Thursday, September 24, 2015

School Board elections less than a year away

With all the media attention on next year’s presidential election candidates, it’s easy to forget that there will be many other positions on the ballot as well. In this post, I’ll tell you about our local School Board positions; in another post, I’ll tell you about the rest.

I focus first on the School Board because so few Collier voters voted in those elections last year. School Board member Kelly Lichter was elected with the votes of just 9 percent of registered voters, and School Board member Erika Donalds was elected with the votes of just 30 percent of registered voters. I want to do what I can to encourage more, and more informed, voters next time.

Undoubtedly, the lack of general public interest in the School Board, combined with the significant and obviously coordinated marketing and organizing done in support of these women, played a big role in the outcome. And those things cost money: Donalds spent over $82,000; Lichter spent almost $20,000.

We have seen the effect their election has had on the effectiveness and civility of Board meetings, as well as the changes they are trying to make. And with just one more like-minded member, they will gain control of the Board.

After reading this post, I hope you will be inspired to start monitoring the candidates for School Board NOW, and that you will actively begin raising the awareness of your friends and colleagues, so that there will be many more, and more informed, voters in next year’s School Board elections.

Two School Board positions on the 2016 ballot

Two of the five School Board positions will be on the ballot next year: District 2, currently held by Kathleen Curatolo, and District 4, currently held by Julie Sprague. Neither incumbent has yet begun a reelection campaign; the official qualifying period is not until next June.

At this writing, two challengers have created campaign accounts and reported campaign contributions to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections: John M. Brunner for District 2, and Lee Dixon for District 4.

Both are members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC), on which Lichter serves as Secretary, and which reportedly will vote to censure Curatolo as “a public expression of severe disapproval of her votes to undermine the party platform” at its October meeting. (See WINK-TV news report from the CCREC’s September meeting and the censure resolution posted by The Collier Conservative, a local group “connecting Collier County residents to news and information that impacts their freedom and liberty.”)

John M. Brunner
John M. Brunner - Candidate for District 2

Brunner’s Candidate’s Statement is here; his campaign website is here. His first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

No current employment is reported on his campaign bio. Through June 2015, he was a second grade teacher at Mason Classical Academy, the conservative Hillsdale College charter school started by Donalds and Lichter and currently led by Lichter. Donalds' husband Byron is Vice President of the MCA Board and a Republican Party candidate for Florida State House District 80.

His campaign finance reports to-date show $11,145 in monetary contributions, $35 in in-kind contributions, and $988 in campaign expenditures.

Ten people have donated the maximum $1,000 each to Brunner’s campaign. Those listing Naples addresses are Wilson Bradley, Nancy Lauridsen, Irma Leonard, Thomas Leonard, Ellis Naegle, Robert Naegele, Linda Schoenhals and Jay Stonesifer. Those listing out-of-district addresses are John C. Hunter, Bonita Springs, and Marvin Schoenhals, Wilmington, DE.

$100 donations reported to-date from Naples are from Bria Bare, Ellen Elmore, Joan Jaindl, Tim Kelly, Charles Marshall (2) and Matt Mathias. Out-of-district $100 donors are Kathleen LeSage, Chittenden, FL; Becky MacGregor, Sandia Park, NM; and Cari Turner, Valparaiso, IN.

Brunner’s campaign expenditures to-date include payments totalling $831 to Transcend Creative, a St Petersburg, FL, graphic design and marketing firm that showcases several Libertarian Party candidates and organizations among its clients. In-kind contributions show $25 from Charles Marshall for “website.”

On the Current Topics page of his website, Brunner notes his opposition to Collier Schools’ participation in the Blue Zones Project, as well as to the District’s Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) initiative. On Issues, he lists Parental Involvement and Choice, Fiscal Responsibility, and Returning to Local Control.

Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon - Candidate for District 4

Dixon has not posted a Candidate’s Statement on his Supervisor of Elections Candidate Report web page; his campaign website is here. Like Brunner, Dixon’s first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

Also like Brunner, no current employment is reported on Dixon’s campaign bio, which only says he began his career as a golf course Superintendent in 1992 and moved to Naples in 1995.

Dixon’s campaign finance reports to-date show $846 in monetary contributions, no in-kind contributions, and $37 in campaign expenditures.

Dixon’s largest donors to-date are from out-of-district: Marc Weintraub, New York, NY - $250 and Craig Luckman, Bonita Springs - $150.

Donors from Naples include Deirdre Clemons (see “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children - English Language Arts” and “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children- US History”); Jared Jones (Libertarian Party-endorsed, unsuccessful 2014 candidate for the Collier Soil and Water Conservation District); and Nicholas Lichter (husband of School Board member Kelly Lichter).

