Monday, November 16, 2015

Checking in on Board Behavior

Tomorrow night’s School Board Work Session is an opportunity for community members to judge for themselves how well or poorly the Board is functioning at the one-year anniversary of its five members’ service together as a Board. On the agenda:
  • Board Self-Evaluation
  • Governance Model
  • Accreditation

Board Self-Evaluation (Item C280)

The Board gave itself terrible marks on its first self-evaluation in June. See my post about it here. As the result of Board member Julie Sprague’s request at the time (“I worry about accreditation” – video clip here), the Board conducted another self-evaluation this month.

Sprague had hoped that some of the issues and concerns reflected in June would be addressed and that this one-year evaluation would show improvement.

Unfortunately, while there was some improvement in the ratings of 15 of the 34 indicators of Board performance, 11 of the indicators received their lowest scores in the seven-year history of the evaluation.

I encourage you to look at the evaluation itself. It paints a sorry picture in several areas of how our School Board is functioning.

In particular, I want to share the written comments of Board members regarding three specific indicators as reported here:

Indicator 7: The School Board and the Superintendent work together to create a climate of good faith and goodwill through team work and clear communication

Curatolo: The dysfunction and lack of teamwork has become more evident as time passed.

Lichter: The Superintendent is confused on board and Superintendent roles. She is under the false impression that she has authority over board members i.e. board briefings in her office where she sits at the head of her conference table, refuses to meet with certain members, is insubordinate, has lied to certain board members, refuses to respond to questions in writing, continues to give committee appointments and other titles to vitriolic and hateful community members that continue to publicly slander certain board members, and finally she works closely with her personal attorney, Jon Fishbane, to create policies and amend bylaws to strip power from the elected and the people they represent.

Sprague: This is an area of grave concern. There has been a continuous erosion of trust between members of the leadership team based on false allegations and lack of respect for employees and fellow Board members. Some Board members have undermined operational decisions made by the Superintendent and supported law suits filed against the District and Superintendent.

Terry: There is still a lack of trust between some Board members and the Superintendent. Some members did not even show up for the opening of schools meeting to start the school year.

Indicator 14: The School Board and the Superintendent work well together in the spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

Curatolo: This has not been the norm since November 2014.

Lichter: I don’t trust her, because she lies to me and treats me like her subordinate. She works with Jon Fishbane and others to script meetings, so it makes it difficult to trust her. I also have in my possession emails where she and other district personnel were actively targeting a specific charter school in our community for no real reason.

Sprague: Trust and confidence have deteriorated since our June evaluation. A Board member has issued public records requests for fellow Board member’s and staff emails without any evidence of wrong doing. The Superintendent and staff have been accused by some Board members of lies and conspiracy at public meetings. One Board member disregarded the publicly shared advice of the District General Counsel and Superintendent which resulted in a Cease and Desist letter addressed to the entire Board by the Florida Education Association.

Terry: The lack of trust by a few Board members and their group in the Superintendent and the rest of the Board is a problem. This causes a lot of extra work for the Superintendent and her staff.

Indicator 34: The School Board addresses issues before they come urgent to critical.

Lichter: My final comment: The real evaluation will take place at the ballot box. Time could have been better spent looking at academic performance data and seeking solutions, so that every child has access to the very best education.

Sprague: We as a Board need to seriously address our dysfunctional behavior. It sets a horrible example for students and causes distrust in the school district and community. With an AdvancED [accreditation] review looming in the near future, the time to rectify the situation is now before drastic action is imposed on us. Sadly, our behavior has become the topic of conversation throughout the community. It is up to us as a team to work together and focus on our vision and mission for the benefit of all 45,000 children in our District.
Only four of the 34 indicators were rated favorably by all Board members. That’s very bad.

Governance Model (Item B16)

The Governance Model sets forth the terms under which the School Board members agree to operate. It includes such things as behavioral norms, roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Superintendent, the expectation of “cooperative governance,” and more.

The current Governance Model has been in place since 2010. Sprague suggested, as a result of the Board’s self-evaluation in June, that it be revisited, as explained in a prior post. It was discussed during the Board’s August Work Session, and is on tomorrow’s agenda to finalize changes. See latest draft here.

The Board’s inability to reach agreement on something as basic as its Governance Model is simply appalling.

Accreditation (Item B15)

Many School Board observers, myself included, share Sprague’s concern that the hostility of certain Board members toward Superintendent Kamela Patton and, to varying degrees, other Board members, will affect the District’s accreditation.

Our concern is based on history: poor Board conduct almost caused the District to lose its accreditation in 2007/2008 (more here), and the Board’s conduct this past year has been even worse – as evidenced by its self-evaluations.

The last item on Tuesday’s Work Session agenda is a presentation on the accreditation process by a representative of accreditation agency AdvancED, followed by a presentation on how the District prepares for accreditation by its Executive Director responsible for overseeing the process. Click here for the PowerPoint to be used in the presentation.


We as a community should be extremely concerned and embarrassed by what this second Board self-evaluation says about us. I know I am.

I couldn’t agree with Licther more: in addition to the next accreditation review, an equally important evaluation will take place at the ballot box – not just in August, when the District 2 and 4 seats are on the ballot, but in 2018, when Districts 1, 3 and 5 will be up.

Tuesday’s Work Session will begin at 5:30 PM time certain, following the 4 PM Board Organizational meeting, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

If you wish to speak at the meeting concerning Work Session topics, register your intention online or in person before the 5:30 PM start. If you are unable to attend the meeting but want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, email them at:

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

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Invocation at Commencement of Meetings and More on Agenda for November 17 School Board Organizational Meeting

Each November, the Collier County School Board holds an organizational meeting to elect officers and decide upon meeting times and dates for the upcoming year. (Agenda here.) Last year, then-newly elected Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter began what was to become a year-long and still-ongoing battle, following their Contract with Collier County playbook. 
Unfortunately, I expect this year’s meeting to be as full of drama and discord as it was then. (See my post about that meeting here.)
There will be an opportunity for Public Comments, although only on agenda items, which include:
  • Election of Officers
  • Meetings and Times
  • Invocation at Commencement of Board Meetings
  • Board Assignments
If you wish to speak, register your intention online or in person before the meeting’s 4 PM start. 
Election of Officers
Last year, Lichter nominated Roy Terry to be Board Chair, even though Kathleen Curatolo had first been nominated by Terry and it was Curatolo's turn in the long-standing rotation. Curatolo was elected by a vote of 4 to 1.  
For the coming year, it is current Board Vice Chair Julie Sprague’s turn in the rotation. 
Meetings and times
One of the seven “major reforms” of the Contract with Collier County was to “require Board meetings to commence on or after 5:30 PM in order to give all parents and working taxpayers the opportunity to attend and participate.” