I am working very hard, politically, to try to save public education as a whole and the human capacity of the Polk County School District, specifically, from the impacts of the COVID depression. I may absolutely fail. But I’m going to try. The existential problems posed by the COVID depression are almost entirely political. And they are vastly more pressing than what person happens to hold the title “superintendent” or “board member.”
It’s going to be hard on all of us in the months and years to come. And the burden of survival is going to fall on the people who want to be here and who want to fight for the existence of an education system. I am one of them; and I will work collaboratively with anyone who wants to help and fight anyone looking to do harm.
To that end, it would be very helpful today for Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto Rep. Melony Bell’s $9 million “FRS Heist” of recurring money from the Polk County School District. And I have requested that the superintendent and board chair Lori Cunningham place a resolution on the agenda for our Tuesday meeting. They have not been willing to do it yet.
And what is the FRS Heist? I wrote about it last week. Here is the key passage:
Before COVID, while you were distracted by talk of increasing minimum teacher salary during this Legislative Session, Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, (and all the other legislators and governor) voted to take $9 million per year right out of the pockets of Polk County’s children, paras, bus drivers, and experienced teachers.
Rep. Bell and the governor and the rest of your legislators did this through requiring local school districts to pay much more each year into the Florida Retirement System. There was no need for this increased payment. And this $9 million that could have bought services for kids is now dead money in Tallahassee, just dead cash for accounting.
The tortured and frustrating process of trying to get the School Board to take a position on the $9 million our legislators just snatched from the hands of local kids and education workers is perhaps part of the backstory of Mrs. Byrd’s decision to announce her retirement on Tuesday.
School Board Attorney: the superintendent can veto a board member’s agenda item request
It is the School Board Attorney’s position that only the superintendent and School Board chair can place an agenda item on an upcoming School Board meeting agenda for a vote. But if there is an item placed on the agenda for a vote, the public must be allowed to comment on it.
Apparently, the board chair and superintendent have decided there won’t be any public comment at the Tuesday virtual meeting. This may because some the email comments submitted at our last two ZOOM meetings were pretty harsh. I actually think email is a bad way to do comment. I think we’d be better off if people could just call in and speak. But I’m not in charge; and nobody asked me.
The problem here is that I want the “veto-the-FRS” heist resolution to receive a vote at Tuesday’s meeting. It is time sensitive; DeSantis could act on the budget at any time. He needs to understand that the School Board holds him politically accountable for his actions, just as as Melony Bell and Kelli Stargel and Colleen Burton understand that they are politically accountable for the FRS Heist and for any debilitating cuts to come for the district.
The more that we, the public and your representatives, make them understand the political costs of destroying public education in Polk County with cuts, the less likely those cuts are to happen. Again, this is a political equation, which involves state officials demanding help from the federal government and Federal Reserve. We need to make them ask.
My proposed resolution reads like this:
Whereas the Polk County legislative delegation and governor imposed a draconian $9 million annual increase in FRS payment during the past Legislative session;
Whereas the COVID pandemic and economic crisis has put the very existence of local districts and their services in jeopardy;
Whereas that $9 million could have been used to budget “step” or “level” increases for long-suffering education workers across the board;
And whereas there was no reason at all for the increase;
Be it resolved that the Polk County School Board DEMANDS Florida state government rescind and/or veto the FRS increase of 2020 and return that $9 million to Polk County where it can do good for our citizens.
People can decide for themselves if this is “overreach” of some kind; or just a board member trying to his job on your behalf and to protect the people of the organization he helps oversee.