Education

Crawford and Stacy love the old myths and divisive tactics

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As the layoff notices for 160 first year teachers and another 101 Marion County School Board employees hit the fan last Friday, May 31st, familiar old myths re-emerged to capture the attention of the uninitiated and inattentive. Their ugly implications did not bother School Board members Ron Crawford and Nancy Stacy.

It began with Crawford’s assertion to the Star Banner that if teachers gave up what was designated by the legislature for teacher raises, then perhaps the School Board could avoid layoffs. It probably occurred to Mr. Crawford later that when the GOP dominated legislature gave money for teachers’ raises, they really meant that it was for teachers’ raises, not to keep teachers and other staff in the schools.

He also added that eliminating two school level administrative positions would save about $150,000. Wow.

Newbie School Board member Nancy Stacy at that time added her Jeb Bush-informed perspective against public education, saying:

“I think we should shut down all the schools and start all over,” [Stacey] said. 

You might mistakenly think it’s an advocacy for “public education anarchy/rebuild,” but no. In “Stacy-Bush speak,” it means destroying teacher unions, their pensions and benefits. Use taxpayer dollars instead to privatize, voucherize, and profitize public education – total annihilation, Stacy-Bush style.

The Florida GOP legislative agenda sets profits over education because if you aren’t doing it for profit, you can’t possibly be doing it right. Therefore, teachers unions and the benefits which teachers receive are what’s wrong with education. Quite simply, no corporation is making any profit from those taxpayer dollars.

At a June 5 Board work session, with breathtaking audacity, Stacy explicitly declared her alliance with … Chris Altobello, president of Marion Education Association, the teachers’ union. Surely Altobello would welcome the support, but he is certainly wise to the agenda behind such support.

How does Stacy propose to find the money to prevent layoffs? Here:

Stacy said the top priority should be teachers; guidance counselors, assistant principals and others should get pink slips before front-line teachers.

Crawford alluded to the same thing as noted above, and this refrain was commonly heard on the campaign trail last summer as Stacy and Woody Clymer, and Carol Ely and Bobby D sought election to the School Board. Stacy, Ely, and Bobby D all read from the same script; ‘there is no money problem, there are simply too many administrators.’ Only Woody Clymer and Superintendent candidate Diana Greene ever said that money was a problem, affirming that school funding referenda on the August ballot needed to be passed. The truth-tellers lost, and the referenda lost.

What is ugly and unconscionable is what these remarks are intended to achieve.

First, it invites all School Board staff to join in a crab climb from the cooking pot. By promoting an argument that urges one set of people on staff to attack and criticize and pull down the other, they all get their butts cooked. “It’s school administrators who are the problem,” this week. Next week, maybe it will be bus drivers, or cafeteria staff, or music teachers, or secretaries, or teacher assistants who will be considered as having sweet deals and luxury terms and lavish benefits that are “simply unsustainable.”

It’s an old myth. Yes, there still may be a couple of positions that schools could survive without, but there certainly aren’t millions of dollars waiting to be recouped to close a huge budget gap. Millions are what’s needed, not $150,000.

It’s this simple, people: There. Isn’t. Enough. Funding. And there hasn’t been for years. And it is no secret, no surprise.

Let’s not forget that while layoffs were avoided under Jim Yancey’s watch, staffing has endured a heavy toll by attrition for years – years! Now we’re at the point where certified substitutes are not a temporary fix, but a key element in the “(under-)staffing plan.” Part of that has included the complete abandonment of class size requirements. Cutting more positions is cutting education. Period.

Second, while School Board employees savage each other with belittling recriminations, the authors of this agenda steer the discussion away from their culpability.

Remember? They actively campaigned AGAINST added funding, or sat on their hands in TOTAL SILENCE while dedicated community activists pushed against Stacey and company’s tsunami of self-serving pander-craft and utter disregard for truth, reality, or intelligence. Please don’t remember, they plead.

If any had the integrity to do what they KNEW was right, maybe there would $14-16 million more in recurring local revenue. Will the elected sheep bleat mournfully that they had no idea? Hah!

They’ll also fault the Republican legislature for failing to provide adequate funding. It’s true. Is it some surprising new development? Hell, no! The annual demolition of public education in Florida has been exploding every stinking year for a decade. It would only be a surprise if a year’s Florida Legislative Session didn’t hammer public education for once.

And you are also expected to forget their Republican affiliations: Tomyn, Boynton, Crawford, Ely, James, and Stacy – all GOP. You won’t hear any of these folks openly and publicly criticize our GOP state reps, Dennis Baxley and Charlie Stone, for enabling the demolition of public education.

Our kids, our teachers, and our community are being fed to the wolves while the unsuspecting and naïve are fed a diet of myths and distractions.

We deserve a sincere admission and apology from every one of them for starters.

Will charter school bill give away schools?

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The filing of PCB 13-01 (PCB=Proposed Committee Bill), a bill related to charter schools, would require a school district to hand over an educational building that had been used for K-12 purposes to a charter school … for free. How’s that for a sweet deal? But there is more.

[A summary of other provisions in this 36 page bill can be found by clicking here.]

The bill’s language creates an open question as to whether a re-purposed former K-12 facility would need to be made available to a charter school, and when in fact a local school district could determine the destiny of its properties and facilities.

The language is pretty simple. Specifically, the proposal would change the existing statute to read:

If a district school board-owned facility that has previously been used for K-12 educational purposes is unused, it shall be made available for a charter school’s use at no cost.

It’s quite a substantial change. To contrast, here is the existing language:

If a district school board facility or property is available because it is surplus, marked for disposal, or otherwise unused, it shall be provided for a charter school’s use on the same basis as it is made available to other public schools in the district.

Specifically applied to Marion County, consideration should be made of two former K12 facilities in Reddick as an example. The old Reddick High School on County 25A in Reddick is a pretty derelict building that the School Board still owns. A local outlet for Interfaith Emergency Services had operated a food pantry and thrift store there a few years ago, but were forced to relocate due to code violations. The building (or at least the gym) may now be leased to the city of Reddick. The building is certainly “unused,” as the proposal reads. What about maintenance?

