Kelli Stargel and the FCSBM put our kids and teachers at the mercy of malicious cranks. Let’s change that.

Kelli Stargel and the FCSBM put our kids and teachers at the mercy of malicious cranks. Let’s change that.

Let’s meet Marion County School Board Member Nancy Stacy. She’s a director of a very influential and destructive group of Florida education elites, which I’ll come to in a second. And she has opinions she likes to share with the public. Here’s one: “In America whores (Webster’s defines as prostitutes) used to be shunned by some but us Christians prayed for them to change their ways. Today they are heralded as heroines if they are talented enough to present themselves as ‘damsels in distress’ to destroy a man. These ‘whores’ trade sex for money or favors.” “Bill Cosby was example. He was sentenced on one story. A woman goes to married man’s home alone. She voluntarily took pills he offered that would ‘relax’ her. I believe she was a ‘whore’ and went there for monetary favors which is definition of a prostitute/whore! The media portrayed her as a ‘damsel in distress.’ Granted Cosby foolishly played her game she went there to play. He did pay women over the years but they were simply ‘prostitutes’ with a new trick to get money from rich folks.” See the full story about about Stacy’s idiosyncratic take on “whores” from the Ocala Star-Banner. It’s become quite the thing around Ocala. Why does this matter to all of Florida? Because of Stacy’s FCSBM I’m not one to go crank fishing. I’m generally content to let Ocala’s problems stay in Ocala. We’ve got our own in Polk. But Nancy Stacy isn’t your normal, every day crank. She’s also a director of a small group called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM). Believe it or not, Stacy’s group, which is tiny, has been driving the worst of Florida’s education policies in recent years, such as: 7069, VAM, starvation budgets, lawless charter expansion, and the failed Amendment 8. This group is closely aligned with Kelli Stargel. See this story as one example. The outgoing leaders of the House and Senate, Richard Corcoran and Joe Negron did whatever the FCSBM wanted. Indeed, until she got beat in a recent election, Joe Negron’s wife was part of the FCSBM. It also includes a woman named Erika Donalds, who drove the failed Amendment 8 effort to put charter schools beyond any touch of meaningful oversight. Donalds’ husband Byron is a member of the Florida House and influential on education issues, particularly in hurting teachers and taking away oversight of...

Read More

The First Referendum, pt. 2: A video tour Kelli Stargel’s contempt for the people of public education. Come see.

The First Referendum, pt. 2: A video tour Kelli Stargel’s contempt for the people of public education. Come see.

I understand that it’s hard for some people, particularly my Republican friends, to truly believe that Kelli Stargel truly sets out to hurt the people of public education as much as she does. Just writing that sentence can feel like hyperbole. “Surely, she can’t want to make teachers’ lives miserable. Surely, she doesn’t want a teacher shortage. Billy’s just being political here, right?” I’m really not. I’m telling you the graveyard dead truth, as Grady Judd might say. I respect you, and myself, way too much to lie to you. Bob Doyel’s new mailer is completely accurate, right down to the part about Kelli’s support for Common Core, in both its specific meaning and wider use as a synonym for “test and punish education. Click to enlarge. See this article providing the receipts on Kelli’s VAM and Common Core record — and her general acceptance of bad Democratic education ideas long ago discredited. And you’ve seen her record in draining $160 million since 2014 from kids and teachers and bus drivers. How the Stargel/DeSantis establishment will continue to treat you But as powerfully damning as Kelli’s record looks when it’s written down, it can’t compare to viscerally feeling the contempt that she and your state government have for you if you have anything to do with traditional public schools or the teaching profession. Nothing conveys that like video. So for the rest of this installment, we’re just going to tour some greatest hits from this generation of hateful, spiteful attitudes toward the human beings of education. Stargel and Rick Scott’s Education Commissioner Pam Stewart are the stars. But Ron DeSantis has been very clear that he plans to continue on this path. It’s just a fact. Expect much more of this if he’s elected. See this article.  Trust me, if you have anything to do with public schools, you won’t get a pass for being a Republican if Stargel and DeSantis win. “…you guys are going to have to deal with that.” This fist clip comes from a few months back, when I asked Stargel if she would attend a Polk School Board meeting this past spring. In that meeting, we had to address her mandate to close, destroy, or turnover to private hands several of our schools because of their fraudulent school grades. I came to call this list of schools “the Kelli Stargel school kill list.” Full background and discussion...

