Intellectual and political theft is the sincerest form of consensus. That’s why I’m always happy when my opponent presents one of my ideas as if it’s his own.
We’ve seen it with his sudden interest in testing reduction task forces I was calling for back in the winter. We’re starting to see it in how he talks about Kathryn LeRoy. And just Thursday night he announced his support for my idea of organizing Polk’s district geographically around high school feeder systems. I wrote in great detail about that here. And I’ve been pitching it on the campaign trail for weeks and weeks now. I had a very long and detailed conversation about it with one of Mr. Berryman’s strongest supporters at the Lakeland Chamber event back in July. Perhaps they chatted.
People ask me how I’ll build consensus on the board. This is how. Come up with ideas and vision good enough that other people claim them as their own. I don’t need the credit. I just need the policy and the benefit for our teachers and kids and community.
I do the politics so I can do the governing
However, mouthing the words to my policies does not deliver them. Operations and governing matter deeply. That’s why I spent part of Friday morning talking to Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins at the state Board of Education meeting at the Tampa Airport Marriott.
Hillsborough County has actually implemented something very similar to what I proposed. I saw Eakins at the BoE meeting, and I approached him to pick his brain about the feeder system model. He was very generous with his time. And he told me that Hillsborough has eight very carefully chosen regional/area superintendents. Each oversees roughly three high school feeder systems. And it seems to work.
Indeed, I think Hillsborough County as a whole has a very useful, very nearby model for us to study and mimic. I’ll be discussing all of this a bit more this week. But I found Eakins tremendously impressive. Hunt Berryman didn’t find him at all.
Nor did Hunt meet and spend a long time talking with the Department of Education’s staff representative for Polk County. I did. I actually found her quite helpful and sympathetic to Polk’s plight. The morally deranged people she works for at the highest levels of education in Florida have put her in a terrible spot. (By the way, morally deranged people, she did not tell me this. I’m inferring. Don’t punish her.)
I think she wants to help. I know the relationship is valuable. I made the effort to make it. Hunt Berryman did not.
What was a better use of your time, Hunt?
Hunt Berryman is retired and very wealthy.
So I’m not sure what pressing matter prevented him from making the 45-minute drive to the Board of Education meeting. If there was some personal crisis, I hope it has passed and that he is well. But I saw him at a political event Thursday night. And whoever he pays to write his Facebook page put up a picture from another event on Saturday.
The unelected, unaccountable state Board of Education members oversee the unelected and unaccountable Florida Department of Education. It’s rare that the BoE brings its meetings this close to Polk County. It’s rarer still that it does so at a time of crisis that the BoE largely caused. It’s even rarer that it does so just weeks after its worst member, Gary Chartrand, talked about how much “fun” he has having torturing Polk County and bullying our superintendent.
I thought all of that important enough to take a vacation day from work and attend the BoE meeting. Not one Polk School Board member agreed — and certainly not Mr. Berryman. He’s actually made it clear multiple times that he supports DoE in what it’s doing.
He made it clear as recently as Thursday night. Of the teachers displaced from the Stigmatized 5 schools and replaced with Kelly Services subs, Mr. Berryman said: “They should get themselves some professional development.” Yes, that’s a quote. With my italics.
Anyway, many of you may have seen video or my account of discussions I had with Gary Chartrand and the unelected, unaccountable BoE. That’s the dramatic headline from the meeting. But the long-term governing benefits of the trip, should I win, probably outweigh the more short-term value of publicly defending the people of my home.
The retired, low-energy Hunt Berryman could not be bothered to do either. He’d rather rely on me for his ideas and purpose. And then yell at me when I point it out, which he’s done at least twice now — and kind of a third time Thursday night. (It was less a yell than a fit of pique and a vague, veiled political threat, but whatever.) I wish he took his job so personally and passionately.
Make Hunt do the work, please
I address this last point directly to Hunt’s supporters and funders.
I get it that I sometimes make you uncomfortable. I’m too direct. You imagine I’m too unwilling to participate in the consensus that my ideas and energy have already created. I’m too whatever. Insert your personal favorite caricature here. I know I could very well lose. I am the opposite of overconfident. I’m going to win, overwhelmingly, the people who have any detailed knowledge of the issues in this race. But that’s not a huge number. And no one can meaningfully predict what’s going to happen when a 65,000-vote electorate becomes a 275,000-electorate all ginned up by the presidential race.
I also get that you have long-term business and personal relationships with Hunt. Loyalty, business, and friendship are powerful forces. I’m also susceptible to them. I harbor no bitterness toward any of you. In fact, if I win, I’ll need you. Badly. But perhaps even moreso if I lose. Indeed, many of you spend a lot of time talking with great generality about the importance of education.
If you mean that, you deserve much better effort from Hunt than he has given. Promise me you’ll demand it from him if he wins. Promise me you’ll actually make him implement the ideas he’s borrowed from me.
Rest assured that I will. I’m the parent of an 8th-grader at a turn-around school. My future son-in-law is a math teacher at a Polk traditional school. And I’m deeply, morally committed to the abused missionaries that need to “get themselves some professional development.” They are the only people keeping Polk’s public education system alive at all.
They deserve a School Board willing — at a minimum — to make a 45-minute drive to learn something important about the jobs we pay them $40,000 per year to do.