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

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

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

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The perils of thanking power, pt 1: In fairness to Kelli Stargel, how would she have known?

The perils of thanking power, pt 1: In fairness to Kelli Stargel, how would she have known?

Take a look at this brief clip from Tuesday’s Polk School Board work session. Board Member Sarabeth Reynolds makes a familiar point about relationships with legislators: “You catch a lot more flies with honey.” The context for Sarabeth’s statement is our board discussion of the new taxpayer-funded, no-oversight grifter school vouchers that your state government is about to create. I’ll talk about that in part 2. But the statement itself has more general application; and I think Sarabeth has fallen here into a common trap for public officials. She’s confusing personal relationships with power relationships. “Flies with honey” is good advice for personal relationships, which are rooted in affection and love, as anyone in a strong marriage can tell you. Power relationships are very different relationships. They are not marriages or friendships or even co-worker collaboration. They decide the distribution of public goods. They are about who eats and who serves; who thrives and who suffers. So Sarabeth’s statement makes a great jumping off point for exploring why the Florida Senate education budget is so much less bad than the governor and House budget. The image below shows the difference. Click to enlarge. The Senate budget is circled; and this Ledger story has phone numbers and email contact for legislators. I’d urge you to call them and tell them to support the Senate budget. And as you consider this “flies with honey” notion, it’s useful to consider why Sen. Kelli Stargel felt the need to say this publicly in yesterday’s Ledger story about the budget: State Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, is chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on education and was responsible for including a lot of the increased funding. Stargel said she “chose to prioritize funding to public schools. The Senate president and the appropriations chair agreed.” Note the use of the word “chose.” She made an active, publicly beneficial decision that she has not made in the past. Why? If you thank someone for hurting you; they will keep hurting you To answer that question, let’s imagine Kelli Stargel’s decade-plus in the Florida Legislature from her point-of-view. Since her election to the Florida House in 2008, Stargel has pretty routinely done the bidding of legislative leadership, which itself was doing the bidding of political donors with particular interests. In many cases, these actions on behalf of distant and powerful interests harmed or weakened local institutions, such the Polk School District,...

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Five children: some thoughts on a sad 10 days

Five children: some thoughts on a sad 10 days

Five children from the Polk County School District family have died in the last 10 days. All were between nine and 13-years-old. Three were killed in traffic-related accidents. One died in an accident at home. And another committed suicide. Some of these cases have made news. Others haven’t. I’m not going to name the children because I don’t want to invade the privacy of grieving families. Please keep them in your thoughts. Four of the five attended Polk District schools at the time of their deaths. The fifth was homeschooled, but had recently attended one of our schools. The five school communities affected by these enormous human tragedies are: Lake Marion Creek Middle Crystal Lake Elementary Crystal Lake Middle Rochelle School of the Arts Winston Academy Between them, those five schools serve roughly 4,000 children. That’s 4,000 children and several hundred staff who may have lost a dear friend or a child with whom they’d built a deep emotional bond. Yet, they are expected to take attendance and give high stakes FSA tests this week as if nothing has happened. The collection of meaningless data in Florida is pitiless. So please keep these school communities in your thoughts as well. Here are a few random musings, from the point-of-view of an elected School Board member, concerning the enormity of losing these lives before they’ve really started. — In a School District of roughly 105,000 kids, the death of children occurs distressingly often. I should have understood that when I ran for office, given the simple math of operating what amounts to a medium-sized city every day. But I didn’t understand it. Not really. Not as viscerally as I do now. In coming to understand it, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Superintendent Jackie Byrd conduct herself in these situations far more often than I would like. And I can tell you that she does so excellently. Comforting parents and school communities in these moments of grief is a particular skill for Mrs. Byrd. She represents the School District with empathy and grace in moments of grief. — The death on display in Polk in the last 10 days offers a realistic cross-section of the truest dangers that children face in this world: three traffic accident deaths, one unknown accident at home, and a lethal act of self-harm carried out before puberty. Mass shootings traumatize the imagination; but the most relentless...