The school district shall maintain the charter school facility at the same standard and level it would maintain any other district-operated school similar in age and condition … The charter school shall agree to reasonable maintenance provisions in order to maintain the facility in a manner similar to district school board standards.

The maintenance terms would first require the school district to maintain the facility, presumably passing along the cost of maintenance to the charter school, while the second sentence would require the charter school to accept “reasonable maintenance provisions.” Let’s assume the school board’s essential abandonment of the old Reddick High building precludes the ghastly cost of its revival at taxpayer expense as a charter school.

Consider another Reddick building owned by the School Board, the old Collier Elementary School on NW 155th Street which has been repurposed as a bus depot. The Collier School is not the relic that the old high school is. Does its re-cycling as an administrative or support facility mean that it is “used,” or “unused” – as in “unused” for K-12 purposes and therefore available for use by a charter school? Would a school district be required to make this former K-12 facility available, even if it was being used for administrative or support purposes?

Finally, let’s consider one more facility that is known to face K-12 deactivation, Lake Weir Middle School on Sunset Harbor Road in Summerfield. Built about 50 years ago as the original Lake Weir High, the sprawling school has become a dinosaur positioned in an out-of-the-way south county location. It may be quite a few years before a replacement is sited and built, but what happens to the old building? Does it automatically become possible inventory for a charter school? Would the School Board be required to demolish it to prevent having to hand it over, or would demolition even be permitted?

As Tallahassee seeks to dictate local school board policy, it gives a blank check to charters at local taxpayer expense – that would be you and me. This bill is another muddy and confusing instance of taxpayers getting to foot the bill so that corporate managers of charter schools can enjoy welfare benefits at taxpayer expense.

First, it is another instance of the legislature seeking to remove authority from local officials and dictate outcomes that favor the corporate privatization agenda. (Yes, charter schools are technically public schools, but they are often managed by for-profit companies like Charters, USA, and a heavyweight company like Charters, USA can use Florida law to ensure no district can actually refuse their charter request as has been proven repeatedly. Watch what happens with controversial virtual school powerhouse K12, Inc., and its rejection by Marion County School Board )

Second, with this legislation, private corporate charter managers won’t have to worry about the capital cost of starting their charter since they can demand a local district provide space FREE. Maintenance may cost them, but no rent, no mortgage. Thank you, taxpayers, because you bought the land and paid for the property and building. How is that for a nice entitlement? No, the charter can’t sell or lease the local district property or building on its own once it takes possession, but it’s still a tremendous gift.

Third, this dictated outcome deprives the local district of recouping some of the asset value of a building and property. Shifting populations and aging buildings require replacements to be secured, often on another property with a modern structure. The costs are huge. A Star Banner article this week reported the cost of the new Legacy Elementary School in Silver Springs Shores at $20 million for an average sized school.

Finally, the existing language is fairly explicit but would be replaced by broad, inexplicit terms. Such vagueness invites lawyers to drool over costly cases which taxpayers would have to pay to defend.

There is nothing commendable about this blatantly agenda-driven form of corporate welfare. The existing statute should be more than sufficient, but apparently the corporate sponsors want the legislators that they bought to provide a better return on their investment.

The bill easily cleared its first committee.

 

 

James Madison Institute spins education nonsense, aided by StateImpact Florida

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A report by the arch-conservative Florida think-tank, James Madison Institute (JMI), provides an asinine spin for the failed and largely discredited charter school/school choice “reform” movement. No one besides Jeb Bush fans would find much use in the Madison report, except that it gained plum attention from unreflective NPR/StateImpact Florida reporting.

This follows StateImpact Florida’s pattern of regurgitating half-baked pronouncements by corporate school proponents without a scintilla of critical assessment. Progressives and education activists should be aware that StateImpact Florida, a project partially sponsored by National Public Radio and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT, often makes no attempt to be balanced, analytical, or even cautionary. It amounts to serving as a mouthpiece for anti-public school, anti-teacher union, pro-corporate, pro-privatization advocates. A look at StateImpact Florida’s posts provides clear evidence. [Update: Here is another uncritical post today trumpeting an ALEC report praising Florida's changes to education! Click here.]

The prime argument of anti-public school advocates like JMI is that Florida public schools are somehow governed by teacher unions and not by performance, like this jaundiced comment in the JMI report’s second paragraph:

… If you’re a union official, watching Florida students fighting to overcome a long classroom battle against mediocrity and failure, you go away grousing that the Governor didn’t run the plays you wanted him to run. Even though the students you supposedly root for just experienced remarkable success.

They decry a supposed “one-size-fits-all” approach in traditional public school teaching and insist that private educational options are the remedy to sub-par performance. The JMI report gives its privatization agenda all the credit in Florida’s improved test scores. Remarkably, it fails to mention that the measured improvements are overwhelmingly from the traditional public schools, in spite of the abysmally disappointing performance of charter schools, even reported by StateImpact Florida. At their best, charters simply match traditional public schools and at worst have amassed a stunning record of failure. Private schools receiving tax dollars for scholarships are not even required to administer the FCAT, Florida’s standardized testing mandate.

Further, they make no accounting of Florida’s FCAT obsessed testing regimen, neither acknowledging that testing in itself is a “one-size-fits-all” benchmark (hello?) or that improved test scores are poor measures of actual educational achievement. If preparedness for higher education was the criteria and education was really so improved, then how would they explain the need for colleges to provide so much remedial education to newly entering students? Standardized testing measures narrow parameters of knowledge and certain skills, but it has proven a poor indicator of educational achievement. Florida’s students have simply improved at testing.

The report’s author, JMI Resident Fellow James Mattox, is quoted by StateImpact Florida as saying that Florida’s education system needs to head

“in a direction toward customizing education so that the offerings that are available to each child are consistent with their needs, their interests, their learning styles.”

The uncritical reader would suppose that traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would not support “customizing education.” It’s a ridiculous suggestion. The only missing element for traditional public educators and teacher’s unions would be funding, something Florida’s public education system has been sorely lacking.

