Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Report on the August 11 School Board Meeting

In last week’s post, I provided background on items to be addressed at the August 11 School Board meeting that I thought would be of interest to voters. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on those discussions. I’ll also describe something that came up toward the end of the meeting I think voters should be aware of.

As always, my goal is to help readers be informed voters in the August 2016 School Board elections.

2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the District’s proposed 2016 Legislative Platform, following changes requested by the Board last month. The Platform asks the state for more funding, and more local control over testing and accountability (without saying what changes the Board would make if they had it). After agreeing to two clarifications, the Board adopted the Platform unanimously. The final document can be read here.

It’s important to view the CCPS Legislative Platform in the broader context of the national debate taking place as Congress considers updating the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. NCLB itself was a reauthorization of the 1960s-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act that included Title I, the main program through which the federal government aids poor and minority children.

Last month, the House and Senate passed separate and different reauthorization bills. The House bill (H.R. 5 - Student Success Act) passed with a very close vote of 218–213. Twenty-seven Republicans, including Florida District 19’s Curt Clawson, crossed party-line to join the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the bill. The Senate bill (S. 1177 - Every Child Achieves Act) passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, 81–17, but Florida’s Marco Rubio was not among them.

A summary of the differences between NCLB and the House and Senate bills in the areas of testing, accountability, standards, teacher quality, low-performing schools, school choice, funding, federal programs and preschool can be found in “Revising the No Child Left Behind Act: Issue by Issue.” Voters should pay attention to how their elected officials vote on whatever reconciliation bill ultimately comes forward.

2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the 2015–16 student testing schedule, as required by state law. The proposed schedule was approved as presented by a vote of 3 to 2, with Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter in the minority.

As I described in last week’s post and as clearly shown in the District’s summary of annual student assessments, most District-wide student tests are either mandated by the state or optionally taken by students for college readiness, acceleration or industry certification. Only four District-wide assessments are under local control.

Donalds asked whether the 10th grade PSAT, listed as a state-required test, wasn’t actually optional, since a parent can choose to have her child not take the test, and if so, if that “opt-out” option could be changed to “opt-in.” She also asked about opportunities for parents to opt their children out of two of the four District-required local assessments. Both requests reflect Donalds’ frequently-expressed desire to reduce student testing. Discussion ensued, with Superintendent Patton explaining why the requested “opt-out” was not really an option.

Lichter asked how much classroom time is spent on the state-required Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screening. The Superintendent explained that this assessment is required by state law, within the first 30 days of school. She shares Lichter’s concern, saying that’s why the District and others are lobbying the State to allow the screening to be given in pre-K, leaving fewer children to test in kindergarten.

Voters should know that there is benefit to having a parent’s perspective among the varied experiences of a School Board. I was pleased to learn from the discussion that the District had already considered the opportunities to reduce testing raised by Donalds and Lichter, but it was also good to hear the concerns they expressed.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

As I explained in last week’s post, this was an Information-Only agenda item, with no Board vote to be taken. At issue is whether or not the community-wide Blue Zones Project interferes with parental choice, and if so, if the Board should limit or prohibit the District’s participation in it.

Donalds expressed concerns about the Blue Zones School Pledge, specifically the list of 21 Blue Zones policy initiatives from which each school would adopt a subset toward the goal of becoming a Blue Zones Approved school. While some of the choices are already District policy (e.g. “Enforce a tobacco-free campus”), she wanted School Attorney Jonathan Fishbane to review the list to ensure it did not include measures that would require Board approval.

Donalds had other concerns as well. As reported in a post by reporter Mel Leonor in the Naples Daily News “Making the Grade” blog, Donalds said, “We do not want to tell our parents what they can send in their child’s lunch.”

Lichter expressed a different concern. “Fitness is important,” she said, “but curriculum is more pressing than Blue Zones…. I don’t want staff time spent on initiatives [like these] when we have yet to address academic issues.” Presumably she was referring to her frequently-expressed opinion that the District’s academic performance is lacking.

After a lengthy discussion, the Board asked Attorney Fishbane to review the list and report back at the September 8 Board meeting, at which time the Board will then vote on how to proceed. In the meantime, the Superintendent will also delay the start of the previously planned four-school Blue Zones pilot program.

