Public comments at the last School Board meeting … and looking ahead

In my last post (“A report on the June 9 School Board meeting”), I reported on the Board’s discussion and subsequent three-to-two-vote to approve its annual self-evaluation and evaluation of the Superintendent. I had written in depth about both processes in a previous post. I believe awareness of the outcomes of these annual Board assessments is critical to being an informed voter in School Board elections. Here’s why.

The Board’s self-evaluation is an important component of the Board’s Governance Model. Responses reflect Board members’ assessments of how effectively they are functioning as a Board and furthering the District’s strategic plan. Since poor Board conduct almost caused the District to lose its accreditation in 2007/2008 (more here), voters should monitor the annual self-evaluation for signs of trouble. And as I wrote last month, this year’s evaluation is cause for concern.

Similarly, voters should monitor the Board’s annual evaluation of the Superintendent to ensure she is meeting expectations. This year, fortunately, she is. (See my post and the Naples Daily News editorial “Supt. Patton deserves all the accolades she received in 2015 evaluation,” behind pay wall.)

My mission – what drives me to write this blog – is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope those previous posts did that.

In this post, I will deliver on last month’s promise to report on the public comments that preceded the business portion of the Board meeting (acknowledging that my notes may not be complete), and how I will cover public comments going forward.

2–1/2 hours of public comments

Twelve community members made comments generally in support of Board members, District staff and/or the Superintendent. Thanks to the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube Channel, you can actually watch clips of several of those speakers, including:

  • Beth Povlow, president of the recently-formed Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE), who introduced the Coalition as having been “born out of the frustration at witnessing increasingly dysfunctional School Board meetings.” Click here.
  • John Lynch, a spokesman for C4QPE, who encouraged Board members to commit to another facilitated session to “resolve [the Board’s] difficulties through compromise, discussion and negotiation.” Click here.
  • Eric Otto, a Collier County parent, who summarized and commended the District on the results of the recent parents’ survey. Click here.
  • Roseanne Mello, a Collier County parent, who thanked the Board and Superintendent for providing an excellent public education for her son, who recently graduated magna cum laude from a Collier high school and was accepted to NYU on a half-scholarship. Click here.
  • Reynerio Joseph Muradaz, a rising junior at Gulf Coast High School, who said that the possibility of “the loss of accreditation is terrifying” and reminded Board members of their responsibility to all 45,000 CCPS students, not just the minority of voters who elected them. Click here.
  • Dianne Mayberry-Hatt, a retired educator who served as a trained facilitator of the 2009 Champions for Learning Connect Now community engagement initiative, who shared the ground rules used in the Connect Now community conversations “that enabled diverse points of view to be heard,” and suggested that it’s time for Connect Now 2.0.  Click here.

Nine community members made comments generally critical of the District and Superintendent. They included:

  • Steve Bracci, a Collier County parent and litigant against the Collier County Public Schools (CCPS),
  • David Bolduc, a Collier County parent and Parents ROCK president,
  • Doug Lewis, a Collier County parent and author of the pre-election “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters.” Mr. Lewis’s reading from “Dreaming in Cuban,” a novel available at five Collier high schools, caused a bit of a stir.

Four community members spoke in support of restoring an invocation to the beginning of School Board meetings. (See “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools,” by ACLU of Tennessee). On a related note, School Board member Kelly Lichter’s husband Nick commented on the subject on the Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page on July 8, writing in part: “WE THE PEOPLE want the invocation …. An invocation before school board meetings is sorely needed in Collier County. Maybe it will help alleviate some of the disdain the three senior board members have towards the public.”

Byron Donalds, husband of School Board member Erika Donalds, Vice President of the Mason Classical Academy Charter School’s Governing Board and 2016 candidate for Florida state legislative District 80, addressed the Board to state that “racist and divisive remarks [were] said to Board members at this dais” and that “politics is happening at this podium.” He was referring to a previous speaker’s reference to the Mason Classical Academy as the “Mason Academy for Middle Class White Students.” (Read more in Mr. Donalds’ letter in the Naples Daily News, calling the characterization a “vile, racist remark,” and in “One of Collier’s top schools drawing criticism for its racial makeup,” both behind pay wall.)

Four community members spoke on other topics.

It was a long 2–1/2 hours, during which upwards of 30 people took advantage of their opportunity under School Board Policy 0169.1 to address the Board and Superintendent. I encourage you to listen to the speaker clips at the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube channel and/or watch some of it through the Video-on-Demand recording of the Board meeting.

My reporting on public comments going forward

I’ve learned a lot about our community by watching and listening to public comments at School Board meetings. Mostly I’ve heard about issues that critics of the senior Board members and the Superintendent think are important. I’ve seen a small number of angry people complain and criticize the same things month after month, with little hope of changing the outcome before the next election.

The good news is that those frequent critics have energized and engaged another group of voters – community members, parents, grandparents, and at least one student – to become more informed and involved.

The Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE) and Great Schools, Great Minds’ website, Facebook Page and YouTube Channel would likely not have formed without the ongoing disruption and unpleasantness displayed by some of the frequent speakers at School Board meetings.

That civic engagement has strengthened my commitment to what I am doing. It has also made easier my decision that reporting on the public comments portion of School Board meetings is not critical to furthering my mission to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting.

Going forward, readers of this blog can expect continued reporting on Collier School Board actions as they relate to CCPS policy, governance, performance, and the strategic plan – things I believe informed voters should know. In addition, I’ll be expanding my scope to include information about upcoming elections, candidates for County and statewide office, and issues I think are relevant to voters’ decisions in the 2016 elections. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

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