The Jeb Bush agenda has focused on siphoning funding from traditional public schools into charter schools and private virtual schools, typically managed by politically powerful for-profit corporations, and into private school voucher programs like the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarships and the corruption riddled McKay Scholarships. While Bush’s “accountability” agenda targets traditional public schools, it manages to avert its gaze from the lack of accountability for the non-traditional gambits that it endorses so heartily. Could better funded public schools customize education in a more cost effective and performance focused manner than profit-oriented corporate schemes? Hey, let’s try that!

As if funding made no difference in the educational equation, JMI’s report has the audacity to say:

The need of the hour isn’t so much for Florida policymakers to “open up the checkbook” as it is to “open up the playbook” and expand creative learning options for students in a new wave of education reform. [p. 4]

If our public tax dollars were withheld from the privatization agenda, and we told them to find their own “checkbook,” that industry would die overnight, along with its profits. Why? Profits motivate them, not education.

JMI’s report is just plain silly. Readers should know that StateImpact Florida easily lets itself become a parrot of the corporate education profiteers and should not be regarded as an objective or even useful source of information on public education.

Shame on NPR and local affiliates WUSF, WLRN, and WJCT for supporting what appears too often to be a useless corporate propaganda tool, StateImpact Florida.

Progressives pepper Marion Legislative Delegation meeting

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This year’s Marion Legislative Delegation meeting had several presenters articulate positions on progressive issues, something Marion’s legislators are not used to hearing, much less considering. This should be recognized as the seeds of something that will grow.

Each year, the delegation of state representatives and state senators gathers in the respective counties to hear concerns from constituents prior to the start of the annual two month legislative session. In Marion County, there are three state senators and four representatives, all Republicans except for Rep. Clovis Watson.

The progressive coalition, Awake Marion, had several of its participants make presentations. [Disclaimer: the writer is Awake Marion’s coordinator.] Combined with several human services agencies, legislators heard about a number of areas of concern where state funding for key community-building programs and services was the primary focus, contrasting against the skewed priorities of legislators who can always find money for a corporate tax credit, can always ignore tax loopholes, and can always award lucrative, unaccountable contracts to privateers.

Despite the absence of anyone (anyone!) from the public schools, Nancy Noonan, president of Marions United for Public Education, an advocacy group that shares in the Awake Marion coalition, was present so that someone spoke up for public education. Noonan highlighted the unfunded mandates like teacher merit pay and the requirement for digital textbook technology that the legislature should correct with an allocation of proper funds. She said that money should stop being thrown at unproven, largely ineffective, and often unaccountable “reform” schemes that divert funding from public schools. Finally, she reminded legislators that there was an ongoing need to add revenue, readily available by ending corporate tax and sales tax exemptions, credits, and loopholes.

As if deaf to what Noonan had just said, State Senator Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) then called attention to the pension case awaiting a court decision which could overturn the 3% pension contribution that the Tea Party/GOP legislature had enacted for state employees. If decided against the state, it could result in a $1.3 billion bill for the state. Hays said that would change everything. Had he so quickly forgotten Noonan’s call to raise revenue by addressing the hodgepodge of wasteful tax breaks that litter the state tax code? Or did Hays never hear her words in the first place?

Whitfield Jenkins, representing Marion County NAACP, another Awake Marion coalition participant, urged legislators to pay attention to “underserved communities” which most often meant minority communities. While he cited progress locally in multi-level government partnerships to spur economic investment and development, he urged sustained vigilance and commitment to forging a new direction in such communities.

Pat Hawk of Water Well Justice, an Awake Marion coalition participant, reviewed the history of wells going dry in the area, including her own not long ago. She called attention to the disturbingly low water levels in Lake Weir and Orange Lake as well as the historically low flow rate at Silver Springs, acknowledging that there are mostly unknowns when it comes to what is happening in the Floridan Aquifer. Noting how drilling a new well was a major cost for families and seniors, Hawk sought special state funding for citizens forced to drill new wells since there is no apparent intention by the legislature to protect citizens and their water by limiting new water withdrawal permits.

Guy Marwick, noted longtime Marion environmentalist, admonished the state for its Band Aid approaches to water and conservation policy. He expressed his deep concern about water quality, citing nitrate contamination, permits for large withdrawals, and the spreading threat of saltwater intrusion and contamination of the aquifer and wells due to excessive withdrawals. Comprehensive solutions are needed, and are long overdue, he emphasized.

Michael Davis, an activist leader in Awake Marion’s Juvenile Justice Project, called for repeal of SB2112, a law which allowed county governments to assume control of local juvenile justice detention services. Previously, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) handled all juvenile justice detention since it was uniquely capable of dealing with youth with issues. Duh. But for financial reasons, counties were given the option of taking them over from DJJ and saving large sums. It was such a really bad idea that only 3 of 67 Florida counties have begun handling juvenile detention; Marion, Seminole, and Polk. As Davis stated, Marion’s is considered a model operation, Seminole’s program is passable, and Polk’s is a disaster that has resulted in dangerous and abusive situations for youth among untrained correction officers, plunging Polk into a lawsuit for its gross mismanagement. The best idea, said Davis, would be to repeal SB2112 and let DJJ return to doing what it knows how to do and is supposed to do.

Delphine Herbert who, active with other community organizations, is leader of Marions for Peace, another Awake Marion participant, insisted that the state needed leadership to address the culture of violence, particularly in the wake of the Newtown, CT school shootings. Citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she suggested that more guns did not equal more protection: “Where do we go from here? Chaos or community? … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to  a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. “

It was over four hours of public comment, so there is another post or two to come. But the sound of progressive voices increased noticeably this year, signs of new community advocacy in Marion. Of course, getting the legislative delegation’s ears to listen is also a work in progress.

Experience counts … and hurts: School Superintendent, Part 4

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Leadership skills are acquired through experience, hence the value of considering and evaluating the roles in which candidates have performed. In this last post on the School Superintendent’s race, their experience in their respective roles reveal the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unknown about Diana Greene and George Tomyn.

Here are links to previous posts on the scope of this elected office (Part 1), the politics involved (Part 2), and the school funding issue (Part 3).

