Sunday, February 22, 2015

Anti-Common Core Resolution on Tuesday's BCC agenda -- again

As I wrote previously, the Collier Board of County Commissioners decided to wait until after the School Board meeting to consider the anti-Common Core resolution sponsored by Commissioners Henning and Nance at the request of a representative of the Collier County Libertarian Party.

You can watch a YouTube clip of that gentleman addressing the School Board on Common Core at its meeting here.

Well, even though the School Board decided to take no action on its previously-approved 2015 Legislative Platform, the item is once again on the County’s Consent Agenda for this Tuesday’s meeting.

The Resolution reads, in part:
WHEREAS, government closest to the people is the form of government that best serves the people; and 
WHEREAS, the Collier County School Board, superintendent and teachers are the best people equipped to service our students and parents.  
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY hereby calls upon the Governor and the Florida Legislature to protect Florida’s Constitutional grant of broad home rule powers bestowed upon Florida’s School Boards to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum, and assessments to the local County School Districts under State of Florida, Article 9, Section 4b.   
Note the reference to "standards, curriculum and assessments." This is how they cleverly yet erroneously conflate standards (determined at the state level) with curriculum (decided locally) and assessments (a combination of state and local decisions).

You can read the item's Executive Summary here and the full Resolution here.

Below is the email I sent to the Collier County Commissioners asking them to pull the item from the Consent Agenda and vote no.
Dear Commissioners,

Item 16.H.3 “Education Sovereignty” is on the Consent Agenda for your Tuesday, February 24, meeting. 
At its meeting on February 10th, the School Board discussed the need to change its 2015 Legislative Platform and decided not to do so. 
I urge you to respect THEIR sovereignty in this matter.

Please pull Item 16.H.3 from the Consent Agenda and vote no on the “Education Sovereignty” Resolution.  
Your emails to the Commission two weeks ago succeeded in getting them to defer this item to this week's meeting. Your emails are needed again.

Please take a few minutes and ask the Commissioners  to VOTE NO ON THE "EDUCATION SOVEREIGNTY" (aka Anti-Common Core) Resolution.

Commission Chair Tim Nance - TimNance@colliergov.net
Commissioner Donna Fiala - DonnaFiala@colliergov.net
Commissioner Tom Henning - TomHenning@colliergov.net
Commissioner Georgia Hiller - GeorgiaHiller@colliergov.net
Commissioner Penny Taylor - PennyTaylor@colliergov.net

Our elected County Commissioners need to know we’re watching them.


___________________

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Textbook review policy could be decided tonight!

Based on today’s Naples Daily News front page article “Textbook issues will be front and center at School Board meeting," tonight may be the last time the public can weigh in on Policy 2520 Instructional Materials and Resources before the School Board votes on the policy.

See my post titled Tuesday for more information.

If you haven’t let the Board know your thoughts on how textbooks should be chosen in Collier County, now’s the time! Email Board members as soon as possible so they will have time to read and consider your input.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tuesday

Updated 2/17/15, 9:15 AM and 10:05 AM

Much of substance will be debated and decided at Tuesday’s School Board Workshop and Special Board Meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m. (Get directions.) The focus will be on School Board Policies, and as concerned community members, we need to beware.

In this post, I’ll outline what you should know, what I expect to happen, and what I hope you’ll do between now and Tuesday morning. The actions taken at the next several Board meetings will have lasting and far-reaching consequences for how the Board and School District operate, how students and staff will be treated in school, and how the textbooks they use will be chosen.

Tuesday’s discussions will be divided into three parts:
  1. Policy 2520 - Intructional Materials and Resources (i.e. the textbook review process required by SB864) - Second Reading. Click here for background.
  2. Various School Board Policies - First Reading.
  3. Policy 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship - Discussion.
Policy 2520 - Intructional Materials and Resources - Second Reading

As a result of a new law passed by the Florida Legislature last year (SB864), the School Board is responsible to select, and for the content of, all textbooks. It may choose textbooks from a state-approved list, its own locally-selected list, or a combination of both. It must provide an opportunity for parental/community involvement in the process, and for a parent to object to adopted or to-be-adopted textbooks.

Policy 2520 sets forth how the Board will meet the requirements of SB864.

The public must be given two opportunities to provide input on proposed policies and policy changes before being voted on by the Board. The "first reading" of this policy took place at last month’s School Board Workshop on curriculum. Because this part of the agenda will take place as a Special Board Meeting, Board action (e.g. to make changes to or vote on the draft policy) can be taken by vote of the majority of members. You can read the draft policy, reflecting changes proposed by Board members last month, here.

I will use the word “textbooks” to mean all instructional materials covered by this policy.

These are some of the important elements of the policy:
  • The Superintendent is responsible for developing the “rubric of criteria to evaluate instructional materials to be reviewed” that is “quantitative in nature.”
  • The “Instructional Materials Review Process” is outlined in detail, as is the composition of 15 to 21 person “Instructional materials Review Committees” comprised of:
    • 1/3 teachers nominated by their principals;
    • 1/3 administrators and/or subject-matter experts nominated by the School District head of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction; and
    • 1/3 parents, community members or others with “content area knowledge and expertise” nominated by Board Members and the Superintendent.
  • “Expertise shall be understood to mean that a person serving on a Committee has developed skill and/or knowledge in the textbook adoption subject or content area based upon education and experience that would enable such person to be able to form an opinion in the subject or content area that would assist in the Committee’s review.”
  • The process by which a parent may object to adopted or to-be-adopted instructional materials will begin with an informal discussion between the parent and the principal, and provide three opportunities for the objecting parent to escalate an unsatisfactory decision:
    1. formal review by the relevant School Materials Review Committee appointed by the principal and comprised of at least seven people including at least one parent who is a member of the school’s School Advisory Committee (SAC);
    2. formal review by the District Materials Committee chaired by the Superintendent or his/her designee and comprised of eight additional people including a parent representative from the SAC from the school where the petition has been filed and a non-parent member of the community chosen from a list of interested persons; and
    3. public hearing before the School Board, whose decision will be final.
Depending on Board action, the policy will either go forward to a vote or, if changes are substantive be brought back for a first read of the revised policy, at the next Board meeting.

I don’t know which way it will go, but I am certain there will be considerable public comment and Board discussion, just as there was at the first reading last month. Hopefully public speakers and Board members will focus their comments on the policy itself, and not on the subject of Common Core or the possibility of textbook censorship, neither of which are relevant to the business at hand.

Once action on this policy is completed, the Special Meeting will be adjourned and the rest of the meeting will take place as a Board Workshop (aka Work Session), which is defined in the Board’s Bylaws as being:
… solely for the purpose of communicating information and general discussion. The Board shall take no formal action in a work session nor shall they agree to any decisions with respect to issues which may be brought forward at a regular or special Board meeting.
Various School Board Policies - First Reading

The District is proposing changes to 23 existing policies and one new policy. The public will have the opportunity to comment on each. These are some to be aware of:

Policy 0160 - Meetings - This part of the Bylaws governs how School Board meetings operate. With the business portion now starting at 5:30 p.m. and public comments being heard before each agenda item, community members have had to wait for hours to speak to the matter(s) of interest to them. Changes being proposed move public comments to the beginning of each meeting. In part:
The opportunity to be heard need not occur at the same meeting at which the Board takes official action on the proposition if the opportunity occurs at a meeting that is during the decision-making process and is within reasonable proximity in time before the meeting at which the Board takes the official action. This policy does not prohibit the Board from maintaining orderly conduct or proper decorum in a public meeting….

Any person who wishes to speak on a proposition on which the Board will take official action or during the public comments portion of the meeting, must, prior to the commencement of the proposition or public comment portion of the meeting, complete and submit a card in person, identifying the proposition to be addressed or whether it is part of public comments….

