A glimpse of a new era: Why I am thankful for the impasse resolution

The 15-month impasse war began in one era; and it will end in another. I believe common sense and common purpose, against all odds, have won. And I believe that is a victory worth celebrating, while also recognizing the years of hard work we have ahead of us. I believe this negotiated deal for 16-17 and 17-18 — and the tortured process that got us here — will establish four very important concepts. 1) Like the 7069 lawsuit, this deal begins to align labor and leadership in Polk against the real enemy — Tallahassee. 2) Getting money and resources in the pocket of the people who do the work is more important than fund balance — or doing the state’s dirty work for it. Dropping the fund balance from 5 percent from 4 percent is the fundamental difference between how the negotiation began and how it ended. That is an undisputed bargaining victory for the people who work for us. If our state wants us to maintain a growing fund balance, it needs to provide the money to do it — or allow us to raise our own. Today, it does neither. Until it does, I will prioritize providing the service I took an oath to provide. 3) Negotiation works best when it is open, collaborative, and productively confrontational. The hearing model works better, much better, than the executive session model. This bargain demonstrates that. PEA and its lawyers very skillfully won the impasse hearing before the special magistrate. With that record in hand, impasse itself could not survive all of us all getting into a room together to hash out what was possible. It took two weeks to get a deal once the sides really began to negotiate. That made a giant impression on me and confirmed what I had long believed during the overall negotiation. When we agree on what options are, the options become pretty easy to pick. 4) Organized teachers and staff are not an enemy – or at least not an enemy your district wants to have any more. They skillfully fought a war for survival as a meaningful political and bargaining force that can influence the direction for this district in the future. And they won it because they had the better arguments, the better cause, and the better representation. Believe me when I tell you, those were not the positions of the...

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The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The Tenoroc situation: Jason Looney and Tim Harris in their own words

The final Tenoroc report has been issued. It is anti-climactic. It’s a somewhat strange rehash of elements of the first report. It seems more oriented to Jason Looney’s handling of the school as a whole. But there are some important findings of fact. Perhaps the most important is that Looney completely botched the professional development plan used to justify not rehiring Brandi Garcia Blanchard. And he has no explanation for why. Here is what the investigator said about it. I reviewed a copy of Ms. Blanchard’s Professional Development Plan. The PDP was started by Mr. Looney on December 09, 2016 [the report says 2017, which is obviously an error]. The form was not completed properly i.e. no S.M.A.R.T. or other measuring metrics to evaluating improvement [cq]. Furthermore the assessment tool was never finalized. There were no signatures to indicate that Ms. Blanchard received a copy of the Professional Development Plan, understand what was required of her and a time certain to improve in the areas of deficiency. Mr. Looney was unable to provide an explanation as to why the PDP was not completed properly. The PDP is what Looney and the Polk District used to justify getting rid of Blanchard. It’s the instrument that has kept her unemployed and tainted her record and career. It’s why she is still unemployed — and why we are not taking advantage of the services of a bilingual Hispanic administrator in a district with 33 percent Hispanic kids and 6 percent Hispanic administrators. Not sustained/unsubstantiated are very different from “unfounded” Nevertheless, the newest investigative report finds claims of wrongdoing against Looney “not substantiated.” That does not mean unfounded or exonerated. It means they don’t see enough evidence to support allegations. It means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. That is also what investigators found in 2010 in the George Jenkins High School investigation involving similar allegations against Looney at an entirely different school with an entirely different cast of characters. The precise phrase then was “not sustained,” which meant “insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.” However, according to investigators in the most recent Tenoroc report, Looney told them that the Jenkins investigation “had been completely unfounded.” That is false. In fact, “unfounded” was an option for a finding in that report. Investigators chose “not sustained.” Unfounded would have meant “allegation is false or not based on valid facts.” It was not unfounded, much less “completely.” Here are...

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Dear Lakeland First, part 1: Kelli Stargel is a much, much, much, much, much higher value target

Dear Lakeland First, part 1: Kelli Stargel is a much, much, much, much, much higher value target

If an arsonist was standing in your front yard, casually flame-throwing your house, would you focus all of your intensity and resources on which firefighter has a better hose nozzle? Of course not. Yet, that’s precisely what the Lakeland First PAC — and really all of political Lakeland and Polk County is doing. And it shows the deep misunderstanding of political power in Florida — and its real world consequences. That misunderstanding causes inattention and inertia. Those forces have plagued our city and county and state for a long time. Changing that understanding is incredibly important for a better future in our city, county, and state. Kelli Stargel is the arsonist in the metaphor above. The Florida Legislature is the flamethrower. Her bosses in Tallahassee (they are not in Polk County, I assure you) have ordered her — with her eager cooperation — to douse us in perdition. She’s been doing it in plain sight for YEARS. And every year, people thank her for it. It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. Stargel’s malicious and terrible record This is just a partial record of Stargel’s general policy and institutional destruction within Polk County: Polk’s per pupil education funding has dropped from the mid-50s to 64th of 67 Florida Counties on Stargel’s watch. She and your legislators have only now allowed that funding to return to its to pre-2008 recession levels. But the needs are 2017 needs, not 2008. She’s a key enabler of the teacher-hating state policies that have caused chronic teacher stress and shortages in Polk and Florida as a whole. She cast the deciding vote on HB 7069. Her absurd VAM teacher evaluation equation and forced transfers caused epic, destructive chaos to Polk schools two years in a row. She’s the number one reason the state is now threatening to close Kathleen High, Kathleen Middle, Mulberry High and as many as a dozen other schools in next two years after actively sabotaging them — with no plan at all for serving those kids in the aftermath. (More on this in part 2.) She’s done whatever she can to help Senate President Joe Negron hurt Polk State College and the people it serves. You can take a deep dive on that here. She’s fought to limit the affordable four-year degrees that Polk State can offer to her working class constituents. Why? Because Negron prefers expensive universities and for-profit higher education scams to...