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

Let’s begin by recognizing that there is a world of difference between being Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction – Diana Greene – and Director of School Development and Evaluation – George Tomyn. This becomes apparent when you try to review their track record; Greene’s role has lots of exposure while Tomyn’s role generates little, if any, by comparison.

Greene gets a very public report card every time the district’s FCAT scores are released. Tomyn doesn’t.

Greene is the current administration’s face for everything in curriculum and instruction, just as Wally Wagoner is the face on facilities, non-instructional, and support services.

Tomyn’s job has been described as “the principal for principals,” being involved in the management of the district’s dozens of schools. It is a huge responsibility, earning the “Director” level title. However, you won’t see Tomyn’s name appearing in the paper apart from his current election campaign.

Media-wise, a bit of digging turns up Tomyn’s sudden resignation in 2010 from the Board of Directors at Florida Blood Centers. He was on the Executive Committee and deeply involved in the messy departure of CEO Anne Chinoda. Having been given a huge pay raise and a fat bonus, Chinoda at the same time was requiring layoffs for 42 hourly workers, amid a furor over conflict-of-interest type Board/management decisions that caused major corporate backers to withdraw their support from the non-profit organization. Having plenty of personal experience with ugly Board conflict myself, let’s acknowledge that there are likely angles to the story that aren’t being reported.

On the other hand, Greene is always in the spotlight, or the crosshairs as it may be, like here and then here. Her senior standing virtually equates her with decisions made by current Superintendent Jim Yancey and the School Board. That isn’t entirely fair, but that is exactly what happens.

Those most noticeably aggrieved by Greene have been folks at Marion Education Association (MEA), the teacher’s union, which chose to endorse George Tomyn. Bear in mind that ‘no endorsement’ was an option. The act of an endorsement implicitly rejects any other candidate, a statement that MEA apparently felt it wanted to make.

Several of MEA’s reasons for rejecting Greene pertain to how funding cutbacks were handled. The Yancey administration made its stated priority to not lay off staff. To that end, open positions went unfilled, programs were curtailed, and painful cuts and compromises were made. Among these correctives was the hiring of certified substitutes to avoid the costs of salaried teachers with benefits, and stretching staff for art, music, PE, and library/media centers to harsh levels, parceling existing staff out to multiple school sites while at the same time paring back program availability.

Greene gets held responsible for these policies, and in all fairness she may have recommended them as options to be considered – that’s her job. Since these actions sought to address reduced funding, wouldn’t the School Board’s refusal to pursue simple funding options be more accurately blamed? What alternate options should have been adopted to cover the millions in budget shortfall? What would Tomyn have done? Specifically? What has Tomyn pledged to do? Specifically? If there were layoffs, rather than these actions, would Greene be blamed for such layoffs, too?

Similarly, Greene was blamed for the administration’s contracting with an anti-labor law firm – a new development – and its hostility to collective bargaining. However, changes in the district’s senior staff capabilities in conducting labor negotiations likely had plenty to do with the newly contracted negotiators. Greene’s role was likely consultative, but she gets the blame. Has Tomyn pledged to end this contract and commit to collective bargaining led by district staff? I haven’t seen anything like that but would appreciate hearing about it.

Sorting through various charges against Greene, the one that continually provokes the greatest outrage, anger, and disdain concerns student testing. It seems like every teacher who would administer these tests complains about the amount of testing. I don’t mean a simple “I don’t like….” It’s more like this comment I received from one teacher:

Dr. Greene’s position on testing… is outrageous.  Over 25% of the school year is spent testing students to collect data on what educators already know.  The county testing system she developed, promotes and mandates is unfair to students and to teachers.  She claims to have raised student proficiency but yet we’re still ranked 43rd in the state.  If her system of testing actually worked, we would be doing much better.  She is unbending to listen to input from those who have to work this mandated system.

Greene acknowledges that the testing culture imposed by the state has become extreme in its all-or-nothing consequences, and even that local testing is too much, as she stated early in her video interview on “Classroom Connection, October 2012” beginning about 2:40.

However, Greene insists that the local testing regimen has settled to a more modest level since its inception. Further, given the testing culture that has been imposed, Greene asks: what is the alternative strategy to closely monitor comprehension and ensure that students succeed when they face the battery of end-of-year exams? What about Common Core, the national testing regimen that has promised to make FCAT seem like a cake walk? What about teacher merit pay tied to testing?

The most amusing part of this summer’s discussion about Marion’s student testing is that the Star Banner’s Brad Rogers consulted the Madonna of Mandatory Testing, Patricia Levesque, who used the opportunity to soft pedal the very policies which she has championed with Jeb Bush and his Foundation for Florida’s Future; a culture of accountability, running schools like a business, treating students like widgets, and teachers like assembly robots. Levesque takes no responsibility for any local level testing culture that her own testing-is-best movement has wholly inspired and aggressively promoted.

Levesque even had the audacity to write an op-ed of her own, perhaps at Rogers’ instigation since it’s doubtful that she subscribes to the Star Banner. Try this:

As a mom, I take my children to the doctor annually for a physical check-up to ensure they are growing on track. Assessments are annual academic check-ups to ensure students are learning on track.

That’s a lovely sentiment, but if your child fails the annual physical, it may be a terrible disease requiring far more testing to be diagnosed, monitored, and corrected – see Greene’s own op-ed. Mrs. Levesque offers a stupidly deceptive example and shows how (deliberately) clueless she is about Florida’s testing scheme.

In between Rogers and Levesque, Janet Weldon’s op-ed followed Rogers, critical of the weakly inconclusive evidence that Rogers and Levesque cite to claim Marion County over-tests its students. Weldon highlights at the end that the new national level of Levesque’s testing agenda – Common Core Standards – is close on the horizon, indicating how testing will remain the determining factor in public education and its culture, generated by political decisions made outside Marion County.

