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 – email@example.com
Erika Donalds – firstname.lastname@example.org
Kelly Lichter – email@example.com
Julie Sprague – firstname.lastname@example.org
Roy Terry – email@example.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.