The presiding officer may: interrupt, warn, or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed comments unrelated to the proposition being considered or outside the scope of District business, abusive, obscene, or irrelevant; ….
This is a much-needed change which I fully support. It is sure to generate much public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

Policy 2240 - Controversial Issues - This policy governs “the introduction and proper educational use of controversial issues in the instructional program.” Language is being proposed to address the Barron Collier Choir matter that was the subject of much controversy last year:
With respect to District co-curricular programs, if a matter arises in which a parent and/or student is concerned that songs or music to be performed are from a sacred tradition that the parent or student believes conflicts with the student’s deeply held religious beliefs, then that student will be allowed to be excused for that portion or the portions of the performance containing such sacred songs and music. However, the student will nevertheless be permitted to participate in all other aspects of the performance without incurring any penalty including any reduction in the performance grade or loss of credit for the performance or for the course generally.
See my posts “Support the School District’s compromise” and “Tonight’s show will go on, but a question and an issue remain.”

This proposed change will not satisfy those who want a complete opt-out option, so I expect many public comments on this matter.

Policy 8350 - Confidentiality - This operational policy governs the use and treatment of confidential information in the custody of the School District. The proposal adds “Limitations on Collection and Retention of Certain Information” including “information on the political affiliation, voting history, religious affiliation, or biometric information of a student or a parent or sibling of a student” and states that “No report or record relative to a student which includes a copy of a student’s fingerprints will be maintained by the District.”

I don’t think this should be a controversial change, but it is possible some may not feel it goes far enough. It’s sure to generate some discussion.

Policy 9140 - School Board Subcommittees - The District is proposing the deletion of this policy that was adopted in 2010. It provided for the establishment by the School Board of subcommittees focused on education and operations. The purpose of the subcommittees was “to facilitate community understanding of District functions and to gather community input” and to “give the administration an opportunity to bring forward issues and initiatives for community dialog.” These subcommittees have not been active during the current superintendent’s term.

It is possible that community members may speak against deleting this policy.

Policy 1010 - Board-Superintendent Relationship - Discussion

In this part of the meeting, the Board will discuss its existing policy, in anticipation of a first reading at the March 10 Board meeting.

There is no indication why this policy is on the agenda, but I suspect that one or more Board members would like to propose changes. That would be consistent with the “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters” signed by the two newest Board members and drafted by a frequently-critical public speaker at Board meetings.

By signing that document, those Board members promised to “direct the Board attorney to … declare the Superintendent’s contract extension … as void” and to “[modify] the existing ‘termination for cause’ and ‘termination with-out cause’ provisions [of the Superintendent’s contract] to give a simple Board majority the flexibility needed to incentivize and hold the Superintendent accountable.”

For more on the “contract,” see my posts here, here, here (“SWFL Citizens Alliance wants control of the School Board”) and here (“Dr. Patton’s contract extension”).

If that is, in fact, why this matter is on the agenda, I sincerely hope the other three Board members quickly put it to rest and refuse to bring any changes to it forward. Enough is enough!

What I hope you will do

Each of the policies to be discussed at the meeting should be accessible through the Meeting Agenda, although Mac and iOS users may have trouble. If so, call the District Communications Department at (239) 377–0180 and ask them to email them to you.

Once again, I ask you to let your voice be heard. Let the School Board members know you are paying attention, what you think about any of the proposed policy changes and how you want them to vote. Don’t let a very vocal but small group led by the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, Libertarian Party of Collier County and Parents ROCK disrupt the way our District is run.

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com

Note: The discussion of Policy 2520, above, misstated the number of times a policy must be previewed before a Board vote. A vote can occur after two "readings," not three.


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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Progress!

A huge “thank you” if you are among those who urged the county commissioners not to support the revised anti-Common Core Resolution at today’s Board of County Commissioners (BCC) Meeting as I asked on Monday.

The item was pulled from the consent agenda (a collection of supposedly non-controversial items not requiring discussion or independent action) where, in my opinion, it should never have been in the first place, and discussed first thing.

The BCC decided to defer the item until after tonight’s School Board meeting at which the School Board’s legislative platform will be discussed.

So unfortunately, the item still isn’t dead. It will be back before the Commissioners at their February 24th meeting.

But the message is clear. You made a difference. I have no doubt that you changed the course of events by taking a few minutes to write those emails. We’re not where we want to be, but we have their attention.

Stay tuned. More to come.