Nonetheless, Greene should be challenged by the continued vehemence of teacher attitudes. Clearly communication by her and by her senior staff of the singular need for this testing routine failed in too many instances. Communicating policy changes, particularly unpopular ones, requires a huge amount of effort, repetition, enduring withering blasts of anger while listening patiently to complaint after complaint,  and unreasonable demand after unreasonable demand. To conduct that communication with over 3,000 instructional staff, much less reach out to tens of thousands of parents and caregivers, would require a full strategy of its own and demand the dedication of a tremendous number of hours.

The price of missing this necessary base is what seems too much in evidence presently, embittered teachers who feel they have been dictated orders and not treated like professional partners in the education enterprise. Alienated, these disaffected have turned in anger and lashed out. As the preceding discussion suggests, the object of their scorn is likely quite misplaced as Greene has been made a punishment surrogate for grievances better placed against Yancey, the School Board, and the idiotic GOP legislature.

Considering Diana Greene and George Tomyn, voters must be clear about how their concerns over  unhelpful developments in public education, from testing to funding to political meddling, fit into the voting choices. They also need to be clear-eyed about the vastly different levels of experience and exposure these candidates present. Finally, voters shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that big picture politics don’t play a role in local policies, that somehow the school superintendent transcends the partisan politics that divides our community. Think again. Consider the funding issue and see how politics shapes the dimensions of every funding debate.

Sorry this post is so long, but I hope the series has provided insights.

I particularly welcome ideas for ensuring that students are prepared to pass state-mandated exams apart from the strategy of regular testing. Please use the Comments section below, remembering that Florida is a galaxy or two away from Finland, the top education performer which eschews the Bush/Levesque/industrial testing culture. Seriously.

Funding and Leadership? School Superintendent, Part 3

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The title has a question mark because the subject of funding for public education is somehow a difficult issue for educational leaders to stand up and promote. How will our next superintendent deal with this issue?

[For the introductory post, click here, and for the second post on the superintendent and politics, click here.]

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

The funding referenda on the August primary ballot got an appalling lack of support from every elected educational leader except for Superintendent Jim Yancey, a lame duck in the countdown to retirement.

In the School Board races decided in the August primary election, Woody Clymer was the only candidate out of four to endorse the community’s support for new public education funding. Clymer lost narrowly while the rest either dodged the issue or made nonsensical statements like, ‘I don’t know about the budget, but once I’m elected, I’ll work it out,’  or  ‘Let’s reduce administrator pay to cover the deficit,’ or ‘The system is improving with less money; let’s cut more and make it even better.’ (I heard each of these comments from candidates.)

We need to ask our two candidates if they intend to watch our schools become ever more decrepit as funding gets stripped or suppressed by Tallahassee, or are they actually going to provide leadership to seek funding support from the community.

On the two August ballot proposals for school funding, Diana Greene decided eventually to endorse funding for the operations assessment, but declined to support funding for the capital assessment. Her initial statements, like the response provided to Marions United for Public Education before their forum with Education Task Force, indicate a dodgey non-committal stance since the funding revenue would arrive long after the budget was adopted.

I believe the way I vote is my personal business, but I will say that we owe it to the citizens of Marion County the opportunity to weigh in their desires by casting their vote.   I can only control my vote, and so I encourage everyone to vote [their conscience].

Indeed, the next year’s budget was adopted with the hope of both proposals passing built into its figures. Both measures’ failure meant revising the budget, inflicting $14.8 million in cuts, covered from fast dwindling reserves plus not hiring reading coaches for students, and shelving any planned capital expenditures.

Greene eventually came around to support at least one of the proposals, but her refusal to endorse the capital assessment seems inexplicable. I believe she had stated that there were funds to meet those capital expenses, but never indicated where the funding existed exactly.

George Tomyn has responded to the issue by chanting the phrase “using available resources.” Presumably if the school budget decreased by another $40 million over the next 5 years, Tomyn would simply make it work … whatever is left. He offers no hint of advocacy. Of course, he does state the obvious – you use what you’re given. This was Tomyn’s reply to the same questionnaire from Marions United/EFT before their forum:

The job of the Superintendent of Schools is to create and manage an exemplary school system using the available resources.  I intend to do just that!  This task may be a bit easier to accomplish with additional resources but I do not believe that Marion County property owners should bear the responsibility of paying higher property taxes in order to address a problem created by our state legislature.  These are tough economic times.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to solve the challenges created by reduced funding.

Here Tomyn blames the legislature, protects property owners from a $10/month assessment, and leaves education funding (the students, the staff, the facilities, etc.) hung out to dry.

My favorite video of this election cycle is Tomyn’s 33 second commercial on funding. As you witness his strong, vigorous tone, listen closely to the message. Click here to view it.

In the video, he is deeply passionate, rock solid serious, firmly in charge, sternly confronting the challenge, and he commits to … absolutely nothing. He will spend the money that is given. Um, can I get a woohoo?

To see Tomyn give another, more recent answer on the funding issue, try this one – MCSB’s “Classroom Connection, October 2012.” (Sadly, the same question is not asked of Diana Greene in her preceding interview in this video.) At about 14:00, Tomyn very carefully answers the question of ‘how much funding is enough.’ Using precise wording, he eventually falls back to his favorite expression, “using available resources,” while finally affirming that ‘current funding is adequate.’ To close, he throws a meaningless bone to staff, saying ‘we really need to support those people.’ That’s a really nice sentiment but a chronically slashed budget with no new funding (or advocacy) isn’t close to reflecting “support.”

Public school funding and local taxation are the issues on which Tomyn’s Republican base will be holding him accountable. Greene will not find the Democrats running another candidate if she advocates community funding support for our local schools. Tomyn will have to worry if he dares to open his mouth to advocate for any taxation.

The school board isn’t going to provide any leadership on the funding issue. Instead, they’ve proven adept at running in the other direction and letting the budget dine on reserves, programs, and staff, a meal that’s no longer digestible without serious consequences.

The next superintendent will need to show leadership in advocating more funding from the community. The state has abdicated its role and is no longer a reliable partner in the public education enterprise.

Tomyn is unlikely to provide that leadership for obvious political reasons. He has pandered to his GOP base in this campaign, as he must.

Greene seems more likely to carry that mantle, not being menaced by political retaliation from her own party, and having already taken a stand for more funding already.