On the Issues page of his website, Dixon leads with his love of America and “her First Principles of Limited Government; the Rule of Law; Unalienable Rights; and Equality.” He opposes Common Core and the District’s “obsession with technology, testing and test prepping.”

While not noted on his website, Dixon is (according to NBC–2) Vice President of Parents ROCK, the parents group formed by School Board member Erika Donalds. Like Brunner, Donalds and Lichter, Dixon opposes Collier Schools’ participation in the community Blue Zones Project.

Call to action

There is clearly an organized, well-funded effort in place to take control of the School Board in the upcoming election.

In what are required by law to be nonpartisan elections, the two candidates’ ties to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (partisan political organization; upcoming censure vote against Board Chair Curatolo; Secretary Kelly Lichter), as well as the out-of-town contributions to candidate Brunner, are extremely troubling.

Equally concerning is that no other candidates have yet come forward to offer Collier voters an alternative to these two candidates’ right-wing, anti-Common Core, anti-testing, anti-Blue Zones agenda. But there is still time.

The School Board primary elections will take place next August. If a candidate for office is unchallenged, or receives more than 50% of votes cast for the position, the election will be decided then. That’s what happened last year when Kelly Lichter was elected with 51% of the votes cast, though that was just 9% of Collier’s registered voters. If no candidate receives 50% of the votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters will go on to a runoff election on November 8, 2016, as happened with the election of Erika Donalds.

Here’s what you can and should do right now:

  • Begin monitoring the candidates’ activities. Sign up for emails on their websites. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where you can also follow Parents ROCK, Great Schools, Great Minds and Sparker’s Soapbox. Create Google Alerts to monitor the web for new content about them. Follow the money: campaign finance reports are posted monthly.
  • Make sure your voter registration is up-to-date. Confirm with the Supervisor of Elections that your address is current. Importantly, if there is any chance your signature has changed since you last submitted your voter registration, update it now and avoid a possible election day or mail-ballot hassle. Call the Collier Supervisor of Elections office at 239–252-VOTE to learn how.
  • Request a mail ballot. Request a mail ballot from the Supervisor of Elections Office for either all eledtions through the next two General Elections (what I recommend), or for specific elections only. You can do this online, by mail or in person.

Finally, continue reading my Sparker’s Soapbox posts, and share them with your friends. Let them know that there is a great deal at stake in the 2016 School Board elections. It’s not too soon to start paying attention.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, September 14, 2015

School Board Work Session Tuesday - Strategic Plan

Setting the strategic direction for the District is one of the School Board’s most important responsibilities.

At Tuesday's Work Session  Superintendent Patton and senior members of her staff will update the Board on the District’s performance for Year Two of the District’s three-year Strategic Plan, and present the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Strategies they propose to work on in the upcoming, final year of the Plan.

In this post, I’ll provide a quick refresher on the District’s Strategic Plan, a reminder that the Plan played an important part in the Board’s discussion in June of the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals, and an overview of the agenda for Tuesday night.

If you attend or watch Tuesday's meeting, you will see once again that elections have consequences.

The 2014–2016 Strategic Plan - in brief

The Strategic Plan is the District’s roadmap for achieving its vision to have all students complete school prepared for ongoing learning as well as community and global responsibilities.

The current Strategic Plan governs the three school years ending in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and was approved by the School Board in May 2013. It was developed with consideration of research and best practices, including:

  1. Recommendations made by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Council on Accreditation on School Improvement (CASI), a division of AdvancED;
  2. Recommendations from community members received via town hall meetings, community forums, round-table discussions with students, and discussions at local CEO Briefings; and
  3. An extensive review process within the District of 26 strategic plans from other school districts.

The Plan consists of six Goals:

  1. Expand early childhood education to enhance school readiness and early learning.
  2. Extend college and career readiness to advance rigor and relevance.
  3. Engage STEM education to strengthen global awareness and 21st-century learning skills.
  4. Elevate talent management to augment a highly qualified workforce.
  5. Narrow the achievement gap on statewide accountability assessments.
  6. Maintain fiscal responsibility.

When it approved the Plan, the Board also approved a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be reviewed on an annual basis to monitor the District's progress toward each goal. (More here.)

At the beginning of each year of the Plan, the Board approves a set of Strategies to achieve of each of the KPIs. The Strategies will guide District activities for the coming year.

The Goals, KPIs and proposed Strategies for FY 2016 are detailed in the Year Three Strategic Plan document, with which I encourage you to familiarize yourself.