This debate gives voters an example of how a Board member’s political philosophy can affect District policy. Referring to the Blue Zones school policy initiatives as “Nanny state controls,” Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance leader Keith Flaugh wrote that the delay gives the public time to better understand “what specific freedoms can be lost.” Others see District participation in the Blue Zones Project as giving each school the opportunity to be part of a community-wide effort to make Southwest Florida a healthier place to live, play and work.

Internal Auditor - Agenda Item C1

Donalds, whose accounting credentials were cited by many who supported her candidacy, believes that without an Internal Audit function, the District may be at risk of financial loss or “inadvertent inefficiencies.” She also thinks compliance with Board policies and state laws should be reviewed, saying she wants to add “verify” to the “trust” the District has that staff appropriately do their jobs. She said an internal audit function is a best practice in business, and wants to bring that function to the District. As a first step, she wants to hire an outside firm to do a “risk assessment” so that the Board can then make an informed decision about if and how to proceed.

After a long discussion during which some Board members said they didn’t understand what Donalds was asking for of why it was needed, Donalds offered to get more information and the Board agreed to add discussion of a “risk assessment” to the agenda for its November business meeting.

I appreciate this suggestion from the for-profit business world. I look forward to hearing the Board discuss it further in November.

Not on Agenda: FEA Cease and Desist Order

Toward the end of the meeting, Board member Julie Sprague asked Attorney Fishbane to advise the Board how it should respond to a cease and desist letter the District received from the Florida Education Association (FEA) on behalf of the Collier County Education Association (CCEA; Teachers’ Union). Fishbane recommended that the Board make clear its intention to honor its exclusive bargaining agreement with the CCEA. Sprague asked that the recommendation be brought forward as an action item for the Board to vote on.

What came next was an angry and defensive outburst by Lichter. “What this is all about is to call me out!,” she said. “The cease and desist letter is a bullying tactic from the FEA! I did nothing wrong!” She accused Fishbane of colluding with Sprague on a “script” (presumably to bring the matter up at the Board meeting) and setting her up. Fishbane denied Lichter’s charges that he had spoken with Sprague, pandered to the Union, or tipped anyone off. “That’s not who I am,” he said.

Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo, to her credit, got the meeting back under control and the Board to accept Fishbane’s recommendation. “There is consensus that we will honor CCEA’s exclusive bargaining agreement with the Collier Public Schools,” she concluded.

To an observer (me), it was a very uncomfortable 10 minutes.

Subsequent to the meeting, I obtained a copy of the FEA letter. It claimed that Lichter made statements “advocating on behalf, and extolling the virtues, of the Association of American Educators (”AAE“)…. acting as an agent of the school board, and her express purpose is to undermine and erode the role of the [Teachers’ Union]….” As a result, the letter says, the District is facing “tremendous legal exposure” which “could be very costly to the District unless School Board member Ms. Lichter immediately ceases from making any similar statements….”

Voters should know that Lichter took actions that School Attorney Fishbane told her would put the Board and the District at risk. Those actions resulted in the threat of a “very costly” lawsuit. Fishbane said at the meeting that he repeated his opinion to Lichter on three separate occasions, yet it appears that she persisted.

As a voter, I find this School Board member’s disregard of the advice of District counsel, as well her behavior on the dais during this discussion, unacceptable.

If you have thoughts or comments on any of the above, I encourage you to share them with the Board by email:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com

In addition, please help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 18 School Board Work Session on Policies and More

A School Board Work Session will be held on Tuesday, August 18, at 5:30 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

The Agenda includes a First Reading of 16 Board Policies, a long-postponed discussion, at the request of Board member Julie Sprague, of the Board’s Governance Model - Agenda Item B15, and a discussion, at the request of Board member Erika Donalds, of the need for a Board-appointed Budget Committee - Agenda Item C17.

If you would like to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent before the meeting, you can email them:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com

Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, August 10, 2015

On the Agenda for Tuesday's School Board Meeting

Three items on the Agenda for Tuesday’s School Board meeting should be of particular interest to Collier parents and teachers, because they affect what goes on in the classroom:

  • the CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform,
  • the CCPS 2015–16 Assessment Schedule, and
  • the Blue Zones® Project, a community-based, healthy-living initiative.

In addition, the Board will discuss whether the District should create the new position of Internal Auditor.