In the next post, leadership means communicating a vision and standing in the crosshairs – who is ready to do that?

Be mindful of politics: School Superintendent, Part 2

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It seems sometimes that even politically astute voters can forget that public education and politics are hopelessly intermixed. Failure to pay close attention to one part of the equation invites getting blind-sided by the other.

The first post on this topic included a quick review of the candidates for Superintendent of Schools who were sorted through in the primary. Wally Wagoner and Jackie Porter were noteworthy as they attempted to portray themselves as outsiders, as savvy business pros who promised they could make millions of dollars magically appear from a budget slammed with close to $50 million in cuts in the last 5 years.

Readers will recall that Wagoner and Porter ran, together with education insider George Tomyn, in the Republican primary, decided by a small minority of activist Republican voters. It’s a key reminder that Superintendent of Schools is a partisan, elected position for which otherwise unqualified individuals are entirely entitled to run as candidates, win an election, and hold office for four years (see Rick Scott, Governor). If you think it is only about education and “all about the children,” you need to wake up … badly.

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

Everyone likes George Tomyn. I like George Tomyn. What’s not to like? He’s a really nice guy. George Tomyn is also the Republican candidate. Republican. Shall I say it again for you? Republican.

The Republican agenda in Florida for public education has focused on the elimination of the concept – not reform, elimination. The aim is for universal vouchers, converting tens of billions of state and local tax dollars into corporate profits with student-selective, for-profit charter, virtual, and private schools competing with under-funded public schools, the latter destined to become dumping grounds for the students unwanted by selective institutions. The charters and virtuals have already been given carte blanche approval by the state Board of Education which routinely and consistently overturns charter denials by county school boards. A voucher program funded by designated business taxes has been functioning for years and has aggressively expanded into the hundreds of millions of dollars as a centerpiece in the Jeb Bush/GOP education agenda.

Will George Tomyn advocate this agenda? If so, why does he want to be Superintendent of Public Schools? Wouldn’t private school headmaster be a better fit, or charter school educational entrepreneur? If not, why is he a Republican?

If you have lived under a rock for the last 10 years, you may not realize that the Republican Party today is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America and is dedicated to advancing corporate profits. Further, it is laden with woolly extremists who had previously clung to the John Birch Society but are now defined as “mainstream Republicans” in a very skewed worldview. Quite simply, Republicans have ceased to be a mainstream political party as many former GOPers have realized, dropping the nutty and joining the swelling ranks of independent/no party affiliation (NPA) voters, together with disillusioned Dems.

Remember, Tomyn received only 41%, a distinct minority of the total primary vote. Wagoner and Porter who both campaigned as far to the political right as possible, split the base and garnered a combined 59%. There were only 36,000 votes cast and that was considered a high turnout for a primary election. Tomyn bested runner-up Porter by only 3,000 votes. About 2,000 Democrats switched party registration temporarily to be able to vote in the Republican primary races. Tomyn likely benefited heavily. Tomyn likely gained a really thin primary victory when it’s closely considered.

Without belaboring the point further, Tomyn the Republican will have to pay continual attention and offer support for the dysfunctional GOP agenda, not risk alienating the extremists who are the party’s base, and be ever aware of his vulnerability to getting challenged and beaten in the low turnout GOP primary in four years by a far more conservative candidate reflecting the GOP agenda/ideology.

Consider what happened to County Commissioner Mike Amsden who irked the wrong people and apparently wasn’t conservative enough (really? reeeally?). Amsden was replaced as Republican candidate in the August primary by a libertarian from Citrus County named David Moore, a devotee of “menu taxation,” i.e. order services and pay taxes only for what you want. Amsden lost by 778 votes out of nearly 34,000 votes cast.

Tomyn cannot ignore his GOP affiliation for a moment. And it shows at times in his campaign platform and statements.

Diana Greene is running as a Democrat. She has no problem even remotely akin to Tomyn’s. Democrats actually support public education (!), realize how critical it is to preserve and advance a strong system of public education, and would only challenge Greene if she ever began adopting Republican positions (see Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education). Greene will likely face a Republican challenger in every election, but she will face that challenger with the benefit of the full electorate voting in a presidential election year when Democrats post their best turnouts, and party voting boundaries are not a factor as they are in primary elections.

On the other hand, Tomyn would have to clear the thin turnout of activists in a Republican primary if he strayed too far from the party line, a far, far more daunting proposal. Ask Amsden.

Greene would clearly enjoy more political freedom, and her survivability upon taking any controversial stands would be far greater than Tomyn for whom exceeding caution would be mandatory.

Politics matter, and politics will affect policy, leadership, and performance.

Next time, let’s peel back the happy talk about how it’s “all for the children” and see how it’s all about appeasing constituencies in an election.

School Superintendent: Leadership Needed, Part 1

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Two qualified candidates for Marion County Schools Superintendent emerged from the August primary; Diana Greene who was unopposed as the Democratic candidate, and George Tomyn who became the Republican candidate. The distinction of “qualified candidates” seems important to note since  in the August primary Tomyn defeated current Deputy Superintendent Wally Wagoner who touted his noteworthy career as a businessman, not an education leader, and current School Board member Jackie Porter who also touted her successful career as a businesswoman, but who lacked a college degree and also never professed to be an education leader.

Diana Greene is presently Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction while George Tomyn is presently Executive Director of School Development, both being career educators who have risen to executive leadership roles and who have spent most of their careers honing their craft in Marion County. No doubt both of them are qualified.

[Disclaimer: I have been a supporter, including modest financial support, of Diana Greene’s campaign.]

The question concerns the leadership qualities that each brings to the county’s largest employer, a $400+ million overall annual budget, a massive daily transportation system connecting over 40,000 students to over 50 buildings in an area the size of Rhode Island, with responsibility for maintaining those buildings and staying current with fast changing technology while negotiating the whims of Tallahassee politicians who are arrogantly confident that their meddlesome ideology knows best, dealing with School Board members who often act like they should be confined to an In-School Suspension (ISS) portable, and struggling amid a budgetary climate that has our district reeling from one body blow after another from decreased funding. No other elected official is as responsible for such a large, complex, politically charged, and difficult enterprise in Marion County. Sheriff? Hah! Not even close. This is the big kahuna job and whoever sits in the high chair better be outstanding.

