The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

The line must be drawn here. Start with Level raises.

As of today, I consider it mandatory that we honor previously established Level raises (sometimes known as steps) for all Polk School District employees. It will cost us about $4.3 million. We have the money to do it. It’s a simple choice between fulfilling our core function for our community or maintaining a “growing savings account” of dead money that Kelli Stargel and Tallahassee can raid at any time and divert toward fraud. I’ll explain below. I will vote for nothing out of the impasse process that does not include that. But I can go higher if anyone has the courage to join me. And I will openly use any failure to support level raises against other board members politically. I feel like I have no choice. And I want to be as clear about that now as I can be. I don’t want to surprise anyone. The survival of community government is stake If community education — even the idea of community-based government — is going to beat back the assault from Kelli Stargel and our endlessly corrupt Florida Legislators, we have to unify our key community stakeholders. That extends across governments. I was thrilled to see County Commissioner George Lindsey unload on our dreadful legislators. George and I are not normally seen as on the same ideological side. But I think this illustrates how meaningless ideology and party really are in this discussion. It’s really a question of whether you’re for or against fraud — or “malfeasance,” as George put it. I know Mayor Gene Fultz in Lake Wales and Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer are great friends of community education, who are deeply aware of how it fits into community government. And how the state is harming both. But it’s going to be hard to unify our community governments to fight the Tallahassee fraud if the School District can’t even unify our own internal stakeholders. That’s where the teacher impasse is so destructive — and why the last year, culminating in this Legislative Session, is so clarifying. Give Tallahassee everything; get nothing in return It is obvious that the Polk School Board and district leadership, back in May or June of 2016, made a decision to take teachers to impasse. It’s why they hired a Tallahassee-wired anti-labor lawyer. It’s why they offered nothing and then said: “Counter.” It’s why we’ve gotten nowhere. I believe, through close...

Read More

Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Dear Polk community: Kelli Stargel and your deadbeat Legislature are exterminating community education

Florida law, grounded in the Florida Constitution, requires all people of our communities to send their children to school. It’s a pretty direct and simple requirement. It’s one half of the deal that has underpinned human development in Florida and America for generations. The other half of the deal is that our communities must take these kids into our schools and care for them. Their parents, capability, motivation, or behavior do not matter. In Florida, your state government created constitutional instruments — like the Polk School District — to provide this compulsory education. It applies to normal education, gifted, 504s, ELLs, and IEPs alike. The state government provides most of the money to meet that obligation, while requiring local communities to contribute as well. The federal government kicks in a smaller amount. Here’s the breakdown in Polk. Today, your state government, your flesh and blood legislators, are abandoning their part of that deal. They want to destroy the arrangement. And they want to replace it with nothing. It’s true they want to use compulsory education laws as captive money for educational hucksters, as I’ll show you in a second. But they have no systemic ideas or moral commitment to anything but destruction and fraud. The last undead groan of a zombie model You saw it last summer when your state government used Kelli Stargel’s fraudulent VAM equation (shown above) to force the displacement of dozens of teachers in the neediest Polk schools. And then replaced them with nothing but a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That’s a metaphor for all of Florida education policy of the last 20 years. It despises the idea of community. It despises most kids. It despises teachers. And it will never, ever, ever hold itself accountable for the on-the-ground human impacts of its policies. This year, your legislators plan to provide even fewer resources per student to execute more absurd and anti-human unfunded mandates. They are refusing local pleas to fund our own educational systems because Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran have Republican primaries to run in the future. They will again prevent local School Boards from re-establishing a local option property tax taken away during the financial crisis of 2008. And they are imposing the rollback rate for local counties on property taxes used for schools. That should be an entirely local decision. With those two funding sources, we could give our Polk teachers significant raises. Without...

