Three Collier County School Board races will be on your August ballot. What does a School Board do? Why should you care?
In this post, you’ll find the answers to those questions — and more.
On the Ballot — and Who Votes
In Florida, School Board members are elected in nonpartisan, at-large elections by all voters countywide. Collier County’s School Board is composed of five members who serve for four-year, staggered terms. In midterm election years, the three seats representing the schools in Districts 1, 3, and 5 are on the ballot. In general election years, the seats representing Districts 2 and 4 are on the ballot.
Every voter may vote for one candidate for each seat. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote for each seat, the top two candidates for the seat will appear on the November General Election ballot.
Why You Should Care
We depend on our public schools to educate and graduate civically aware, responsible, productive young adults who know how to work well with others, solve problems, think critically, evaluate information, and draw conclusions based on facts. Whether they begin their careers upon graduation from high school or go on to college, they are the workforce of the future, staffing our hospitals, nursing homes, law enforcement, military, and more.
Further, the local School Board tax is one of the largest items on your tax bill, about 20 – 25% of the total. School boards have the power of taxation. To have a say in the assessment of the local tax and management of the funds raised, you must elect capable board members.
Finally, a well-run school district means higher home prices and greater ability to sell a home in the future. Local realtors say the quality of our schools is often the first thing clients new to the area ask about, as it directly affects property values.
Responsibilities of the School Board
The League of Women Voters of Collier County summed it up by saying that the four main responsibilities of a School Board are to:
- set priorities for the district;
- hire, support, and evaluate the superintendent;
- oversee the finances and budget; and
- listen to the needs of the staff, the parents, and community.
More specifically, Article IX, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution provides that the school board “shall operate, control, and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” Florida Statutes §1001.42 elaborates on the powers and duties of district school boards.
The Collier County School District: An Overview
The Collier County School District (Collier County Public Schools or CCPS) serves 48,000 students in 31 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, 8 high schools, 1 virtual school, a K-12 school (Everglades City School), 1 Alternative Center, and 8 Charter Schools. (www.collierschools.com)
Geographically, the District covers 2300 square miles, an area roughly the size of the state of Delaware. It is the 115th largest school district in the country out of more than 14,000. To service the widespread area, its fleet of 360 school buses travels to 12,360 bus stops, a distance of 6.2 million miles every year.
CCPS is a recognized leader in Florida when it comes to technology. There are approximately 54,000 networked computers in use district-wide, giving it a better than 1-to-1 computer/student ratio.
“A” Rated School District
CCPS has been an “A” rated Florida school district since 2017. Its most recent “A” rating, received in July 2022, was particularly significant considering the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenging learning conditions during the 2021-22 school year.
CCPS is one of 14 districts to earn the “A” distinction in 2022, in comparison with 24 Florida school districts rated as an “A” in 2019. Additionally, CCPS is one of only five districts (3%) who have been “A” rated since 2017.
In addition to rating the state’s 67 school districts, the Florida Department of Education also rates the individual schools. Twenty-nine (29) of CCPS’s 51 traditional public schools (57%) earned an “A” and none earned a grade of “D” or “F.” For the first time ever, the five Immokalee-area elementary schools received a grade of “A” or “B”. Additionally, the seven schools in the Golden Gate feeder pattern either maintained or improved their grade to a “B”, with one improving to an “A”. For more, see Jul. 7, 2022, Assessment Brief.
Scores on Statewide Tests
Scores on statewide 2021-22 end-of-course exams released on Jun. 30 showed another year of improvements in Collier Schools. For the second year in a row, the District outperformed the state in all 21 assessed areas and exceeded the state average in every content area. See Jun. 30, 2022, Assessment Brief and FSA scores are out: Here’s how Collier and Lee schools performed on state tests, Naples Daily News, 7/1/22.
The District and all of its schools are accredited by AdvancED, the parent organization for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI). Read the most recent (2017) Quality Assurance Review.
According to the accreditation report, “A strong commitment to continuous improvement was noted both at the system level and in the schools. Support for the professional growth of all teachers as well as all other staff members was noted. Continuous improvement of student achievement was and is a major focus of the system.”
In terms of suggestions for improvement: “Perhaps the most important recommendation is to address the … level of trust among board members and between certain board members and the superintendent.” They were referring to what were well-known and documented problems at the time. See, for example, Editorial: Reviews show the Collier County School Board remains a house divided, Naples Daily News, 6/12/16.
The 4-year high school graduation rate for CCPS is 92.6%. This is the highest rate in CCPS history, and again, particularly noteworthy given the challenging teaching and learning conditions due to the pandemic. As evidence of the District’s commitment to continuous improvement, the graduation rate has increased 20.1 percentage points since 2011 and 0.4 percentage points compared to 2020.
CCPS outperformed the state’s graduation rate by 2.5 percentage points and grew at a faster rate than the state when comparing graduation rates from 2020 to 2021. Read the Assessment Briefing.
Note: The fact that 7.4% of students did not graduate does not mean they will be non-graduates. In many instances, students can complete graduation requirements, but may take longer than four years. Non-graduates include students who: 1) may have been retained as they have not completed all of their requirements and are still in school, 2) received Certificates of Completion, 3) received GED-based diplomas, or 4) are continuing their education in adult education programs.
English is not the first language for nearly 16% of CCPS’s 48,000 students. Collectively, they speak 104 different heritage languages and come from 76 different countries of origin. More than 7,500 are in the District’s English Language Learners (ELL) program.
More than 55% of students live in homes where English is not the first language, and sometimes isn’t even spoken. Forty-two (42) percent of students live in Spanish-speaking homes; 6% live in homes where Haitian Creole is spoken.
The majority (65%) of the District’s children live in homes that are Economically Needy. Five percent are migrant.
The student body is “majority-minority”: 32% White, 52% Hispanic, 11% Black, 2% Asian, 3% Multi-Racial and other.
Sixteen percent of students are eligible for Exceptional Student Education (ESE). Of these, about one-quarter (5 percent of all students) are Gifted (“have superior intellectual development and are capable of high performance”). All receive, as required by state law, special services and support beyond the “normal” classroom setting.
For more on the District demographics, click here.
Teaching and Non-Teaching Staff
The District employs 3,160 highly qualified teachers, 46% with advanced degrees. Its student/teacher ratio of 15.2/1 compares favorably with the 17.3/1 ratio for the state as a whole and 15.4/1 ratio nationwide (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020-21).
In total, the District employs approximately 6,100 people, as follows:
Superintendent Kamela Patton
Kamela Patton is in her twelfth year as Superintendent of Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). Under her direction, CCPS has improved its district ranking to tie for 5th in the State from 33rd eleven years ago.
Patton was recognized as Florida’s 2021 Superintendent of the Year (more here) and one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year (more here). She was also last year’s Naples Daily News Outstanding Citizen of the Year (more here).
More honors, awards, and accomplishments are summarized on the Superintendent’s website here.
While academic success is the primary focus of the school district, under Patton’s leadership, the district plans to be debt-free within 4 years, a period that includes building a new high school and saving $41 million of interest.
It will be the responsibility of the School Board to select her replacement.
With this information as background, I will share my research into the candidates running for the three Collier County School Board seats on the August ballot in my next post.