There are many worthwhile measures of leadership, but the ones that seem most prominent concern

  • leadership experience, particularly “under fire” as in managing difficult issues, positions, and situations;
  • creativity/innovation, in being adaptive to changed and challenging requirements and expectations;
  • vision casting/sharing, as not only seeing through the fog and smoke to envision what can be, but enabling others to share that vision;
  • motivation/communication to a large organization (5,000+ employees) in ways that not only inform but inspire;
  • planning/execution to minimize the number of unpleasant surprises, anticipate changing conditions with multiple plans and strategies, and yet remains involved in implementation without being a micro-manager.

Already a fair amount of ink has been spilled here just in introducing the importance of this race and the context under consideration. In the next few posts, this page will consider this subject of leadership and some of the political matters that seem to be getting overlooked in this contest. Let’s ask things like:

  • Do Republican or Democratic party affiliations matter?
  • Proactive on school funding? (I really hate the word “proactive,” too)
  • Has student testing gone wild?
  • How does it feel to be in the crosshairs?
  • Hey, how about that School Board?

Do you have any questions this page should consider? Let me know in the Comments below.

By the way, you’ve ordered your mail-in ballot already, right? If not, call the Supervisor of Elections Office 620-3290 immediately. It’s extra – 65 cents – for return postage, but it’s definitely worth it. Don’t get caught at the polling place this year with 11 amendment proposals slowing the voting lines to a frustrating standstill. Do it now!

About those 11 amendment proposals, check this and this.

Primary election results are largely disappointing

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While most primary elections have voter turnouts in the 20% range, the “big” turnout of roughly 27% yesterday provided Marion County with 4 year office holders on the County Commission, School Board, and Sheriff, and virtually ensured defeat of 2 ballot referenda for crucial school funding. The voters who were most influential in the outcomes were retirement community precincts who vote strongly regardless while the ungated are trying to lead normal lives in the real world. The surreal results of the primary election reflect their priorities.

Click here for all of the results.

This page has focused on a few races and issues in this election. A quick review is in order before I cry myself to sleep.

School Board District 1: A post in mid-July regarded Woody Clymer as a sane, experienced, knowledgeable, easygoing, good choice, but found Nancy Stacey to be irrelevant, extremist, acerbic, and combative. The retirees loved Stacey and she was elected by 2,400 votes in a 52-48% victory. If you thought Jackie Porter could be problematic, Nancy Stacey will redefine dysfunctional. At the forum at First Methodist sponsored by Marions United and ETF, Stacey actually conjured up her own conspiracy theory on the spot in response to a question. Four years, folks.

Further, Clymer was the only candidate running for a school board office in the primary election who had the decency, integrity, candor, and wisdom to stand entirely in support of the two school funding proposals. He ran an excellent campaign, and lost.

The parents in “the projects” should expect Nancy Stacey to visit soon so that they can be taught parenting skills as she promised. School Board meetings will become teaching sessions for the Tea Party interpretation of the Constitution, while the students, educators, and administration get hung out to dry amid vain ideological distractions.

School Board District 2: This race was covered in a post last week, finding two candidates that had significant drawbacks. Former principal Carol Ely won this race by a wide margin – 62-38% – over former radio shock-jock Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski.

While Ely promised to be a less divisive presence, she showed no leadership on the funding issue. Her answers at the forum sponsored by Marions United for Public Education and ETF revealed that she knew the funding was desperately needed, but she refused to take an honest stance like Clymer in the District 1 race and call for their passage. How embarrassing.

Okay, she won. Having been elected for four years, will she start showing some spine now that it’s safe? Hopefully she is prepared to start acting like a leader. That will be needed more than ever. We hope she can rise above the low bar of her tepid, contrived campaigning to stand tall for students, teachers, and public education.

School funding proposals: These referenda were in the background of several posts, specifically the Third of Three Bogus Arguments, and were the focal criteria in considering School Board and Superintendent candidates.

The first proposal for operations funding that would have supported art, music, library/media programs, Reading Coaches, tutoring, credit recovery and summer school programs lost by a margin very similar to the District 1 race, 48-52%.

Frankly, this writer wouldn’t have predicted as positive of an outcome. Given that it was a low turnout primary election, with no Democrat identified in any countywide race, in the deadliest days of August, before school starts, with volunteers as scarce as snowballs, and no one from the School Board and no candidates apart from Woody Clymer actually campaigning positively for their passage, it’s a freaking major, walk-on-the-water, jumpin’ Jesus miracle that it was so close. Talk about an uphill climb! (Disclaimer: Son Ray was a leader of the YES for Marion Schools campaign, and I helped. Yep, you guessed it; I’m biased.) As was posted here when first proposed, it was set up to fail.

If you adjusted just one of these factors, there may have been 2,583 votes garnered to pass this. The abominable lack of leadership among those supposed to provide or seeking to provide leadership looms very large as a factor.

The second proposal for capital funding failed by a wider margin, 41-59%.  The broader gap was likely due to less clarity and some confusion.

The alternative school plan needed considerable explanation. Many thought it was for special needs disabled children when it was for difficult disciplinary students, and people didn’t understand that it capitalized a potential major money-saving investment.

Digital textbook technology is frankly beyond the comprehension of most voters, many of whom still think a mouse is best trapped, not clicked. Uh, tablet computers? Yeah, right. Few understood that it was state mandated and unfunded, and actually an awesome development of a learning tool, not a quirky techno-fad waste of money.

Finally, voters were confused about building expenses since the tax for new school construction had been allowed to expire in 2009, and even recently, the School Board had denied the need for impact fees on new homes, funds also dedicated for school expansion.

Without good information, voters did not know that critical PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) funds from Tallahassee had been $0 for the last 2 years. In 2007, there were $300 million in PECO funds just for K-12 schools. In 2011-2012, there was no funding for PECO at all. In this year’s 2012-2013 budget, there was $55 million allocated for K-12 but it was all designated for charter schools. (Another $300 million in PECO funds went to state colleges and universities.) The differences between new building, expansion funding, and routine maintenance made this much more difficult to parse.

