How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids more each day, part 1: Of Pastor Tiger — and why the MSD grand jury should investigate Step Up For Students oversight of voucher schools.

How Kelli Stargel endangers your kids more each day, part 1: Of Pastor Tiger — and why the MSD grand jury should investigate Step Up For Students oversight of voucher schools.

Kingdom Prep in Auburndale is what I call a “voucher school.” It’s a private school, largely dependent on Florida’s various privately-funded voucher schemes for its financial lifeblood. Jeb Bush’s legacy foundation, Step Up for Students, oversees it — sort of, but not really. Mostly, Step Up just makes sure Kingdom Prep gets paid. Your Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Kelli Stargel have just decided to redefine Kingdom Prep as a public school, without any of the burdensome fake accountability like school grades or basic oversight. Here’s DeSantis’s quote: “To me, if the taxpayer is paying for education, it’s public education. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the district managed school that you’re zoned for, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to a public Magnet, a public Charter, if you take a tax credit scholarship and go to a private school or if you use an ESA for homeschool, to me that is all the public’s commitment to make sure that our kids have the best education.” This is the intellectual framework to justify taking away your tax money from your public schools and giving it to schools like Kingdom Prep. More on that in a moment. But first, some background: Sheriff Grady Judd: “While Pastor Tiger was a role model, he was grooming this boy…” A few weeks ago, in early February 0f 2019, the Polk Sheriff’s Office arrested Charles “Pastor Tiger” Aguon, the 34-year-old headmaster of Kingdom Prep, on charges of lewd molestation of a student. Here is the The Ledger’s story. Read the horrifying details, as Polk Sheriff Grady Judd laid them out: “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.” PCSO investigators conducted an emergency forensic interview with the teen, who said Aguon simulated sex with him and touched his penis numerous times, with a specific occurrence in November and another in December. During a monitored phone call between Aguon and the boy Tuesday, the teen told Aguon he felt uncomfortable and did not like when Aguon kissed and touched him. Aguon then asked the boy, “Oh, the loving on you?” said Judd, referencing the phone call. After the teen said he didn’t like it...

Read More

Strengthen the strategic plan. It’s the most powerful instrument of comprehensive and lasting cultural change

Strengthen the strategic plan. It’s the most powerful instrument of comprehensive and lasting cultural change

This coming Tuesday, your Polk School Board will be holding our first strategic planning retreat of the new year and new board. I plan to advocate strongly for my vision for a strengthened strategic plan and superintendent evaluation criteria. My plan would reduce 67 evaluation areas into 20. And it would make those fewer evaluation areas far more relevant to the overall health of our organization than they are today. That streamlined, enhanced efficiency makes it a better structure and plan than we have today. Click the image below to zoom in on a high level view of my proposal But there’s a much deeper reason that I’m focused so strongly on this. The superintendent is the proxy for the organization I have learned as a School Board member that if I want to formally evaluate the overall health of your School District as an organization, and facilitate positive systemic change and development, I have to do it through evaluation of the superintendent. That’s because senior system leaders — like virtually all district employees — answer to the superintendent, not to the School Board. We do not employ them; and we cannot reward or counsel them on our own. The Florida education world never ceases to remind us of this. Thus, the superintendent position must function as a proxy for the health of the organization as a whole. Yet today, the structure of the Polk superintendent’s evaluation guarantees that that vast majority of what our organization does and how it functions goes formally unevaluated by your elected School Board. An inadequate structure The Polk School Board’s 2018 superintendent evaluation criteria form is divided into two parts. These parts are not of equal value. Here is the first page of “Part 1: Behavioral Indicators.” (Please forgive my brainstorm scribbling. I used this sheet to do some thinking.) There are seven sections in Part 1. They are: Board Relationships General Leadership Staff Leadership Curriculum Leadership Relationships with Stakeholders Fiscal Responsibilities Professional Growth Together, they contain a total of 62 points of evaluation, in which board members assess the superintendent’s behavior — not organizational performance — on a scale of 1-4. I don’t find most of these points of evaluation very precise or particularly relevant to assessing the health of the organization. And those that are relevant don’t matter much to the evaluation. That’s because we also evaluate the superintendent on five basic...