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Monday, February 9, 2015

Again...

This week brings the continuation of two attempts to get our elected officials to denounce Common Core, though using a new message frame: "restore local control." (See “Recent focus on textbooks and Common Core: why now, and what’s at stake.”)

On Tuesday, the Board of Collier County Commissioners (BCC) will take up a revised anti-Common Core resolution, as I anticipated last week in “We still have work to do.”

And that same evening, the School Board will reconsider the 2015 Legislative Platform it unanimously adopted last August. See “The Anti-Common Core Resolution, the Collier School Board and the State Legislature” for why this usually-annual discussion is on the agenda again so soon.

I expect (at least, I hope) this will be the last time this matter will come before both elected bodies this year. Not only do I oppose the goals of those proposing it, but I fear it is taking attention away from the REAL business of our elected officials.

In this post, I will share my “open letters” to the County Commission and to the School Board. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to send similar letters yourself, and that you’ll attend Tuesday’s BCC meeting and/or School Board meeting to show your interest and concern.

Open Letter to Commissioners Fiala, Henning, Hiller, Nance and Taylor
Subject: 2/10/15 BCC Meeting Agenda Item 16.H.5: Recommendation to adopt a Resolution petitioning Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature to enact legislation that will restore the local School Boards’ control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments


Dear Commissioners,

Thank you for your wise decision at your last meeting to not support a Resolution telling the locally-elected Collier County School Board what to do. You correctly concluded that since the School Board is charged with overseeing the operation of our public schools and setting policy, interfering in their business would have been inappropriate.

However I do not agree with your decision to bring back a revised Resolution, this time directed solely at Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature. I urge you to take no action on the revised Resolution and to let the matter end. Here’s why:
  1. The Resolution furthers a key legislative priority of the Libertarian Party of Collier County and Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance (SFCA), but not of the BCC. The Resolution was initially put forward by Jared Grifoni, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC), Peter Richter, Vice Chairman of the LPCC, and Keith Flaugh, who leads the Southwest Florida Citizen Alliance. Both groups are committed to stopping Common Core. In an August 2013 news release, the LPCC announced that it “condemn[ed] Common Core in the state of Florida and [called] for actions leading to its full repeal, including an immediate halt in implementation.” On its website, SFCA prominently lists “Stop Common Core” as a current initiative. You did not yourselves include “stopping Common Core” or “home rule” for Collier’s schools in your own 2015 Legislative Platform. By supporting this Resolution and unnecessarily aligning yourself with the priorities of these other groups, you detract from your own legislative priorities.
  2. The language in the Resolution is the type identified with ideologically-based groups. I submit that it is unnecessary and inappropriate for you to instruct the Florida Legislature and Governor about what the U.S. Constitution says.
  3. The Resolution is misleading, if not factually inaccurate. It cites the Florida Constitution, Article 9, Section 4b, as the basis for directing the Governor and Legislature to take action “to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum, and assessments to the local County School Districts.” However there is no mention of standards, curriculum or assessments in Article 9, Section 4b, which simply says:
The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district and determine the rate of school district taxes within the limits prescribed herein. Two or more school districts may operate and finance joint educational programs.
I urge you to remain focused on the legislative priorities for Collier County that you so wisely identified previously. Leave interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution, and matters of educational policy, standards, curriculum and assessments to those whom we voters elected to represent us in those matters.

Respectfully,



Open Letter to School Board Members Curatolo, Donalds, Lichter, Sprague, Terry
Re: 2/10/15 School Board Meeting Agenda Item 40: E90 Preliminary 2015 Florida Legislative Platform


Dear School Board Members,

Thank you to for wisely deciding at your last meeting not to consider a Resolution sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Collier County and the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance to ask the Florida Legislature and Governor Rick Scott “to reclaim Florida’s educational sovereignty and return control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments to the local county school districts.” You correctly pointed out that the School Board had, following existing procedure, already adopted its 2015 legislative platform, and that it had also participated in developing the Florida School Boards Association’s legislative platform.

