the PEA negotiators to lay out their case for which option they prefer. Allow the Board/District to rebut. Then let’s vote on one of the options and take some public responsibility. 3) Let’s work together closely with our teachers and staff to shame and pressure Tallahassee and our legislators into providing better funding for our instructional staff. 7 months lost In my little speech at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting, I said: “This impasse plan probably dates till June or May.” Here’s a pretty good piece of evidence for that. This is the consultant agreement with Allen Norton and Blue, the Tallahassee law firm we hired to handle negotiations. ANB is a very high-powered labor firm that focuses exclusively on management interests. I believe they were hired as weapon to be used against our teachers and staff. That’s not acceptable to me. As you can see, the contract began June 9. We’re paying ANB $225/hour of your money. We’ve either paid them — or plan to pay them — $75,000. It’s a little hard to tell. It looks like they’ve change-ordered us at some point. If they do it again, I’m sure we could go over $75,000. From my point-of-view, as a board member, I see no value at all in the time and money we’ve spent on ANB. But I have received some sensible pushback on criticism of the lawyers. And...

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Timpasse, part 3: a new board generation will help Jackie Byrd succeed

Timpasse, part 3: a new board generation will help Jackie Byrd succeed

Here are links to the previous two parts of this series: “Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service” “Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture” Please watch this brief exchange between Tim Harris and me about Wes Bridges’ automatically-renewing three-year contract. It’s crucial for understanding the political and cultural dynamics on the Polk School Board. Key quote from Tim — and my response. “I also think that if you’ve been in office for three weeks, and this in your first meeting, you don’t have enough corporate history and cultural understanding to make this kind of proposal.” “And yet, I have.” It’s also crucial to understand that Tim Harris is the president of Florida School Board Association. In my observation, he’s recently spent much more time and effort doing that job than his Polk School Board job. The FSBA, which is full of well-meaning, helpful people, is the single greatest underachiever in Florida politics. With its built-in constituency, the FSBA should be the NRA of humane education. Virtually all of its members hate the Florida model of education. In reality, the FSBA hasn’t made a dent in the Florida model for two decades because it’s impotent. It scares nobody. Tim’s presidency is pointless for anyone but Tim. Meanwhile, Alabama has a 90 percent graduation rate. Now take a look at this clip of Tim Harris almost reveling in the powerlessness and irrelevance of the FSBA. He’s addressing a local-option tax that the state is preventing local districts from pursuing. Many districts, including Polk, want that option. Don’t even think about fighting for it, says the president of the FSBA. It’s pointless. Key quote: “For those of you who were able to at attend the FSBA conference. The first bullet we have under capital outlay; it was pointed out to us very succinctly. That will not happen. You might as well just not put it on your list. It won’t happen. That came from legislative leadership. You might as well just not put it on your list. Those clips and that sentiment help explain how my fellow board members and our negotiators have blundered us into a stupid and destructive impasse with our teachers. And how we’ve done it at precisely the wrong moment — just as the awful Florida model of education is beginning to crack....

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Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture

Impasse, part 2: the logical outcome of a broken School Board culture

Your Polk School District declared a labor impasse with our teachers a week ago today. I was notified by a press release from the district sent at 3:52 p.m. I can’t speak for any other board members; but I know I was given no timeline for when to expect this to happen and no heads-up before it happened. No one with the district explained the impasse process to me. So I’ve had to figure it out myself. The School Board has held one 30-minute closed collective bargaining negotiating session since my swearing-in. School Board Attorney Wes Bridges admonished us not to share anything said in the meeting. The law seems a bit more ambiguous. Here’s how the 2016 Government-in-the-Sunshine manual puts it, citing a State Attorney General’s report: Section 447.605(1), F.S. does not directly address the dissemination of information that may be obtained at the closed meeting, but there is clear legislative intent that matters discussed during such meetings are not to be open to public disclosure. In any event, I do think I am constrained from saying anything that I hear in a closed negotiating session. So what I’m about to write comes entirely from my observations and conversations outside the formal closed session. Here are three key points: 1. Your School District and its paid legal representatives have not remotely sought to negotiate or meaningfully talk with your teachers and district staff. When our highly-paid Tallahassee labor lawyer writes, “We are willing to continue to work toward a resolution of our differences in contract negotiations,” he is not telling the truth. “We” are not. Billy Townsend is. But “we” are not. At the bottom of this post, you’ll see the district’s press release and the core content of our lawyer’s letter. Worth a comparison. 2. When your School District writes in its press release, “the primary dispute is over wages,” it is not telling the truth. Indeed, if one looks at the letter our high-priced Tallahassee labor lawyer wrote to PEA and AFSCME, salary is just one of four key issues — and not even the first cited. For the money we’re paying him, you’d think it might have occurred to him to more closely align his letter and our PR statement. The district also wants major changes to how we negotiate teacher transfer rules, teacher evaluation, and health insurance. You can rest assured that none of...