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A proposed School Board resolution concerning Pastor Tiger, state voucher school oversight, and public safety

A proposed School Board resolution concerning Pastor Tiger, state voucher school oversight, and public safety

I will be asking the Polk School Board at our Tuesday meeting to adopt the following resolution concerning the events at Kingdom Prep; the lack of oversight of voucher schools laid out in the Orlando Sentinel’s “School without Rules” reporting; and expanding the mandate of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Grand Judy to include voucher school oversight and safety. Full background on the Pastor Tiger story and its implications for voucher expansion are below. If you agree with this resolution, I would encourage you to contact your School Board members and urge them to support it. Here it is: *** Whereas in October 2017, the Orlando Sentinel published an exhaustive investigation of the lack of oversight of schools that receive state-sponsored private “scholarships,” otherwise known as vouchers. This report was titled “Schools without Rules.” Whereas the second paragraph of that article stated: “The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.” Whereas, neither Step Up for Students nor state government, both of which facilitate these vouchers, took any substantial action to respond to the issues raised by “Schools without Rules,” including the risk of sexual abuse. Whereas, in February of 2019, 15 months after “Schools without Rules,” the Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested Charles “Pastor Tiger” Aguon, 34-year-old headmaster of Kingdom Prep School in Auburndale on sexual abuse charges. [Pastor Tiger is not the same person cited in the Sentinel reporting. — ed. note] Whereas, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was quoted in the The Ledger saying Pastor Tiger spent time “grooming” his alleged victim: “While Pastor Tiger (Aguon) was a role model, he was grooming this boy and touching him in an inappropriate manner,” Judd said. “We are significantly concerned and curious to know if there are any other victims. We want the parents and grandparents to speak with their children, ask them questions.” Whereas, receiving vouchers/scholarships overseen by the state and Step Up for Students were important steps for enrollment at Kingdom Prep, according to the school’s website. Whereas, Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Kelli Stargel and other education and government leaders propose to redefine Kingdom Prep and schools like it as public schools and provide them taxpayer money with no oversight as part of a massive voucher expansion in Florida. Whereas,...

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How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids, part 2: “Unacceptable” funding means “unacceptable” staffing and “unacceptable” protection

How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids, part 2: “Unacceptable” funding means “unacceptable” staffing and “unacceptable” protection

This is a very important passage from the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas report. Key sentence: “Unlocked and opened gates were regularly unstaffed for long periods of time on the MSDHS campus. School administrators cited a lack of personnel as the explanation for the unstaffed open gates. This explanation is unacceptable.” The possibilities that Kelli Stargel kills First, this passage lays out the potential for a smart expansion of Polk’s uniformed Guardian program. For those of you who don’t know, our Guardian program is a compromise that provides our elementary schools with a layer of uniformed, armed protection and helps us comply with state law. (Our middle and high schools already have school resource officers.) Polk’s Guardian Program does not arm existing teachers or staff who have teaching or disciplinary duties. We had a robust public discussion about that. And we chose to create new positions, gave them distinctive uniforms, and gave them active shooter response training through the Polk Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Judd’s office and our HR staff did yeoman work getting these roles staffed and trained in time for the opening of the school year. The elementary Guardians patrol the grounds, monitor who is coming and going, etc. The response from the elementary schools has been good. The kids and adults seem to like having them around. I suspect it’s a very boring job most of the time; but I hope, in complying with the state, that we’ve provided a layer of deterrence, although I suspect it’s mostly theater. I would be open to expanding the Guardian program to secondary schools — middle and high schools — if the Guardians were used to staff and control access points all day, as mentioned above in the MSD report. And if they had no disciplinary, investigative, or instructional duties to distract them. In this way, they would be little different than the police we hire for crowd control for big athletic events. That would balance the armed staff safety risk equation that I have written about at length, most recently here. However, I’d prefer that we follow the urging of my Polk School Board colleague Sarah Fortney: provide a social worker to every one of our schools. I think that would be money better spent. But I assure you, there is no money for either expansion. Kelli Stargel has seen to that. Moreover, there is no pipeline of mental health services and social...

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