Read More

The Starbucks Revolt three years later: I’m running again; the state admits it’s broken; a new Polk board is rewriting the rules; and political competition is the reason for it all

The Starbucks Revolt three years later: I’m running again; the state admits it’s broken; a new Polk board is rewriting the rules; and political competition is the reason for it all

I’m sorry that I’ve been away. As I mentioned in a brief Facebook post last week, I’ve had parental care responsibilities that required my full attention, mostly out of town. After two weeks amid the peculiar, punishing, and expensive late life American health care system, I can begin to resurface a little. With any luck, my resurfacing will last; but there are no guarantees in life. Today is a good day to check in with you. It’s Super Bowl Bowl Sunday — the three-year anniversary of Polk County’s Starbucks Revolt. I always to try to take a moment on this day to celebrate and assess. Fair warning, one header below has a moment of PG-13 language. A revolt that was a harbinger Three Super Bowl Sundays ago, Wendy Bradshaw and I held an impromptu public meeting at high noon at the Lakeside Village Starbucks in Lakeland to organize around removing then Sup. Kathryn LeRoy from office. I had hoped that 10 people would show up. We got about 90, representing both public education professionals and the public. It is impossible to know for certain; but I have always thought that Kathryn LeRoy would still be superintendent today if the public had not organized that day to begin taking back our school system. It wasn’t just LeRoy’s abominable behavior we challenged; it was the toxic mix of incompetent leadership and punitive consequences for everyone suffering underneath her. Since then, larger scale teacher and educator revolts have happened all over the country — built around that same toxic brew: incompetent, highly paid leadership at all levels imposing punitive consequences onto underpaid staff doing the work on the ground. Many of these revolts happened in “reddish” states like West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. In that way, they very much echoed what happened in “reddish” Polk. Crucially, the public in those “reddish” states have sided emphatically with teachers — and other people who do the work. There is a new Polk School Board in town. You, dear voters, put it there. Here in Polk, that public movement has continued. It carried veteran teacher Sarah Fortney and ground-level ESE activist Lisa Miller to emphatic victories in their 2018 elections. Sarah Fortney beat my 60 percent with 61, a tip of the hat that I proudly offer. As a result, your Polk County School Board has changed profoundly, in conjunction with your wishes as voters....

Read More

The Looney complaint dismissal: an ethical vindication of public oversight

The Looney complaint dismissal: an ethical vindication of public oversight

There’s a very funny line in the Florida Commission on Ethics’ dismissal of Laquita Looney’s complaint against me. You can see it above. It’s point number two. The Respondent, Billy Townsend, allegedly serves as a member of the School Board of Polk County. I literally laughed out loud when I read that. Who knew the Ethics Commission has a sense of humor? However, as I thought for a second, it occurred to me that the comical “allegedly” comes with a rather profound and vindicating deeper meeting. The “allegedly” means that the Ethics Commission did absolutely no investigative work. To not even verify that I am an elected School Board member makes that clear. This does not mean the Commission is lazy. It means the Commission read Laquita Looney’s complaint as if everything she “alleged” was true and threw it out on its own terms. Indeed, the Commission actually says this explicitly: “No factual investigation preceded the review, and therefore the Commission’s conclusions do not reflect on the accuracy of the allegations of the complaint.”  Referring to me as “allegedly” a School Board member underscores what “no factual investigation” really means. I never even had to mount a defense — because nothing Looney alleged is remotely an ethical violation. I think other board members both in Polk and across the state should take heed of this. Ethical vindication There are a few open lies in Looney’s complaint. I’ll document one in just a second, just for posterity. But, in total, the complaint essentially accused me of speaking critically in public about: Looney’s behavior — and that of her husband — as employees of the school system. How the institution I’m elected to help oversee has addressed that behavior. To which I answer: yes, I did that. And don’t expect me to stop identifying and publicly commenting on important institutional issues. Indeed, I consider it my ethical obligation to understand and communicate publicly — if necessary — the institutional problems the Polk School District needs to address. There are a few people who think we elected board members should not do this; that there is something unfair or outside the School Board’s role to comment on the work environment or personnel policies and performance of the School District staff. Well, Laquita Looney just tested that position with the Florida Commission on Ethics. And the Commission on Ethics dismissed her point-of-view out of hand, without investigating...