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Dear Townsend/Trump voters: Betsy DeVos loves everything you hate about Florida education, including Common Core

Dear Townsend/Trump voters: Betsy DeVos loves everything you hate about Florida education, including Common Core

As you know, Townsend/Trump voters, I don’t lie to you. I think that’s why so many of you voted for me, even though we often see the world in different ways. So I think it’s important for me to give you the unpolitically-correct truth about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Department of Education secretary. She has her confirmation hearing next week. In short, if you like standardized testing, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like Common Core, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like what happened with the teacher transfers in Polk County this summer, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like fraudulent VAM and fraudulent school grades and toxic micromanagement, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like teacher shortages, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you like the Florida model, you’ll like Betsy DeVos. If you work, teach, or attend a traditional zoned school, like the vast majority of Americans in education, Betsy Devos has no respect for you. She doesn’t respect your choice. She would like to make your experience at those schools as miserable as possible, so she can redirect traditional school tax money to private sector cronies. The one ray of hope in this is that the federal government’s leverage over the states has diminished with the deep unpopularity and failure of No Child Left Behind. I doubt DeVos will be as consequential or damaging as Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary. As I’ve said many times, Education Obama is my least favorite Obama. And I say that as a No Party Affiliate who proudly voted for him twice. But don’t take my word on DeVos. Listen to the good folks at Conservative Review. Well, there you have it folks. Trump has just picked his education secretary after narrowing down his choices to two pro-Common Core, pro-micromanaging women: Michelle Rhee and Betsy DeVos. I’ve already discussed what a terrible pick Rhee would have been, but DeVos is no better. DeVos fails on two key promises Trump repeatedly made to voters: “Get rid of Common Core” and “keep education local.” Like Rhee, DeVos has adamantly supported Common Core. She’s even a board member of Jeb Bush’s Common Core-supporting education foundation (and one of its biggest donors), not to mention “closely aligned to Republican education officials like Sen. Lamar Alexander” — which should give any education freedom lover convulsions… …DeVos now claims to be against Common Core, of all things! That’s sure...

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Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service

Impasse, part 1: Listen to your School Board members lay out their visions of public service

The video below comes from the Dec. 13, 2016, School Board work session — my first work session as a board member. This hour-long excerpt covers the discussion of School Board Attorney Wes Bridges’ three-year contract. This contract automatically renews every year. It has no practical mechanism for removing Bridges without paying him at least $450,000. Lynn Wilson and I wanted to change that deal. The other five School Board members did not. What follows is almost all of the discussion — and our reasoning. It’s very illuminating. Anybody who cares about the direction of public education in Polk County should watch it. I will quote a few of my colleagues below. Their thoughts are quite instructive, I think, as we move into an unnecessary and gratuitous impasse with our teachers and staff. But first, let me introduce you to the “Billy Townsend, Polk School Board District 1” Youtube channel. It’s kind of nondescript at this point. But I have ideas. Believe it or not, the voting and taxpaying public cannot easily access video or audio recordings of School Board meetings after they happen. You must formally request a DVD and pay the $1.3 billion School District to burn it for you. Then you have to drive to Bartow to pick it up. You can compare that access to Lakeland City government, which has full online access to the meetings of all its various commissions and boards one click away. I think it’s unfortunate that we are so far behind industry standard on public access to meeting recordings. So I asked for and received a DVD of the 12/13 meeting; purchased a $35 piece of DVD conversion software; converted the file to mp4 format; and uploaded it to my new Youtube channel. It took me the better part of a Saturday morning to figure out how to do that — and the better part of Saturday afternoon to do it and write this piece. I am told that the School District does have the technology to make these meetings available and that we’re working on it. But in the meantime, I’ll do it, as my schedule and spare time allows. Some crucial quotes For now, I think the Bridges discussion is worth watching in its entirety. But I particularly would urge you to watch and listen to Hazel Sellers’ statement from roughly 14:30 to 16:30. Think about it in...