However I do not agree with the decision to bring back the previously-adopted 2015 legislative platform for discussion and am dismayed to see it on the agenda for this week’s meeting. Here’s why:
  1. It sets a bad precedent to reopen a previously-decided School Board matter simply because it was decided prior to the election of a newly-seated member. The School Board makes many decisions on an annual basis, including approval of its legislative platform. If you go forward with this discussion, on what basis will you decide which other previous decisions to reconsider before their time?
  2. It’s not as if you missed something other education experts thought was important. This matter was not included in the priorities of the Florida School Boards Association, the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards, or the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. In fact, the Florida Education Association says on its website, “Common Core isn’t going to take away local control. The standards aren’t a curriculum which means that states and local districts still get to decide how they’ll meet the standards.”
  3. You should not align yourselves with a key legislative priority of the ideologically-based Libertarian Party of Collier County and Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance (SFCA). The Resolution you were asked to consider at your last meeting was put forward by Jared Grifoni, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC), Peter Richter, Vice Chairman of the LPCC, and Keith Flaugh, who leads the Southwest Florida Citizen Alliance. Both groups are committed to stopping Common Core. In an August 2013 news release, the LPCC announced that it “condemn[ed] Common Core in the state of Florida and [called] for actions leading to its full repeal, including an immediate halt in implementation.” On its website, SFCA prominently lists “Stop Common Core” as a current initiative. If you incorporate their concerns into your previously-adopted Legislative Platform, you will unnecessarily align yourself with the priorities of those organizations and detract from your own legislative priorities.
I urge you to take no action to revise your previously-adopted legislative platform.

Respectfully,



Let your voice be heard before Tuesday’s meetings
Write to the five County Commissioners, the five School Board members (cc Superintendent Patton). Urge them to drop this matter and get on with the pressing business of the County and the School Board.

Commission Chair Tim Nance - TimNance@colliergov.net
Commissioner Donna Fiala - DonnaFiala@colliergov.net
Commissioner Tom Henning - TomHenning@colliergov.net
Commissioner Georgia Hiller - GeorgiaHiller@colliergov.net
Commissioner Penny Taylor - PennyTaylor@colliergov.net

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
School Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com



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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Anti-Common Core Resolution, the Collier School Board and the State Legislature

At the January 13th School Board meeting, Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter sought to have an anti-Common Core resolution put on the School Board agenda.

I have written about this resolution before. Here in Collier County, groups led by the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance and the Libertarian Party of Collier County have been working to have it adopted by the Marco Island City Council (which defeated the resolution last week), the Naples City Council, the Collier Board of County Commissioners (see previous post), as well as the Collier School Board. The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition includes several Collier County groups including the Libertarian Party of Collier County, the Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance, Florida Eagle Forum, the Collier Tea Party, the Tea Party Network, and more.

In response to the request to put the resolution on the agenda, School Board member Roy Terry pointed out that the Board had, following existing procedure, already adopted its 2015 legislative platform, and that it had also participated in developing the Florida School Boards Association’s legislative platform. Board Chair Kathy Curatolo, also referring to the existing procedure, declined to put the resolution on the Board’s agenda.

Ms. Donalds then said that since she was not on the Board when its 2015 platform was adopted, she wanted the platform itself brought back for further discussion. That item is on the agenda for next Tuesday's School Board meeting.

Collier School Board's Legislative Platform
So let’s look at that 2015 Legislative Platform, which was adopted unanimously by the School Board at its August 12, 2014, meeting.

Five legislative priorities are listed.

The first reflects the Board’s concerns about high-stakes testing. It asks the Legislature to “Modify the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017 in order to provide necessary time for … the implementation of Florida standards, … the development of a robust technology infrastructure to support online testing and digital instructional materials, and … the valid and appropriate development/use of new state and local student assessment results for personnel evaluations, performance pay, and school grading.”

The second concerns the academic calendar. It asks the Legislature to repeal the law (1001.42 (4)(f) F.S.) prohibiting schools from starting earlier than 14 days prior to Labor Day to allow local flexibility to select the opening date for school. (This year, with Labor Day on September 7, the law makes it impossible for students to have their exams before the winter holiday break. I’ve heard that this provision was put in the law to benefit Disneyworld and the businesses along the I–4 corridor which rely on student workers during the busy summer months.)