Read More

New and better communications policies for a new and better era

New and better communications policies for a new and better era

I filled out my evaluation of the superintendent over the weekend. Not going to talk about the specific outcomes here; but I was fair, thorough, and constructive. I recognized both progress and challenges and explained my thinking with depth. I’d urge you to take a look at some of the evaluation questions your elected board members are asked to answer on your behalf with a 1-4 rating system — prior to my marking them. Click the pictures to enlarge. As you can see, to answer these questions with the intelligence or nuance necessary to use a 1-4 performance scale, School Board members need to have fairly extensive information about district operations on the ground. School Board members have to listen to a broad range of stakeholders; or they’re only listening to the person they’re evaluating. The “traditional purview” requires hard work and communication with staff It’s useful to consider that fact in light of this passage from The Ledger’s interesting recent story about the overall School Board governing and election dynamics. The traditional purview of the board, some of his colleagues tell [Townsend] — particularly Kay Fields and Tim Harris — is setting policy and overseeing the work of the superintendent, who works for the board. The idea here is that I disagree with that “traditional purview.” But I don’t. As you can see from what the evaluation of the superintendent expects me to know and assess, “overseeing the work of the superintendent” is a knowledge and labor-intensive effort. So is “setting policy.” Rather, I believe I am living up to that “traditional purview,” where the three long-term board members do not and have not, for a generation. This oversight passiveness has become so ingrained in Polk School Board culture that a real effort to do the job, in a way that aligns honestly with the “traditional purview,” seems radical. But it’s not radical at all; it’s just taking the job and the “traditional purview” seriously. The consequences of ignoring the “traditional purview” You don’t need to look very far for evidence of the long-term board members failing in the “traditional purview.” The School Board that existed prior to the 2016 election — including Kay Fields and Tim Harris — failed abjectly and completely to “oversee the work” of the previous superintendent, Kathryn LeRoy. It wasn’t until Greg Rivers brought a wide-ranging complaint about LeRoy’s harassment and incompetence that...

Read More

The unenforceable, anti-public, anti-employee School Board communication policy illustrates a cultural problem. It’s already largely ignored. It will be changed.

The unenforceable, anti-public, anti-employee School Board communication policy illustrates a cultural problem. It’s already largely ignored. It will be changed.

Late last week, Polk School District leadership sent out an email to all staff describing the strict official terms on which employees of our School District may communicate with their elected board members. The email summarizes a School Board policy created in 2013. I did not create or vote for that policy. As you’ll see, the email summary actually misrepresents the specific policy, which includes the caveats “preferred” and “should.” Here’s a screen shot. The summary email, which I’m publishing below, wipes out the caveats included in the real policy language. The actual policy was unanimously adopted on November 12, 2013.  Current board members Kay Fields, Tim Harris, Hazel Sellers, and Lori Cunningham — the four long-term incumbents — all voted for it. If I were them, I’d be pretty annoyed with the absence of “should” and “preferred” in that districtwide policy summary. But even with the caveats, consider what they did: your elected officials, to whom you pay more than $40,ooo per year and offer health insurance, acted to set pretty hard limits on how their constituents can address them, presumably under pain of organizational punishment. I reject those limits. Lisa Miller can certainly speak for herself as a newly elected board member. But I wager that she and at least two other remaining board candidates reject those limits, too. That difference in attitude toward all constituents is a big part of what’s on the ballot in November. The current board attitude acts as a drag on the real organizational progress we are making on a number of fronts. It limits us and slows us down. This policy will change if I have anything to say about it Thankfully, this absurd policy is already broadly ignored, even by the board members who voted for it, I suspect. I’m pretty sure they’re not actually saying, “No, I prefer not talk to you” if it’s someone they want to talk to. But openly flouted, unenforceable policies and laws are bad policies and laws. So after the election, my first request to whomever sits on the new School Board will be to repeal this policy and replace it with something reasonable and reflective of our roles as your elected representatives. [I may actually do that sooner. I’ll even write a suggested replacement policy in the next few days. Because I am constructive.] No good employer fears what its employees or stakeholders have to say. Confident...

