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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