The rest are requests for funding:
  • “Restore funding for courses beyond a base 6-period/1.0 FTE day … so that students can meet requirements for advanced study and industry certified programs without financially penalizing school districts.”
  • “Create and fully fund a separate categorical program exclusively for the 300 low (reading) performing elementary schools requiring an extra hour of intensive reading instruction so that funding follows the identified students/schools and is not mixed with other categorical programs.”
  • "Address concerns with capital outlay funding by restoring the .5 mill levy that school boards had up until 2008–09 …, by identifying new state revenue streams for public school construction, remodeling, upkeep and maintenance, life-safety and technology, and by increasing the cap placed on the use of capital outlay tax for insurance and vehicles … based on the rising costs of insurance."
What Legislative priorities have other Florida education experts set?
The Florida School Boards Association (FSBA)’s 2015 legislative platform includes the items prioritized by the Collier School Board, plus more. But it says nothing about Common Core.

The Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards' 2015 legislative program includes among its priority goals "Ensure that, in all cases, legislation be evaluated to provide that it does not conflict with the constitutional and home rule authority of school boards to 'operate, control, and supervise' all public schools within their school districts," as well as funding, accountability and high-stakes testing. But it too says nothing about Common Core.


The Florida Association of District School Superintendents’ 2015 legislative platform generally focuses on the same issues as our local School Board and the FSBA: funding and high-stakes testing, but says nothing about Common Core. With respect to the Florida State Standards, it says:
“Superintendents strongly support the Florida State Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics.”
The Florida Education Association (teachers' union) says, "Parents who understand Common Core are better able to help their child learn." In a section on its website called Common Core Help for Parents, it lists these "Common Core Facts:"
  • "This is not a federal mandate or curriculum. These are state standards which means each state could choose whether or not to adopt them. Teachers actually have a little more flexibility in their teaching."
  • "Common Core isn’t going to take away local control. The standards aren’t a curriculum which means that states and local districts still get to decide how they’ll meet the standards."
  • "You will feel some shifts… and that’s a good thing! Finally, an opportunity to return critical thinking and reasoning to the teaching and learning process. Parents will begin to notice their child working through more complex problems, and you’ll enjoy watching them read both fiction and non-fiction."
In summary, I have found no professional association of Florida educators that has asked the Legislature to repeal Common Core or expressed any concern about the Florida State Standards.

Call to Action
Next Tuesday's School Board meeting is likely to be another long one, with many public speakers urging the School Board to add anti-Common Core language to its 2015 Legislative Platform.

Please be there to show your support for Superintendent Patton and the Board members who don't want to add anti-Common Core changes to the District's Legislative priorities.

Urge them to listen to Florida's educators, who are the experts who know what they need from our state Legislature. A small but vocal ideologically-motivated group of non-educators don't.






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Sunday, February 1, 2015

We still have work to do

In my last post, I wrote about a Board of Collier County Commissioners (BCC) resolution “petitioning the District School Board of Collier County, the Florida Legislature, and Governor Rick Scott to reclaim Florida’s educational sovereignty and return control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments to the local county school districts.” I concluded that “County Commissioners, elected in partisan elections, have no role to play in setting the legislative priorities for our School Board,” and I urged readers to contact the five County Commissioners and tell them to vote NO on the resolution.

Our voices were heard. The resolution was not adopted at Tuesday’s meeting.

But by a vote of 4 to 1, Commissioners agreed to bring back a yet-to-be-seen amended resolution that “promotes Home Rule and aligns the Commission with the District School Board.”

We still have work to do.

Public speakers at the meeting who supported the resolution far out-numbered opponents, and I sensed that the Commissioners thought the speakers were representative of the larger community. It is therefore very important that if you don’t agree with the premises or recommendations of the amended resolution, you let the commissioners know - both before and at the next Commission meeting on Tuesday, February 10th.

In this post, I’ll tell you about what the public speakers at the meeting said, the Board discussion, my take-aways, and what you can do to affect how this matter is ultimately decided.

