My hopes for Tuesday’s School Board meeting

This coming Tuesday evening will be packed with not just one but two School Board meetings. The regular monthly meeting will begin as usual with academic highlights and recognitions at 5 PM followed by the business agenda beginning at 5:30 PM. That meeting will adjourn at 6:30 PM for a Hearing about the proposed 2015–16 District Budget. When that meeting ends, the regular Board meeting will resume.

In this post, I’ll tell you what I’ll be hoping for as I watch the regular Board meeting. Click here for the agenda.

Governance Model Review – Agenda Item C1

In 2010, the School Board adopted a Governance Model to codify the way the District School Board of Collier County will operate. It includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Superintendent
  • Policies review process
  • Strategic plan
  • Superintendent evaluation process
  • Board evaluation process

At the request of Board member Julie Sprague at last month’s meeting, the Board will discuss revisiting and possibly making changes to the Model. Discussion will include date and time of the review session and selection of a facilitator to lead the discussion, as well as any related cost.

While the Model worked well for previous Boards, this would be an opportunity for the two newer Board members (Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter) to express their views and, if shared by the majority, changes to the Model could be made.

In my opinion, past interactions on the dais between the three senior Board members (Kathleen Curatolo, Julie Sprague and Roy Terry) and two newer Board members make obvious the need for an outside facilitator – and one whom all Board members trust to be impartial. The newer Board members were critical of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) representative who facilitated a previous session, and support an alternative coalition of school boards because of differences with the FSBA. An FSBA facilitator would likely not be acceptable to them.

As I watch this discussion, I will be hoping for a unanimous vote to hold a session to discuss the Governance Model, led by a facilitator acceptable to all five Board members.

Outside Counsel for the Board – Agenda Item C2

Donalds and Lichter want the Board to have its own attorney, separate from the District’s, believing there’s an inherent conflict of interest currently with the District General Counsel representing the Board, the Superintendent and staff.

A Summary of Issues accompanying the agenda says there are examples of both models both in Florida and nationally. With respect to conflicts of interest:

… While this rarely occurs, since the corporate direction, policy, and operational goals are typically an alignment, it is the responsibility of the General [Counsel] to assess the conflict and bring in outside counsel if needed.

According to the Summary, the District has only had three conflicts of interest since 1992.

The issue has been raised before, but this is the first time it has been an agenda item to be voted on. A March 2015 Naples Daily News article reported that:

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo says she can’t justify the expenditure. “I’m not interested in hiring a separate [counsel] because it’s far too much of a burden on taxpayer dollars,” she said.

But Lichter says the board counsel would pay for itself because there ultimately could be less lawsuits over procedural issues. The last such lawsuit, settled last month, cost the district $6,500.

Therein lies the real issue: the recent spate of lawsuits brought against the District by a few disgruntled parents. It began with suits filed by parent/attorney Steve Bracci concerning the District’s 2013 decision to make changes to its after-school programs. That decision led to the formation of Parents ROCK by now-Board member Donalds. (Background here.) Bracci subsequently brought other suits, as did parent Cory Seegmiller, after Curatolo told him to “speak to issues and not people” while addressing a Board meeting.

At the June Board meeting, Sprague asked District General Counsel Jonathan Fishbane to comment on “the frivolous lawsuits filed against us.” Fishbane said that “very, very many” suits have filed, referring to those filed by Sports Club, Parents ROCK and Bracci, and the District has won them all. Most recently, all five federal counts brought by Seegmiller were dismissed while his two state counts are still pending. Fishbane said the cost to the District of these suits was “a lot of money … more than $100,000.” (See 2–1/2 minute clip of the Sprague/Fishbane exchange about the lawsuits here.)

Watching the discussion Tuesday evening, I will be paying attention to the way Board members conduct themselves. My hope is that they listen respectfully to each other, keep an open mind in considering the need for two in-house lawyers (or lack thereof), and then vote so that this matter can be closed once and for all.

School Board Self-Evaluation – Agenda Item C280

At its discussion of the Board Self-Evaluation at the June meeting, Sprague proposed that the Board conduct another self-evaluation in November, when they will have been together for a full year. The idea is that they will take steps between now and then, including the facilitated Governance Model Review meeting discussed above, that will help them work better together, resulting in an improved evaluation.

Given the terrible results reflected in the mid-year evaluation (see my post of June 3), I hope the Board votes unanimously in support of this motion on Tuesday.

Should the suggestion come up, I would not support any effort to change the evaluation instrument between now and then. The reason to do another evaluation is to compare the Board’s May and November assessments to see if there is improvement. Changing the questions would make a like-for-like comparison impossible.

Further, since the self-evaluation is part of the Governance Model and linked to the strategic plan, the time to consider changes to the instrument is after the Board agrees on any changes to the Governance Model and after it adopts the next multi-year strategic plan (scheduled for 2015–16).

Preliminary 2016 Florida Legislative Platform – Agenda Item E90

The Board will hear a presentation on the District’s proposed priorities for the 2016 State Legislative Session. The items included are in reaction to legislation passed during the 2015 Session and/or based on other key issues anticipated to come forward during the 2016 Session.

Three of the five priorities pertain to funding:

  • Substantially increase the Base Student Allocation to cover inflation, workload adjustments and provide salary increases for teachers and other district employees.
  • Restore funding so that students can meet requirements for advanced study and industry certified programs without financially penalizing school districts.
  • Create and fund a separate program exclusively for the 100 low (reading) performing elementary schools so that funding follows the identified students/schools and is not mixed with other programs, and districts have flexibility in how the extra 180 hours per year are scheduled and provided.

In addition, the District wants the Legislature to extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017. The Rationale for Legislative Priorities summarizes five reasons this extension is needed.

Finally, the District wants the Legislature to eliminate student learning growth as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations. According to the Rationale:

Teachers and school administrators do not receive student learning growth (value-added model – VAM) data until after the following school year has already started. At that point, teachers have already established professional growth plans for the year based on the feedback received at the end of the prior year on instructional practice and based on the individual student assessment data that has been reviewed. The VAM serves no meaningful purpose when it is received. Student assessment data should be used for its original intent, to inform instruction in the classroom and to guide decisions about professional learning, and not as a means to evaluate employees.

It’s important for all of us – teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members – to understand the difference between the things local School Districts can change on their own, and the things they have no control over because they are mandated by state or federal law. By watching the presentation and Board discussion of this agenda item, I hope to further my understanding of these differences.

School Board Comments

One of the last items on the agenda is School Board Comments. This is an opportunity for each Board member to make any comments she/he wants about any topic. Having read the summary of Board member comments in the minutes of last month’s meeting, I realized that much of interest is discussed and that this portion of the meeting – despite the late hour – should be monitored by the public. We can’t know in advance what comments Board members will make, but I plan to watch for items like those last month that provide insight into District matters not otherwise known by the public.

For more information about the meeting, including the agenda and all related materials, visit the School Board Meeting Agenda Page of the CCPS website.

If you have input to share with the Board and Superintendent about any of the agenda items, you can attend the meeting in person (be sure to register in advance), or email them:

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

Please share 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.

Scroll to Top