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The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles, part 2: Lazy editorial editor of struggling community newspaper slanders 7,000 teachers — and makes it harder for reporters, the executive editor, and the publisher to find subscribers

The ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Chronicles, part 2: Lazy editorial editor of struggling community newspaper slanders 7,000 teachers — and makes it harder for reporters, the executive editor, and the publisher to find subscribers

Late update (8:30 p.m.): GREAT NEWS. Just had a fantastic conversation with Brian Burns, Ledger publisher. He received more than 120 emails from you guys today. There will be a full correction. But more than that, The Ledger is going to write a big editorial addressing the issue and soliciting teacher voices for a big editorial page blowout (maybe Sunday.) Brian wants to hear your experiences — how we can support you in real ways. What the real challenges are. I’m really excited by this. I think Brian is a great potential ally in helping improve the daily experiences of our people and kids. I would ask everybody this. The Ledger has heard you loud and clear. Let’s call off the dogs on critical emails — and start supplying voices that share the reality of being a teacher/para/prinicipal/educator in Polk County (good, bad, ugly). And remember this, folks. You are powerful when you want to be. ———————————————— There are many parallels between school districts and institutional newspapers like The Ledger. The parallels between reporters and teachers are particularly deep. The Ledger, like the Polk School district, has very dedicated, talented reporters doing a hard job for no money and very little respect. By and large, great teachers and great reporters do what they do because they love to serve the people of their communities. And they’re willing to suffer for it. Bill Thompson isn’t one of those people. He is the editorial page editor of the The Ledger, the newspaper equivalent of an educrat. He doesn’t do any reporting. He just writes stuff about stuff other people write — and The Ledger calls it the paper’s voice. That voice wrote this on Sunday about the mandatory pep rally our teachers were required to attend in the blazing heat last week. Last week, Polk teachers threw themselves a big pep rally at Tigertown to boost morale. We believe they deserve our appreciation for all they do. Yet, unless they are willing to accept that as the only attaboy they get in the near future, they should concretely signal that 2 percent is sufficient — if the School Board will do likewise. That first paragraph is a weaponized falsehood, designed to create rhetorical momentum for the paragraph that follows. I don’t know if Thompson was willfully dishonest in writing this or just breathtakingly lazy. You can decide. It’s a distinction without...

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A battle for the future of the Polk District, part 2: Leadership demands some personal risk

A battle for the future of the Polk District, part 2: Leadership demands some personal risk

School Board Attorney Wes Bridges sent this note to School Board members yesterday concerning the Tenoroc High School issue. Ladies and Gentlemen: I have been asked to advise you that the Florida School Boards Association has been contacted in connection with comments published about a Polk County high school principal. The individual complained that such comments may constitute an abuse of power and misconduct in office.  FSBA is not an executive branch agency, nor is it a regulatory body.  Accordingly, it has no police or enforcement powers.  It is, however, close to the center of the education universe in Florida, and if its officers are receiving calls, governmental agencies may be, as well. Concerns were also raised about the board’s potential liability exposure for comments made by individual board members.  Generally, school boards would not be liable for the statements of individual board members not accompanied by concomitant action by the school board, but that doesn’t mean any potential lawsuit would not name the school board and require defense. It would appear that happenings in Polk County are visible in Tallahassee.  I will keep you informed if I receive further information. The second part is too opaque to know who or what, exactly, Wes is talking about. Perhaps we’ll find out in coming days. Maybe it’s Tim Harris; maybe it’s me. Both? Who knows? But I was already aware of the first part. I heard a few days ago from a firsthand source that Jason Looney is inquiring about ways to file some sort of complaint against me. That does not surprise me. Indeed, it would not surprise me if he sued me, whether as part of the board or personally. In either case, I’m quite comfortable with my actions. I will happily look every voter and taxpayer in the eye and explain myself, without apology or regret. And I will happily accept their verdict at the ballot box. If I have to defend myself personally, legally, I’ll hire a lawyer and mount a vigorous defense. Vigorous. Liability and morality Let’s be very clear about what’s happened here: I was contacted by multiple people concerned that Brandi Garcia Blanchard had been victimized by behavior that would violate the Board’s written sexual harassment policies. I performed some due diligence. And then I reported these concerns to my staff chain of command. I did not go public. Neither did Brandi Blanchard for...

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