In this post, I’ll provide some background on each of these items and explain what you should know about them to be an informed voter.

CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

Each year around this time, agencies of local government and other interested parties in Florida develop a set of legislative actions they want their elected State House and Senate representatives to take on their behalf in the next state Legislative Session. Organizations present these “Legislative Platforms” to their local “representatives ”Legislative Delegation" at a day-long meeting and public hearing.

Collier County’s Legislative Delegation consists of State Senators Garrett Richter and Dwight Bullard and State Representatives Matt Hudson, Kathleen Passidomo and Carlos Trujillo. This year’s meeting and public hearing will be on Thursday, October 15 (details here).

The Board considered a proposed Legislative Platform for the School District at its July 28 meeting. See my posts here and here. On Tuesday, it will consider and likely vote on a Platform revised to reflect last month’s comments.

The first item in the Platform concerns testing and teacher evaluations, which generated a good discussion last month. As I wrote then, “This may be one of the most important areas of education policy facing [Florida] School Boards and state legislators today.”

As revised, this item provides for greater flexibiliy (i.e. local control) over student, teacher and school-administrator evaluations and student assessments. It reads: The District School Board of Collier County urges the Legislature to:

Extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017 and provide flexibility to school districts that includes an alternative, state-approved, locally developed student and educator (instructional personnel and school-based administrators) evaluation system that measures state standards and is correlated to Florida’s accountability system. Such flexibility must include the valid and appropriate use of new state and local student assessment results for personnel evaluations, performance pay, and school grading. Such flexibility may include alternative assessments, alternative methods of testing including paper-based exams, and/or elimination of Florida’s Value-Added Model (VAM) data as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations (s.1012.34, F.S.).

The three additional Platform items are requests for increased funding for specific purposes, noting that:

Through 2013, Florida still ranked in the bottom quintile … in per pupil spending at $8,433 compared to the $10,700 national average. Implementation of state mandates and policy expectations on performance pay [require] adequate funding.

We Collier County voters will want to see whether our elected School Board members support the District’s priorities, and later, whether our elected state representatives supported the actions requested by the Board.

The 2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

Last spring, the Florida Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a wide-ranging Educational Accountability bill (HB 7069) that was in many ways a response to the growing outcry about the number of standardized tests being given in the public schools. Placing more responsibility on local School Boards, the new law requires, among other things, each School Board to approve its District’s schedule of statewide standardized testing and district-required tests. It also requires each District to publish the testing schedules on its website and submit the schedules to the state Department of Education by October 1 of each year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board will be asked to approve the District’s proposed 2015–16 Assessment Schedule. Materials provided in advance for public review are:

  • A PowerPoint presentation on the Assessment Schedule Requirements of HB 7069, to be made by Associate Superintendent Luis Solano, and on the proposed 2015–16 CCPS Assessment Schedule, to be made by Dr. Cheng Ang, Executive Director, Assessments, Accountability and Data Management.
  • An easy-to-read chart with information about each of the 2015–16 student assessments, separated between the 10 state-required tests (Florida Standards Assessment - FSA, Florida Comprehensive Assessment - FCAT 2.0, Florida End-of-Course Exam - EOC, and more), four District-required local tests (Pre-Test, Quarter 1 Benchmark Assessment, Quarter 2 Benchmark Assessment and District Post-Test), and seven student self-selected tests for college readiness/acceleration/workforce (ACT, SAT, AICE, AP, PSAT, PERT and industry certification assessments). The chart summarizes, for each test, its subjects, grade level, time allotted, paper versus computer, how results are used, and more.
  • A very helpful Glossary of Assessment Terminology

By requiring Board approval of the testing schedule, the Legislature has given parents, students, teachers and community members an opportunity to give input to the Board before they vote. I am interested to see if the public takes advantage of this opportunity, and if so, what their comments are.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

Last October, NCH Healthcare System, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project® of Southwest Florida. According to the press release:

The Blue Zones Project® is a major initiative to improve the well-being and longevity of residents of Collier and South Lee Counties in Southwest Florida. The Blue Zones Project brings together citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and community leaders to improve the living environment so healthy choices are natural and often unavoidable. NCH is bringing the Blue Zones Project to Southwest Florida in support of its 10-year vision to make the region an even healthier, happier and more vibrant place to live.