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Wes Bridges has tenure no teacher can dream of

If the School Board chooses to non-renew Wes Bridges’ contract before January 1, he will still be guaranteed his job until 2019. And our only recourse, as a board, will be to buy out his contract in full. That will mean writing him a $450,000 check, plus whatever vacation and incidental costs he would be owed. He might as well be a Supreme Court justice. He has, essentially, a lifetime appointment. Here is what Bridges wrote a few weeks ago — before I took office — to School Board members in a memo about his annual contract renewal. I read that — as a I think a normal, non-lawyer human would — as referring to a one-year contract. That’s similar to the annual contract structure that any principal works under. But that reading is not correct. Go into the contract and you see this: I read the reference to 2011-2014 as referring to underlying terms of the deal, not its duration. I thought this meant we had automatically renewing one-year deals based on the terms of the 2011-2014 agreement. I read it that way because to think of it as an automatically renewing three-year deal seemed insane. I couldn’t believe previous School Boards would tie future School Board hands in that way. But I was wrong. Our School Board, for multiple years now, has provided Bridges an automatically renewing three-year deal. There is no mechanism for removing him that does not involve paying him the full cost of the automatically renewing three years. Non-renewal just starts the three-year clock. At $150K per year, he’s entitled to a $450,000 payout to leave. People went nuts about the $230k we paid LeRoy. We could remove him for cause, in theory. But it’s functionally impossible to prove cause. Remember, we couldn’t even remove Kathryn LeRoy for cause. And we had detailed, documented complaints about her behavior and performance. Bridges’ performance evaluations are essentially meaningless in terms of his contract. So give the man his due. This is a good deal for him. It’s way better than what Kathryn LeRoy had. It’s a tougher tenure protection that anything any teacher-hater has ever complained about. He’s got game. I feel certain that anyone who can protect himself so thoroughly from his own employer can come up with a legal strategy to help prevent the unelected Board of Education from illegally seizing local control of...

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Wes Bridges’ resignation/contract is STILL not on any agenda

Wes Bridges’ resignation/contract is STILL not on any agenda

I’ll have a fuller discussion soon of the rather fascinating issues raised by the great Townsend/Fields Sunshine Law kerfuffle of 2016. But I do want to say this now: public officials should be scrutinized, myself included. We should not whine about it — or hide from it. Indeed, that’s why I personally forwarded the emails in question to The Ledger. I want reporters to know what I’m doing on important issues so they can scrutinize me. I do not fault the Ledger reader who complained about the exchange. I do not fault The Ledger or its reporters for writing the story. I don’t fault Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation for thinking it might be a technical violation. I know and like Barbara. And I have recently sought her out to consult about what I can write publicly here. I want to avoid any grinding against the law. But Barbara is not the law, as she’ll be the first to tell you. And the Sunshine Law’s interpretation and communication is so obtuse and complex in some places that it can actually defeat its own purpose. So this entire exercise was very useful for me and the public, I think, as a source of information and clarity. And it would have been useful if I had to pay a $150 fine, too. So I’m glad this happened. Now, very briefly, let’s get to the core of what this was about — Wes Bridges’ future with the Polk School Board and the ticking clock that affects that future. Here’s the bottom line: I ran on removing Wes. I won big. Wes resigned. Then he unresigned. I still consider him resigned. But that’s not really a legal issue worth fighting. It’s much easier to simply not renew his contract. As I read his contract, we have to do that before January 1 or it renews for another year. Its term would run until some time in March. I have no idea if I have four votes to non-renew Wes’ contract. But I’m comfortable with that. Because I’m comfortable with my position, and I plan to advocate for it. I’m never afraid to lose. The Polk School Board only has one day of meetings set between now and January 1. That’s one week from today, Dec. 13. I want to force a discussion and vote on Wes Bridges’ future. I want that...

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