Read More

A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

A Lake Wales Vision, part 2: choice liberated from the fraudulent Florida model

Here is the link to Part 1: The Future of Lake Wales is in Lake Wales, not Jefferson County. What follows is part 2. ——————————————————————————————————————- Lake Wales fascinates, excites, and frustrates me for the same reason. All the pieces exist there, right now, for an entirely new, community-based model of education with something for just about everyone. This model could equitably and cooperatively merge compulsory and non-compulsory community education. I think it would have the political clout to tell Florida’s corrupt and awful Department/Board of Education/Legislature to go flagellate itself — and likely get away with it. Unfortunately, as I understand it, LWCS simply wants the Polk School Board to turn McLaughlin over to it with no strings attached. Absent that, they’ll move toward a second charter Bok. LWCS has no interest in keeping a zoned, compulsory education middle school. That’s what I perceive from the letter that LWCS board member and general counsel Robin Gibson, my cousin, whom I like and love, sent to the School Board on April 3. I probably can’t stop a second Bok — at least not at this moment in time. But I know I can’t just hand over McLaughlin. I knew that well before I did serious fact-finding. I must have a zoned middle school in Lake Wales to protect neighboring communities. Turning over McLaughlin takes that zoning away. I made that position clear repeatedly in part 1 and in many other conversations. I can’t and won’t vote to outsource Lake Wales’ student behavior and ESE issues to other communities. That’s the likeliest outcome of doing away with a zoned middle school in Lake Wales. I will show you the data. Let’s go big — and equitable Unfortunately, Florida law does not allow for charter school zoning. That’s the key structural impediment to any deal with LWCS to unify the middle school community and the overall school system in Lake Wales. So we need a waiver, or special legislation that allows geographic limits. And if we’re going to do that, let’s merge how we do ESE and arts education. Let’s give everybody in that community both the stability of neighborhood-based compulsory education and access to choices that work best for each individual. Let’s have both providers work together in the best interest of the many kids who move between them. Let’s set up a standing cooperation committee.  I’ll volunteer as the School Board’s representative. Let’s work toward...

Read More

There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

There is no “we” with Kelli Stargel. Only “you.”

Update: Senator Stargel posted a Facebook comment in response to this post. I’m republishing it here: “I hate to add to this post because I don’t want to start an extended conversation on Facebook, that at this busy time of session, I don’t have time to complete but…. Billy, I believe we had a free and open conversation. There is no need to fear. You were given more time to speak at our meeting than your fellow school board members. I know that we disagree on many things but I have never been hostile or closed minded to differing opinions and I don’t plan to start now. I still have an open door policy to productive and civil discussion, especially when it relates to our school children. I look forward to working with you and the rest of our school board as we move forward addressing the challenges of educating the children in our county, whether those challenges are large or small. I don’t know where you got the impression that I would stoop to retaliation at the expense of our children, but that is untrue.” I responded like this: “I appreciate the note. And the reassurance. And we can have productive discussions at any time. My phone number is 8632094037. You can start the discussion by publicly reflecting on the lives of the 4,000 families that were disrupted by your VAM equation. That’s what I asked you to do in the meeting. But you showed no interest in considering the impact of your public policy on their lives. If you’re interested in that now, I find that encouraging. I’m eager discuss it with you. Thanks.” ——————————————————————————————- State Sen. Kelli Stargel is utterly and completely unrepentant about VAM — and its effects on kids and teachers. She knows the state of Florida used her statistical laughingstock of an equation to subject 4,000 Polk County middle school families to at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies through February at our five state-stigmatized middle schools. She doesn’t care. She made that clear last week when I confronted her face-to-face about it in her Tallahassee office. This is the same politician who put out campaign mailers in 2016 attacking education “bureaucrats” and gushing about “our hard-working and exceptional teachers.” That material was as fraudulent as her VAM. I think it’s important for all of you, as Polk County (and Lake County) voters, to...

Read More

1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

1,800 lost years: the silence of Adam Putnam, Kelli Stargel, and the School Board enabled deadbeat DoE’s TOP school atrocity

Here’s a math problem for the FSA. Add together Florida’s fraudulent school grades + Kelli Stargel’s VAM + the teacher shortage + the uninformed, incompetent brutality of your state Board of Education + the Florida education model’s dripping contempt for every single person in a zoned school that isn’t Highlands Grove. Take that sum and multiply it by the cowardly silence of all your politicians — except one. What’s the answer? About 1,800 years of lost teacher/instructional time in six months. And an obvious violation of Florida’s constitutional right to “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” Quick refresher: late last summer, the state Board of Education seized control of five Polk middle schools. The BoE used Kelli Stargel’s VAM equation, this monstrosity… ..to forcibly transfer dozens of teachers just after the school year started. Neither the Board of Education nor the Polk District had any plan for replacing these certified teachers. After all, there’s a massive teacher shortage. The Polk District did not have the people to replace the people forced to move. So the kids at Boone, Kathleen Middle, Lake Alfred Addair, Westwood, and Dension got a patchwork of subs and administrator fill-ins. You may remember that BoE Member Gary Chartrand punctuated this abuse when he got caught on a hot mike saying, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.” See this post for those details. Chartrand and the horrible, awful, disgusting people on the state Board of Education have long since moved on. If you are one of the 75 percent of people in Polk County or Florida in a traditional zoned school, they do not care about your child or your life or your choice. They will not waste a second of conscience on it. When they look at you, they \_(ツ)_/¯. You should understand that. However, we in Polk County do not have the luxury of \_(ツ)_/¯. And on February 28, the Polk School Board got a full report on the real-world consequences of the BoE’s fun. 1,800 years Through the first six months or so of this year, Polk’s five “TOP” middle schools combined had suffered at least 2,617 days of teacher vacancies. That means an active class for which no permanent certified or provisional teacher was in place. 2,617 days. If you...

Read More