This is an Information Only item, brought forward at Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo’s request at last month’s Board meeting. At that same meeting, Board Member Erika Donalds called the Blue Zones® initiative “a fad.”

I think it sounds like a great idea, and I’m interested to learn more about it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Does CCPS Need an Internal Auditor? - Agenda Item C1

This item, which appears in the District/School Operations section of the Agenda, was requested by Ms. Donalds. Under “Recommended Action” (i.e. what action the Superintendent would like the Board to take on the matter), is simply stated, “Pursuant to Board Member request.”

The District has provided two documents for the Board and public to review before the meeting:

  • A 2-page document listing the three major external audits already conducted at CCPS: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), and CCPS’ outstanding performance on the four most recent FEFP audits.
  • An 8-page document listing an additional 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds the District currently conducts, many required by State or Federal Departments and Agencies.

Together, these documents make the case that the District’s current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming. If the Superintendent thought there was a need for an Internal Auditor, she would have made that recommendation – but she didn’t. I am interested to hear the discussion, see if a compelling case to hire an auditor is made, and if so, and see how the Board members vote.

Public Input Requested

Last month, the Board asked for input from the community on these matters. I hope you will take the time to consider them and share your thoughts:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - patton@collierschools.com
The meeting is this Tuesday, August 11, beginning at 5 PM.


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Monday, August 3, 2015

My take on last week’s School Board meeting

In last week’s post, I shared my hopes and what I’d be looking for as I watched the July School Board meeting. In this post, I’ll tell you what happened. Several important matters will come back for a vote in the coming months; I’ll tell you what they are. You’ll want to email Board members with your input.

Governance Model Review
I had hoped the Board would unanimously support Board member Julie Sprague’s suggestion to hold a meeting to discuss the Governance Model, led by a facilitator acceptable to all five Board members. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

As soon as the item was introduced, Board member Erika Donalds proposed, and Board member Kelly Lichter seconded, a motion to discuss the Model as part of an already-scheduled Policy Work Session, not in a separate, facilitated meeting. After discussion, Donalds’ motion passed 3-to–2, with Board member Roy Terry joining Donalds and Lichter, and Sprague and Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo opposed.

The Governance Model will be added to the agenda for the August 18th Work Session on Board Policies. That agenda is already quite full, with more than 15 policies to be considered, so it will be another late night.

Curatolo asked Board members to seek input from the public. If you want the Board to work together differently than they have been these past months, please take a few minutes to read the Governance Model. Then share your thoughts, concerns and suggestions with the Board members. Their contact information is at the end of this post.

Outside Counsel for the Board
For background for this item, see last week’s post.

As soon as the item was introduced, Lichter made a motion, seconded by Donalds, to amend the current contract with District General Counsel Jonathan Fishbane so that he reports to the Board, not the Superintendent. If a conflict of interest were to arise, they want it to be the Superintendent who has to hire outside counsel, not the Board.

The discussion was generally respectful, but no minds were changed. Lichter’s motion failed, 2-to–3, with Curatolo, Sprague and Board member Roy Terry dissenting.

Contrary to my hope that this would put the matter to rest, Donalds later wrote in an email to supporters that “we can expect that this will continue to be an issue.”

School Board Self-Evaluation
As I wrote last week, Sprague proposed this agenda item because of the poor marks the Board gave on its self-evaluation in May. See my post of June 3 for details. I hoped the Board would unanimously support the motion, and that they would do so without making any changes to the evaluation instrument, so that a like-for-like comparison would be possible.

As soon as the item was introduced, Donalds proposed, and Lichter seconded, a motion to discuss improvements to the evaluation instrument to be used next year, rather than conduct another evaluation using what they consider to be a flawed instrument in November.

Curatolo said she’s not opposed to reconsidering the evaluation instrument at a later date, but that she thinks it is “important to utilize baseline data” and to reevaluate in November as proposed. Terry said he sees value in doing the same evaluation again, but not discussing it at a Board meeting. “Our Board meetings are long enough,” he said.

This is not the first time Curatolo has shown that she is listening and seeking ways to compromise. That’s the kind of behavior I’d like to see from all the Board members. Had Donalds seen it as such, she might have proposed an amendment enabling the Board to approve the motion unanimously: adding a commitment to discuss revisions to the evaluation instrument as part of the strategic planning process.