Read More

Why I support the PEA and AFSCME deals: a big step on the long, hard road to making us a better employer

Why I support the PEA and AFSCME deals: a big step on the long, hard road to making us a better employer

As labor talks unfolded over the last few months, I knew three basic things. 1) Years of School Board and district leadership inattention, which predate and ended with my election, left a $15 million hole in the District’s self-funded insurance plan. 2) Bus driver and teacher shortages loomed over everything. 3) I was very pleased this year with the constructive collaboration between management and labor in working through these problems. Fixing insurance now is an emergency, which means costs have to rise for everybody — employees, School Board, and taxpayers. The changes are particularly painful for spouses and children of employees. But the alternative to fixing it now is insolvency — the collapse of the plan. And that’s not an alternative. Given those stakes, we probably should have pursued a full-throttle, repetitive public campaign to prepare people for the unpleasant insurance changes. But we are not yet a district whose leadership is comfortable talking openly to the public and stakeholders about tough, painful challenges. As the bargain played out, I actually talked about insurance quite a bit — in meetings, quotes for various media stories, and in many individual conversations with the people of our district. In fact, no stakeholder hid the fact that we had giant insurance problems to face. The School Board and staff addressed it quite openly. Our Finance leaders spoke to at least one union meeting to warn attendees of the difficulties ahead. But I still knew, as the summer unfolded, that a passive observer of School Board policy might not know what to expect from even a good, productive collective bargaining deal, which I think this is. I intended to write an article preparing as many people for this as I could. But I got very busy writing about other personnel and cultural issues that I consider hugely important. And negotiations moved very fast. So I didn’t write the insurance piece I intended before the deal came out. I did not do enough, soon enough, to manage expectations. For that, I apologize. The difference between labor relations and employee relations When the district staff announced the deal last week, they did so with a sense of accomplishment. And compared with past negotiations, this negotiation does truly stand out for its collaboration, speed, and sense of common purpose. It’s a big step forward in labor relations, which is important, and which I’ll discuss in a moment. But that...

Read More

The first referendum, part 3: What would Sheriff Judd do?

The first referendum, part 3: What would Sheriff Judd do?

Run a thought experiment with me. Imagine that Sen. Kelli Stargel, Gov. Rick Scott, and the rest of your Florida state government forced your Polk County Commission to withhold $160 million* from Sheriff Grady Judd’s budget for protecting Polk residents since 2014. $48 million in the current year alone. Imagine the County Commission had no ability to vote on it. It was simply dictated by Stargel and Scott and the rest. Then imagine that Stargel evaluated Judd’s deputies from Tallahassee and hung a performance score on them using this formula: Now imagine Stargel and Scott ordered Sheriff Judd to pay and deploy his deputies based on that equation. And then after all of that, imagine Stargel gave the Sheriff’s Office a “grade” based on whether murders went up or down in any given year and a hundred other variables thrown together in a formula so incoherent it takes 40 pages to explain it. And now imagine she regularly insulted the sheriff and his deputies, for good measure. What do you think Grady Judd would do if that was his reality? I have a hypothesis. It involves a lot of press conferences and cameras and colorful Gradyisms. If he gave me a call, I’d stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him and nod like a lapdog. *[Billy note] The number on my picture says $128 million because I can’t figure out how to edit the picture with my limited technology at hand. That’s embarrassing, I know. Our district finance people recently rechecked my estimate and found the correct number to be $160 million over five years. The graveyard dead truth As a Polk County School Board member trying to bring sweeping change and renewed support to public education, the thought experiment above IS my reality. I am not exaggerating. I am not exaggerating. I’m telling you the graveyard dead truth. Stargel and Scott and your state government have prevented our teachers and staff from benefitting from any rising property values in Polk County by imposing the rollback rate on local school property taxes since 2014-15. If I had the power, I would return us to the 2014-15 millage rate. I never would have dropped it. But local board members don’t have that power. Tallahassee keeps it for itself; and it has continually acted to make public education stakeholder lives harder. That’s just a fact. And what does this mean for the people of public education? If...

Read More