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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