Past Board discussion of the Strategic Plan

At its June meeting, the Board approved, with a 3-to–2 vote, the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals. In my June 16 post about that meeting, I attempted to summarize the Board’s discussion. Donalds and Lichter voted no because they were unable to persuade a majority to make changes to the Superintendent's goals, which were and remain directly tied to the previously-approved three-year Strategic Plan, and procedurally the evaluation and goals could not be voted on separately.

I encourage you to re-read that post, because it provides important background for what is likely to be discussed Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s meeting

Three documents are posted online along with Tuesday's Meeting Agenda:

  • The PowerPoint to be presented, containing an overview of the Plan and the reporting process, and a sample of some of the Year Two Highlights and Results and Year Three Updates;
  • A 76-page detailed report with Year Two Highlights and Year Three Updates on all Strategies covered by the Plan; and
  • A 22-page Year Three Strategic Plan document, containing the Goals, KPIs and specific strategies proposed for the 2015–16 year.

Take a few minutes to look through that last document for an overview of what District staff will be focused on in the coming year.

Tuesday night

Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment beginning at the 5:30 PM start of the meeting, but at Work Sessions, unlike at Regular Board meetings, they may only comment on the topic of the Work Session - in this case, the Strategic Plan.

After public comments, senior District staff will review the progress made in Year Two of the Plan and the Strategies they propose to achieve the Plan’s Year Three Goals and KPIs, and answer questions from the Board. Then the Board will discuss the staff’s recommendations and reach consensus on next steps.

Given the discussion at the June Board meeting, I expect a lively and substantive discussion Tuesday night.

Be an informed observer/participant in a critical part of public education in Collier County by watching the School Board discuss the District Strategic Plan for the 2015–16 school year. Review the materials provided and share your comments with Board members and the Superintendent:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -

The tune in to watch the Board meeting in person (register here if you plan to speak), live on Channel 99 or streamed on the District’s website, or after the fact via the District’s Video-on-Demand.


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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On the Agenda for Tuesday’s School Board Meeting

Updated: 09/07/15 - 12:40 PM

There are three hot items on the Agenda for the Collier County School District (CCPS) Regular School Board Meeting on Tuesday, September 8, beginning at 5:30 PM:

In addition, the Consent Agenda contains 28 items, including approval of a new Collier Charter Academy (Consent Agenda - Item B10) and a one-year extension of the contract with Gulf Coast Charter Academy South (Consent Agenda - Item B11)

The Regular Meeting will adjourn at 6:30 PM for a Final 2015–16 Budget Hearing and Board vote to approve the 2015–16 Millage Rate and Budget. After that, the Regular Meeting will resume.

Highlights of what’s at issue with each of these items follow.

My hope in writing this - as with all my pre-Board Meetings posts - is that you will let Board members know your views on these matters either in person or by email before the meeting. Email addresses are at the end of the post.

Blue Zones Project (Unfinished Business - Item E2)

The Blue Zones Project was first discussed by the Board at its August 11 Meeting. From my pre-meeting post:

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.

At the August meeting, several public speakers and Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter expressed strong opposition to the District’s participation in the Project. See Naples Daily News “Board balks at school inclusion in Blue Zones.” While expressing support, Board member Roy Terry wanted to know how participation would affect District staff. Chair Kathleen Curatolo and Board member Julie Sprague also supported the District’s participation in the Project, beginning with a four-school pilot. The Board agreed to bring the item back for a vote at the September meeting.

As has become all too common, Collier parent/attorney Steven Bracci filed a lawsuit against CCPS Superintendent Kamela Patton, this time claiming her participation in Blue Zone planning meetings violated Florida’s Sunshine Laws. See Naples Daily News "“Collier superintendent sued over Blue Zones initiative” and the lawsuit “Steven J. Bracci vs Kamela Patton.”

I agree with the Naples Daily News Editorial “Collier School Board should support Blue Zones agreement,” which concluded:

Promoting well-being among those who will be around for generations to come makes sense. That’s why we urge the School Board to sign on, then move forward in addressing testing, classroom learning and budget oversight.

A list of community leaders who support the Blue Zones Project is included in the Southwest Florida Blue Zones Project Blueprint. In addition to Dr. Allen Weiss, CEO - NCH Healthcare System, and Bill Barker, Publisher of the Naples Daily News, it includes John Cox, President and CEO - Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Rambosk - Sheriff, Collier County, John Sorey, Mayor - City of Naples, Penny Taylor, Commissioner - Collier County – and more.

Don’t let an angry, vocal minority drown out the majority’s voices of reason. Email School Board members today that you support the Superintendent’s recommendation to participate in the Blue Zones four-school pilot project.