Instead, Terry’s amendment - that the evaluation be conducted using the same instrument, with results to be reviewed at the November Board Work Session - was accepted, and the final motion passed 3-to–2, with Donalds and Lichter opposed.

Preliminary 2016 Florida Legislative Platform
In my last post, I shared the District’s five proposed priorities for the 2016 State Legislative Session.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the discussion focused mainly on changes to the draft to better convey the District’s desired changes to two of the areas of concern: the state-mandated accountability system (i.e. testing of students), and use of the value-added model (VAM) in teacher and school administrator evaluations.

This may be one of the most important areas of education policy facing School Boards and state legislators today.

Topics discussed included computer-based versus paper-and-pencil-based testing, and the use of state versus local versus nationally-normed tests, as well as pros and cons of each. Not surprisingly, while Board members don’t like the current state mandates, they don’t agree on what they would do instead.

They did agree that they like the option of “local control,” and directed Ian Dean, Executive Director of Human Resources, to bring a revised draft reflecting the Board discussion back for further consideration and approval at its August 11th meeting.

By listening to this discussion, I had hoped to gain better understanding of those things the state controlled and those controlled by the District, and I did. I am also beginning to understand the educational policy issues and differing views of the Board members.

According to old adage, “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.” Clearly there’s a problem with the current state mandates, but if the Board votes to decentralize control over testing and teacher evaluations, what will that do to our ability to benchmark CCPS against other Districts? Who will develop the tests, or decide which tests will be used, and based on what criteria? How and when will local teachers’ and administrators’ input be requested and accommodated? The devil is in the details.

I hope many community members, parents, teachers and administrators give input to Board members on this important policy matter in the short time between now and the August 11th Board meeting.

Board Member and Superintendent Comments
Again this month, despite the late hour, much of importance was addressed during this final, open-ended part of the meeting.

Invocations at Board Meetings

Earlier in the evening, during Public Comments, Collier Resident Jerry Rutherford, president of World Changers of Florida and a long-time advocate for prayer in the schools, requested permission from Chair Curatolo to “offer a prayer for the School Board.” In consultation with District Counsel Fishbane, permission was granted, with the understanding that Rutherford’s prayer would be part of the three minutes he, like any member of the public, had to address the Board.

Addressing “Almighty God and Our Heavenly Father,” he offered a specific prayer for each Board member, the Superintendent, and the District Counsel – by name, and concluded by saying, “So be it. In Jesus’ name.” (YouTube clip here.)

As the first item of Board Member Comments, the Chair asked Counsel Fishbane to provide some history on the matter of Invocations at public meetings. He did so (YouTube clip here), concluding that the constitutionality of Invocations at School Board meetings had not yet been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, he said, should CCPS decide to allow the practice, it would risk being sued. He then recommended a number of guidelines that should be followed if the Board decided to proceed. (YouTube clip here.)

Board members agreed to decide the matter at its November 17th organizational meeting. Curatolo urged them to do their own research, read relevant legal cases, and talk to community members – another important opportunity for you to weigh in.

CCPS Participation in the Blue Zones Project

Superintendent Patton serves on the steering committee formed to help develop a strategy for the community to become a Blue Zones community (see February article in the Naples Daily News), and Curatolo wants to learn more about the matter at an upcoming Board Work Session. Lichter and Donalds expressed reluctance. After discussion, the Board agreed to add the item to the agenda of its October 20 Work Session.

Let your voice be heard
As described above, the Board seeks input from the community on several matters they will be deciding in the coming months:

  • Changes to the District’s Proposed 2016 Florida Legislative Platform, specifically regarding the state’s educational accountability system, testing and teacher/administrator evaluations (August 11 Regular Board Meeting);
  • Changes to the Board Governance Model (August 18 Work Session);
  • CCPS Participation in the Blue Zones Project (October 29 Work Session); and
  • Invocations at School Board meetings (November 17 Organizational Meeting).

Given the importance of these matters to the governance, effectiveness and competitiveness of our District, I hope you will take time to consider each of them and share your thoughts with Board members and the Superintendent:

Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - patton@collierschools.com

The agenda for the next Board meeting should be available online this Wednesday, August 5.

Please share this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at www.sparkers-soapbox.blogspot.com, “like” me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sparkers.soapbox or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.