Click here for materials received from the Clerk of Courts in response to my request for items related to this agenda item.

The public speakers
Ten people completed speaker request forms. Nine were in support of the resolution and one (Becky Newell, President - League of Women Voters of Collier County) was opposed.

Since the BCC allows a meeting attendee to cede speaking time to another speaker, only four of the nine resolution supporters spoke, allotted 27 minutes in total: Keith Flaugh, Joseph Doyle, Joseph Cofield and Jared Grifoni. Flaugh is the leader of Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance (SFCA), Doyle is a medical doctor active with SFCA, Cofield is ex-military and an educator, and Grifoni is a past chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County.

Public speakers' key messages
Speakers in support of the resolution delivered several key messages.

Commissioners should support the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment Bill that the Florida Citizen’s Alliance is working to have introduced in the Florida Legislature.
According to Mr. Flaugh’s handout, this Act will:
  1. Restore accountability of curriculum content and materials to local districts and parents.
  2. Dramatically reduce costs and complexity of testing.
  3. Increase learning time and increase choices for students.
  4. Eliminate the risk of data mining.
Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because Common Core is bad.
Flaugh, Doyle, Cofield and Grifoni, regular public speakers at School Board meetings and workshops, made the same statements they and others have made before. Some are summarized on four slides Flaugh used in his presentation. He told the Commissioners that Common Core is “damaging our students both psychologically and with classroom content which is EVIL.” Grifoni said high-stakes testing is “bullying” and “for some of these kids, it’s probably terrorism.”

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because we need local control of our schools.
Doyle said that not only do our schools suffer from federal burdens (e.g. testing) imposed by Common Core, they suffer from state overreach as well. As a result, he said, school taxes will have to be raised to pay for unfunded, state-mandated computer-based testing that requires retrofitting of classrooms, which will make it harder for commissioners to raise taxes for the things they want to do.“ Grifoni said, ”This resolution is certainly not the end of the road. But it’s the legitimate, reasonable, effective first step that must be taken in order to assert the importance of local control in our education."

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because it is similar to one adopted by the Republican Executive Committee.
Doyle showed Commissioners a document titled “Resolution Concerning Common Core Education Standards” adopted by the Republican Executive Committee, which he said “I know several of you are members of.”

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because they want to attract new businesses to Collier County.
Flaugh said that “if we’re turning out people who can’t read and write, businesses won’t want to come down here.” Doyle said he said he knows people who will not come to Collier County because “schools are better in the northeast where they have local control.”

Becky Newell, President of the League of Women Voters of Collier County, was the only public speaker who urged the Commissioners to vote against the resolution. She said it was not right for the BCC to pass a resolution telling the School Board what to do, any more than it would be right for the School Board to tell the BCC what to do. She also pointed out that the School Board would be revisiting its 2015 Legislative Platform at its next meeting, and urged the Commissioners to “let the School Board do its job.”

The Commissioners’ Discussion
There was general agreement that Commissioners did not want to tell the School Board what to do.

But Commissioner Fiala said “They [the public speakers] make some good points.” She said many children in her district come from non-English-speaking homes or have reading disabilities, making it difficult for them to test well. She said, “I don’t know that I want to demand anything of the state with a resolution but we should let them know of our displeasure, … maybe in a more politically-correct way.”

Commissioner Taylor disagreed. She said it is "not the purview of the County Commission to opine on School Board issues.... [It] is not our business and I could never support this."

Commissioner Hiller said she agreed with Commissioner Fiala and with the League of Women Voters that they should not be telling the School Board what to do. But, she said, “I also agree that education is absolutely critical to economic development” so “education IS of importance to this Board…. We do need to communicate to our legislative delegation at the state and federal level,” favoring use of a letter rather than a resolution.

Commission Chairman Nance was most strongly in support of both the use of a resolution and the proposed direction to the Legislature. He said he believes it is “very appropriate for us to send a resolution that addresses this topic” and that based on what he has heard from “my wife [who] has worked over 35 years as a teacher,” “the testimony we’ve heard today is very, very accurate.” He said he hopes the BCC and the School Board “can work in concert” on these issues.

