What can Lakeland/Polk do? Single-member districts and geographic school choice would be a start.

What can Lakeland/Polk do? Single-member districts and geographic school choice would be a start.

How does our community harness the historic intensity of the Black Lives Matter protests to make structural changes that improve the real world life experience for Black citizens and for all citizens? As a Lakeland citizen and Polk County School Board member, I see two unfair and harmful local realities that lay within government’s power to address quickly. And I’m committing to do so with both of them. Single-member voting districts In the City of Lakeland, White people, including me, choose who represents predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. That’s because all of Lakeland’s City Commission districts are elected citywide. Two commissioners and the mayor are elected at-large, meaning they do not have to live in any area to run for office. The other four commissioners must live in one of four city districts to run. Here’s a look at the map. Click to enlarge. Lakeland’s population is 72 percent White and 20 percent Black; but in the northwest part of town, the district colored red on the map, the Black population is much much higher. (Identifying Hispanic population percentage is more difficult because official numbers sometimes count Hispanic people in their own category and sometimes assign them to a black/white race dichotomy. Most of Lakeland’s Hispanic population is found within that 72 percent White number here.) City founders and charter writers clearly recognized the importance of geographical variety in representation; but they did not give the different Lakeland geographies the power to choose their own voices. They gave White people an ongoing veto over anyone in the northwest deemed unsuitable to White people. They gave White people a veto over any meaningful political competition among Lakeland’s Black residents to wield power on behalf of Lakeland’s Black residents. This is stifling to young leaders; and it’s the reason we see the same people over and over again speaking on behalf of “the Black community.” White people have chosen these “leaders” to do that; and I think Black people should make that choice instead. This stifling of political competition for power seems untenable moving ahead — and very easy to fix. The City Commission should simply vote to place a charter revision on the ballot in November that does this: convert the four geographic districts to single-member voting districts, meaning that only the voters within those districts choose who represents them. [By the way, all four Lakeland districts are culturally and demographically...

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Lying won’t help anybody’s life; and it won’t beat us. Try having some ideas instead.

Lying won’t help anybody’s life; and it won’t beat us. Try having some ideas instead.

Take a look at this short video from 17-year-veteran Polk County public school teacher Amanda Russell. It’s extremely humbling and gratifying. Key quote: “I voted for Billy Townsend in 2016 because I was looking for a School Board candidate that was driven and honest and not afraid to tell the truth. And that’s exactly what I got.” About the same time that Amanda sent her testimonial, I received this note in the mail with an unsolicited contribution to our campaign. “I appreciate that you are so real and call B.S. when you see it.”  Above all things, perhaps, the movement we’ve built together since 2016 runs on telling the truth about education and power and how they relate to each other. And believe me when I tell you that our movement is far bigger today than it was four years ago. I’m about to spend a four-day Memorial Day weekend delivering yard signs to supporters. And I may not get to everybody in that time. Here’s the yard sign request form if you want one. The scale of response this week to us cranking up this campaign has surprised even me. It’s overwhelming. The diversity of geography, class, race, political leaning is extraordinary. I think Polk Countians, like all Americans, are hungry for something to believe in. Honesty and community-based public education are a good place to start. Ultimately, I think our movement and campaign appeals to such a broad and diverse coalition because I respect everyone — all of you — far too much as people to lie to you. I’d rather lose my election than lie to you. Here’s the truth about my opponents silly fund balance lie That certainly goes for any people who disagree with me or don’t like me, including my opponent and his campaign manager Ashley Troutman. I want to tell both of them the truth about a silly lie they both told yesterday on some sort of Facebook ad. Maybe they’ll think better next time. Key text: Fact: If the Polk School Board falls below 3 percent reserves, the State will appoint an emergency board to oversee our budget. We are in high risk for this to happen. Statement: My incumbent puts us in the category. Let’s put the odd syntax aside. The only truth in either the “fact” or “statement” is the part about the state intervention if a district falls...

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Melony Bell’s give-back-half position on the FRS heist hints at a veto. Now ask her if she wants a veto.

Melony Bell’s give-back-half position on the FRS heist hints at a veto. Now ask her if she wants a veto.