House District 20: The last several posts have focused on the district and the candidates, some added information about Clovis Watson as City Manager of Alachua, and an update on Watson’s reaping the benefit of tens of thousands of dollars in corporate cash as the candidate recently endorsed and actively supported by the biggest right wing corporate power lobbyists, the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida (AIF).

As noted in the first post, this district was designed for an African American representative and packed with Democrats. Watson beat opponent Marihelen Wheeler handily 58-42% in an election that only had 11,000 voters casting ballots district-wide. Click here and scroll down for the exact results in HD 20.

Clovis Watson, Jr.: the citizens to whom you owe your election will be watching to see if the corporations own your vote. Please make our deep misgivings go away.

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The Mouse and The Mouth – School Board, District 2 Race

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Just as the School Board District 1 race features sharp contrasts, portrayed in this earlier post, the School Board District 2 race pits former principal Carol Ely – The Mouse – against former talk radio shock jock Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski – The Mouth.

As the qualifying period came to the last week, Carol Ely stood as the lone candidate for District 2. Then the spoiler emerged, Bobby D.

Ely is petite, soft spoken, unimposing person in every way. Bobby D is a big, strong voiced, imposing person in every way. Neither had ever run for elected public office until now.

This is also a race cited by those (including candidates) who feel that too many former school system employees will skew the functionality of the School Board, answered in a recent blog post here, in a series on bogus arguments that need debunking.

Carol Ely: This writer has been waiting for Carol Ely to make her case. Her resume as a front line veteran of the public schools shows that she knows what life is like on the inside of our large school system. Uncertainty derives from comments that seem contradictory and suggest that while she may get what’s going on inside, she may have a steep learning curve on what has been going on outside her immediate sphere of experience.

Ely has not shown any leadership on the question of budget funding, a key element and current issue on the School Board’s agenda. The recent adoption of a budget for 2012-2013 anticipates the passage of both school funding proposals on the August 14th ballot. If they don’t pass, $5-$6 million will need to be cut. Ely’s response has been that the whole budget needs to be redeveloped from the ground up, or as her website says,

Re-evaluate the distribution of our state and local funds.

This suggestion (mirrored by Jackie Porter) that rearranging the funds will somehow produce $5-$6 million is actually a bit insulting to the highly skilled finance people in the administration and the current School Board members. If they’ve missed something, please tell us what it is. If you’re going to cut something, what exactly will it be? Otherwise, such political evasiveness is quite unhelpful. We deserve real answers rather than the drivel she dished up on the Marions United/ETF questionnaire:

I have many ideas but cannot go forth with them until I become a  school board member.

However, despite affirming her opposition to the school funding proposal at last night’s forum at First Methodist, by the end of the evening, she was tacitly admitting that there would be dire consequences if the ballot measures failed, while still assuring that things would all work out somehow. Huh?

To her credit, before retiring as a principal, Ely joined with parents in chartering a bus to protest budget cuts in Tallahassee. That kind of activism from a School Board member would be a welcome relief from the mamby-pamby attitude of incumbent board members who would never rock the Republican boat in public, because … um …  they might cut your freaking funding, like they haven’t already! Hey, that’s the kind of leadership our schools need, Mrs. Ely, not warmed-over wimping out and dodging any stand.

Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski:  Bobby D  doesn’t sound like he’s from around here, but his vocalisms ring nostalgic for me since we’re both from Long Island. My wife’s family sounds like Bobby D. My classmates sounded like Bobby D. In person, Bobby is a big, warm, likeable fellow.

In front of a radio mic as a talk show host, Bobby D was certainly entertaining, but his harsh political and social views were typically as right wing as you could get, describing his show “Ultra Pro-Life Orthodox Catholic.” He is supported by the Tea Party’s Don Browning and State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Guns, Jesus) among others. Click here to read an old Twitter feed that details topics of interest from the radio show.

It should be no surprise that he is a proponent of school choice, dividing up meager public education funds for charters and online programs which are often privately owned or managed by for-profit corporations. He would surely support vouchers, essentially privatizing the education system and making it hostage to profitable outcomes, not educational success.

To the Star Banner, he stated that his priority is:

First and foremost, we need to move forward in the world of technology. We must strive to utilize every technological advancement to ensure that our children are keeping up with students in the rest of the state, nation and world.

This is curious because he is adamantly opposed to the school funding proposals that share the ballot, including the capital funding which supports the unfunded state mandate for digital textbook technology. If getting first rate technology in the hands of our students truly is a priority for him, what  tooth fairy puts this money under our pillow?

On budget funding, Bobby D has focused on in-school administrative compensation (think principals, assistant principals, deans) as the area to cut. Of course, there is nowhere near the $5-$6 million that may be needed. In fact, he has no answer either.

This leads me to my final huge concern. If a very passionate, controversial, social issues advocate like Bobby D gets a microphone, a camera, and an audience, will School Board meetings emerge as a constant battlefield in the local culture wars? It is reasonable to expect that school prayer, human sexuality, teen health education, and even scientific fundamentals would become highly distracting lightning rods with Bobby D on the School Board.

(Bobby D doesn’t have a website, but I did find this awesome picture of him – white suit -  from 1979 in high school which shows what happens when writers start scouring the web for info because there is no web site. It cost me 49 cents to purchase (more than I make blogging, really), but he looks utterly awesome, right? Seriously, could you make that look so cool in high school? Click the picture for a full view.)

Look, neither candidate inspires, at least positively. Bobby D could bring us 4 years of strife as the Board works through the whole right wing Christian agenda for public education and society in general. Not a pleasant prospect.

But we also need constructive leaders with the spine to stand up for what the schools need, and while Carol Ely may secretly believe we need to pass the ballot measures, such evasive politicking doesn’t show the needed leadership.

One of them will get elected on August 14th. Whoever it is will have a lot to prove to the voters, the students, and their families, demonstrating that the winner is captive neither to crusading bravado or to cowering reticence.