First Reading of School Board Policy 1010: Board - Superintendent Relationship (New Business - Item C29)

This one-page policy has been before the Board several times since February; this is the second time it is being heard as a First Reading. Past controversy about the policy concerned how suggestions for new policies or revisions to existing policies were to be made, specifically in the case of a Board member suggestion that the Superintendent did not support.

The Executive Summary of this item on Tuesday’s Agenda says this revision is necessary to align this policy with other policies and with the Board’s Bylaws. If that’s all that’s behind this, the item should move forward to a Second Reading with little discussion. Stay tuned.

“Tract K” (New Business - Item D3)

“Tract K” is an 11.6-acre parcel of land on Marco Island that was gifted to the District in 1989 by the Deltona Corporation, the developer of Marco Island. According to a 2006 Naples Daily News article, the then-president of the Marco Island Civic Association said it was the intent of the donor that the land be used for the benefit of citizens, and that the documents related to the transfer referred to the parcel as a “school site.”

The parcel has a long history of failed attempts to develop it. A search on the Naples Daily News website shows that in 2006, the Marco Island City Council wanted to buy the land. (More here). In 2008, a Marco Island resident and then-Superintendent Dennis Thompson wanted to put solar panels on the land and use them for energy production. (More here.) In 2010, the the land was wanted for a charter high school, but some Marco Island residents urged instead that Conservation Collier buy the land to protect nesting American Bald Eagles there. (More here.)

In 2011, the District leased the land to the Marco Island Eagle Sanctuary Foundation (Foundation) for $30,000 per year; that lease expires in April 2016. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board will consider two competing proposals for the land:

  • A 5-year Lease Purchase Agreement with the Foundation, under which, should the Foundation exercise its option to purchase the land, the sale proceeds would be distributed “for the benefit of the public school populace of Marco Island and Marco Shores on a proportionate basis to the schools (both District schools and public charter schools) where such students attend,” versus
  • Allowing the Marco Island Academy use of the land as a school site.

Thomas Eastman, CCPS Director Interagency, Real Property and Regulatory Coordination, will present the background and two proposals. (PowerPoint here; draft Lease Purchase Agreement here.) The Superintendent and staff recommend accepting the Foundation’s proposal.

Application for Collier Charter Academy (Consent Agenda - Item B10)

If approved, Collier Charter Academy, operated by the for-profit management company Charter Schools USA, would open in August 2016 under a five-year contract. The Charter would enroll 661 students in grades K through 6 in its first year, expand to grade 8 in 2018, and have a student population of 1,145 by 2020, according to an article in the Naples Herald.

District staff recommends approval of this application. As I’ve written in the past, the District has little discretion over the approval of charter school applications that meet state requirements.

Contract extension - Gulf Coast Charter Academy South (Consent Agenda - Item B11)

Gulf Coast Charter Academy is a tuition-free charter school in the City of Naples for students in grades K through 8. Its current contract with CCPS will expire in June 2016, and it is requesting a one-year extension. According to the Executive Summary, “The District needs to maintain consistency of review and renewable timetables in all of its Charter School contracts,” and as a result, the District recommends that the Board deny the contract extension request.

2015–16 School Tax Millage Rate and Budget (Final Budget Hearing - Agenda)

A July NDN guest commentary by Board Chair Curatolo provided an excellent review of the District’s budget since the 2007 economic downturn. The District has also provided good background information, including 10-year historical data on the value of the District’s tax roll (property value upon which the School tax is levied) and millage rate:

Source: CCPS 2016 Final Budget Book
The proposed 2015–16 millage rate and budget were presented to the public and the Board at a Tentative Budget Hearing on July 28. (PowerPoint here.) They will be presented for final approval on Tuesday.

The proposed millage rate is 5.480 mills, or $5.480 per $1,000 of taxable property value. This rate is 0.100 mills lower than last year’s rate; the reduction is solely attributable to a cut in the Required Local Effort set by the state from 3.332 mills to 3.232 mills. The proposed Discretionary portion of the levy over which the Board has control is 2.248 mills, unchanged since 2009–10.

The budget being presented for approval is $977 million.

As was to be expected, many public speakers and the two newest School Board members spoke against the District’s proposals at the July meeting (Naples Daily News article here). I expect the same this week.

Public Input Requested

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts about any of these items, but especially the Blue Zones Project, with Board members and Superintendent Patton:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -

If you attend the meeting, please wear BLUE to indicate your support of the Blue Zones Project.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.
Note: This post was revised to correct a typo regarding the millage rate. The revised sentence is "The proposed millage rate is 5.480 mills, or $5.480 per $1,000 of taxable property value."