Now this is how civics is supposed to work. Two polite, intrepid citizens got Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, on the record about the $9 million FRS heist from the people of Polk County and her vote to support it. I’ll reprint the entire statement in a moment. Full background on the FRS Heist here. But, at a high level, here are the two key points: Bell ties the FRS increase directly to the Legislature’s gimmick of raising minimum teacher salaries to $47,000. She claims the state is required to take back half of that money in pension contributions. I’m not kidding. Here’s one direct quote: “The Bottom line is with salary raises comes increased retirement benefits, and that’s the district’s responsibility.” In Polk, we got $18 million for the $47,000 gimmick. The forced FRS contribution takes back $9 million. I was not aware of this “take-back-half” law. Thus, Bell and state government are not just excluding bus drivers, paras, custodians, deans, assistant principals, principals, and veteran teachers from their pay gimmick, they are forcing them to pay for half of it. Bell also seems to hint that DeSantis could veto the FRS Heist. So it’s all the more important now to follow up and ask she actively supports the veto. It’s also important that your local elected school board speak clearly to Bell and the governor about vetoing or rescinding it. But to my knowledge, School Board Chair Lori Cunningham and the superintendent are still refusing to put my “Veto-the-FRS heist” resolution on the agenda for a vote at Tuesday’s meeting because that would require public comment, which they don’t want. Here is the full statement from Bell’s office. Thanks to the citizens who forced her to put this on record. Citizenship is a beautiful thing. Note the part that I have bolded below. Seems to scream, “please veto this governor, and get me off the hook.” But let’s try to get a yes or no from her to confirm it: Thank you for writing to Representative Melony Bell regarding your concerns. The Florida Retirement System (FRS) is a multiple-employer, contributory plan that provides retirement income benefits for employees of the state and county government agencies, district school boards, state colleges, and universities and it also serves as the retirement plan for participating employees of the cities and independent hospitals and special districts that have elected to join the system. HB 5007 and...

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Will the board chair/superintendent allow your elected school board to vote to demand a veto of Melony Bell’s $9 million FRS heist

Will the board chair/superintendent allow your elected school board to vote to demand a veto of Melony Bell’s $9 million FRS heist

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...

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The euthanasia archipelago and the graduations: I will proudly wear a mandatory mask for the sake of both

The euthanasia archipelago and the graduations: I will proudly wear a mandatory mask for the sake of both

I will absolutely and without complaint wear a mandatory mask and submit to a mandatory temperature check at the two Polk County graduation ceremonies (Lakeland High and Harrison) I plan to attend at this time. Here is a cold, bloodless graphic image that tells you why: This is the “curve” of COVID-19 infection rates for skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities (SNF/ALF), as reported by Florida state government as of Friday, May 15. It shows that “the curve” of COVID infections in Florida long-term care homes has not flattened at all for nursing home staff since the beginning of the crisis. It keeps moving upward steadily. And it claims to show a little dip among residents just in the last couple days. Despite the obviously intentional optical deception of the charts, this “data” claims there are now more long-term care staff (in orange) infected with COVID than there are residents infected (in yellow). Not per capita; but in raw numbers. It asks you to believe that there were 1,9o7 residents infected statewide on Monday, May 11. And that on the next day, there were 1,667. LOL. Nearly 300 residents miraculously were cured, I guess. The unfair burden of long-term care workers, many of whom are also public school parents This data, if it’s remotely correct, places a terrible additional burden on long-term care workers, who are both at greater personal risk for contracting COVID and a greater personal threat to others, through no fault of their own, whatsoever. Moreover, through personal experience that I’m going to discuss in a moment, I have come to understand how many of these workers are also public schools parents. I have zero doubt that a significant portion of parents or family who attend the graduation ceremonies will have some connection to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, jails/prisons, or other health care/institutional support duties. I wanted to discuss this publicly at our last School Board meeting with Dr. Joy Jackson, director of the Polk County Health Department and coordinator of the county’s pandemic response. District leaders have apparently consulted Dr. Jackson in planning the graduations. Unfortunately, Dr. Jackson could not fit us into her schedule for Tuesday’s meeting, I was told. Who is “you?” Dr. Jackson did answer a few questions I asked via the superintendent by email. As I told the superintendent: that’s not good enough. And Dr. Jackson’s answers aren’t good enough on their...

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Rescind the FRS heist: Rep. Bell/Gov. DeSantis, give back the $9 million you took from Polk’s children, paras, bus drivers, nutrition workers, custodians, and experienced teachers

Rescind the FRS heist: Rep. Bell/Gov. DeSantis, give back the $9 million you took from Polk’s children, paras, bus drivers, nutrition workers, custodians, and experienced teachers

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 FRS heist was nothing more than a spiteful power play designed to harm the people and mission of the local school districts that your rulers in Tallahassee despise. Any real hope of providing a “step” or “level” raises for education workers in Polk likely died when Rep. Bell took that money from the good paras and custodians of her alma mater, Fort Meade Middle/Senior High, and all the other schools in our county. Here’s my brief discussion of this from Tuesday’s School Board meeting. It’s worth noting the reactions of some board members while I’m speaking. I think it’s telling. A resolution to claw back the FRS heist I think Melony Bell (and all the others) should give that money back. To that end, I will be proposing this Polk School Board resolution at our next board meeting: 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 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 the FRS increase of 2020 and return that $9 million to Polk County where it can do good for our citizens. I will get this put on the agenda of our next meeting; and we will have an up or down vote. Or it will die for lack of a second. But every board member will be on record with the...

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