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 from the state. Our mandates come from the state. Our punishments come from the state. Our tax rates come from the state. If you disbanded the Polk County School Board tomorrow, the state of Florida would still have a constitutional obligation to provide public education services to 100,000 kids in Polk County. Education is a state function; the Legislature wants to control it without taking any responsibility for executing it.
Impunity and cowardice
In many ways, in terms of governance, Tallahassee has turned school districts into something closer to county health departments than County Commissions. Indeed, if Richard Corcoran and Kelli Stargel and Neil Combee and the rest of the bad faith actors in Tallahassee were intellectually and morally honest, they would propose eliminating locally-elected School Boards altogether. They already act as if we don’t exist.
But they won’t do that.
That’s because they are fundamentally cowards who are not intellectually and morally honest. They don’t believe their own “beliefs.” Local governments are too valuable to their political lives, which benefit their personal lives. They need us to launder the blame and popular discontent with their bad faith and incompetence. They simply point at us and hide.
Your legislators have zero interest in working with the parents and teachers who call me to solve actual problems or advance useful programs. The day Neil Combee is forced to take a desperate call from an ESE parent he’s indifferent to will be the day governance begins to change.
To win, we must explain
As a member of the general public with a background in government reporting and political observation, I’ve observed and talked about this for years. But most people don’t have the luxury or interest to sort those things out. It’s hard to do, even if your life allows you to pay close attention.
Instead, people essentially rely on the good faith of the people they elect. That’s a deadly, but understandable, mistake in politics and power. In large part, I ran for office last year to try to explain that mistake and that bad faith to the people of Polk County and the state of Florida — because we all deserve much better. I have no idea if I’ll succeed even a little. But I won’t die knowing I didn’t try.
The 7069 suit provides a built-in mechanism for explaining everything that’s wrong with Florida’s dead, corrupt, dated education model.
The beginning of a long fight for good faith
Roughly 18 months ago, I began my deep involvement with Polk schools with a essay about good faith, targeted at the bad faith I saw in our district at the time. Key passage:
Back to first things. Good faith and bad faith. What I care about most in public life is good faith — not morality, not politics, not ideology. Where there is good faith, morality, politics, and ideology tend to take care of themselves and find their way to decent outcomes. I like to think that everyone from Neil Combee to [Lakeland Police Chief] Larry Giddens well attest to how I respond to good faith when shown it.
With the big exception of senators David Simmons and Denise Grimsley, nobody associated with any power in state government has shown any meaningful good faith to any local community since I’ve been a public official.
Local government, in and of itself, isn’t sacred to me. But the ability for a community to shape the direction of its own destiny through political pressure and voting is. You and I have no meaningful ability to do that today for our legislators. The distance between their actions and our experience is too vast — by design.
The 7069 lawsuit can begin to narrow the distance. It’s a long-time coming. And I think it’s just the start. Good faith never turns bad faith into good faith without a fight. As long as Florida’s county districts are willing to endlessly absorb bad faith from our abusers in Tallahassee, we’re going to continue to get it. It’s time we fight back on every front.
As I said at the School Board work session on Tuesday, these people do nothing out of the goodness of their hearts. Nothing. The only good we ever get comes from making it politically painful to do bad. In part 2 of this, I’ll provide a few case studies, starting with the short and unhappy life of Kelli Stargell’s VAM.
For now, I’m excited to join a good faith legal challenge to Tallahassee’s political and moral bad faith. I am on the right side.