He said, at 2 hours 8+ minutes into the meeting, for those who want to view the recording:
“I really endorse, particularly, the last two elements of the resolution that Commissioner Henning has proposed, particularly the last one that calls on the governor and state legislature to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum and assessments to the local Collier County School District. I don’t think you could find anyone in the County who doesn’t support restoring home rule.” (emphasis added)
Nance then proposed that “we come back with a little more thoughtful resolution that everyone on this dais can support.”

Commissioner Taylor said, in response to Nance’s proposal:
“If it’s the will of this Board to bring [a resolution] back for discussion, then we need to be educated…. We need to hear the facts…. We need to understand from the School Board, Superintendent Patton: What is home rule? Do we have home rule? Common Core has nothing to do with curriculum…. I’m not willing to support this.”
No one spoke in support of Taylor’s suggestion, and with a vote of 4 to 1, the Commissioners voted to bring back an amended resolution that, per the meeting minutes, “promotes Home Rule and aligns the Commission with the District School Board.”

My take-aways
Our efforts to persuade the Commissioners not to involve themselves in School Board matters were only partially effective.

The matter is coming back and I do not expect the amended resolution to be much changed, if at all, from what was initially proposed, other than dropping the direction to the School Board.

These are the last two elements of that proposed resolution that Nance said he particularly endorsed:
THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY calls upon the Governor, and the Florida Legislature to immediately pass an act repealing Common Core Standards Content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Curriculum and High Stakes Testing that are being imposed through incentives and punitive actions by the Federal Department of Education and State Government agencies in violation of the Constitution of the United States, the US Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the State of Florida; therefore are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate its true meaning and intent as given by the Founders; and are hereby declared to be invalid in this state.

THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY calls upon the Governor and the Florida Legislature to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum, and assessments to the Local County School Districts under State of Florida, Article 9, Section 4b.
I certainly don’t agree with the premise (“that are being imposed through incentives and punitive actions by the Federal Department of Education and State Government agencies”) or the request (“to immediately pass an act repealing Common Core Standards Content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Curriculum and High Stakes Testing”) of the first item.

I continue to believe the BCC should not be directing other elected bodies as to education policy. That is solely the purview of the School Board, which will be reviewing its Legislative Platform at its February 10th meeting.

And like Commissioner Taylor, I don’t know enough to support the second item, despite Commissioner Nance’s assertion that “I don’t think you could find anyone in the County who doesn’t support restoring Home Rule.”

In fact, in a county where 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 with the votes of just 30 percent of registered voters (see my post Reflections on Tuesday’s Elections), in elections where money played a big role in the outcome (Lichter raised almost $20,000; Donalds raised over $82,000), I am very leery about asking for Home Rule.

You can make a difference
Write to each of the five County Commissioners, and copy the five School Board members and Dr. Patton.
Commissioner Donna Fiala - DonnaFiala@colliergov.net
Commissioner Georgia Hiller - GeorgiaHiller@colliergov.net
Commissioner Tom Henning - TomHenning@colliergov.net
Commissioner Penny Taylor - PennyTaylor@colliergov.net
Commission Chair Tim Nance - TimNance@colliergov.net

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
School Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com
Let them know how you feel about the BCC passing a resolution or even sending a letter to the Governor, Collier County’s state representatives and senators, and/or congressmen and U.S. senators on the subjects of Common Core and testing.

Tell them Commissioner Nance is wrong in his belief that everyone wants Home Rule.

Tell them you continue to think that telling Collier County’s state and federal representatives what Collier wants in terms of education policy is the purview of the School Board, not the Board of County Commissioners.

Ask them who, besides Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance and the Libertarian Party of Collier County, thinks this is a County matter that they need to involve themselves in.

And let them know what County issues you would rather they be working to address, instead of education policy.

Your letter/email doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be well-researched. Trust me: you know enough to write it right now.

But it does have to come from your heart.

The Commissioners seem to assume that those who attended last Tuesday’s meeting are the only ones who have an opinion on the subject.

We just can’t let that happen.



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