Read More

20 for 20 in local tax referenda: public education is much more popular than Richard Corcoran. Don’t fear him; use him.

20 for 20 in local tax referenda: public education is much more popular than Richard Corcoran. Don’t fear him; use him.

Here’s a wild election stat. My dear friend and newly elected Polk County School Board Member Sarah Fortney — a long-time teacher and forceful advocate for the people who do the work in public education — won 120,176 votes in November. Her opponent, of whom I also think highly, won 77,519 votes. Now, let’s the look at the most votes Richard Corcoran has ever won in an election. Did you see that? 9,676. Sarah Fortney’s 2018 margin of victory was almost 600 percent larger than the total number of votes Richard Corcoran received in his best ever electoral performance. The man Sarah beat got almost 800 percent more votes than Corcoran’s best ever performance. And yet, for two years, Corcoran has sought to wield dictatorial control of the state’s most important institutions. And the sheep that surround him have let him. They allow him to dictate to and punish the exponentially more people represented by local elected officials everywhere. In that undemocratic dictation, Corcoran is just a particularly nasty manifestation of the fundamental disconnect between governing and the will of the people in Florida. It has been this way for a long time. At this point, Tallahassee is essentially a House of Lords, but with great power. This is a deep, profound flaw in the representative structure of state and local government. It is terrible for the very idea of representative democracy — or even republicanism. It’s a recipe for endless casual corruption and cynicism. But that’s not what I’m dwelling on today. 24-for-24 versus 0-for-everything Today, I want to point out the depth of Richard Corcoran’s failure to build popular support for his destructive education program. I want to point how every time that program — itself — faced voters Corcoran lost and public education won. Every time voters were given the clear option to support egalitarian public education as a public good — or to support educators as vital human infrastructure — they did so. Take a look. Local communities in Florida — including Polk — went 24 for 24 in 2018 in approving referenda that asked for taxation (20 for 20) or governance model restructuring (4 for 4) in support of local public education. 24 for 24. Let me say that again: 20 for 20 in taxation votes for public education.  That is the least examined — and most potentially explosive — political outcome of the election...

Read More

Please watch the Mike Dunn shooting video, Sheriff Gualtieri: the unbalanced risk equation of arming teachers; rapid response community police; and the lethal fecklessness of Tallahassee

Please watch the Mike Dunn shooting video, Sheriff Gualtieri: the unbalanced risk equation of arming teachers; rapid response community police; and the lethal fecklessness of Tallahassee

Arming teachers and staff to address nihilistic mass school shootings returned to the news recently. (I’ll address that in a moment.) I expect it to become an issue again during the Legislative session to come, especially when the Stoneman Douglas High report is released. With that in mind, I want you to take a look at a video, which many people in Polk County and Florida have already seen. Let me warn you: this video is graphic and disturbing. It shows a man of official power, status, and community respect shoot another man dead because of misbehavior and refusal to comply within a confined space. Like a teacher or staff member, the shooter has authority over the confined space. In this case, he owns the space. This underlying scenario of misbehavior, non-compliance, and confrontation happens every day in every school district everywhere in America — and certainly in Florida. Thus, this video makes a viscerally obvious argument for NOT arming teachers and staff in our schools. If and when we discuss arming teachers again at a future School Board meeting, I will play this video for the crowd. When protection becomes discipline If you multiply Florida’s roughly 4,000 schools by 180 schools days by 20 years, you get 14.4 million days of school in which no mass shooter has attacked a Florida school in the last two decades. That is, of course, powerfully and horribly offset by the one day on which it did happen at Stoneman Douglas High last February. Neither math nor rationality provides any balm for human grief. And let’s be clear: it could happen again tomorrow at a school right here in Polk, even though it probably won’t. Everyone looks through a glass darkly in trying to address with state power the challenge that nihilistic shootings pose. We should be humble about that; but we typically aren’t. If it does happen, personal blame or my political career won’t matter to me. Both will pale in comparison to mass death if Polk loses the school shooter lottery. So I might as well try to think clearly and systemically about protection ahead of time — and let recrimination do what it does in response. Clear thinking reveals that the underlying dynamic of the video above — misbehavior defying authority in a confined space — has happened millions and millions of times in Florida classrooms in the last 20 years. Not...

Read More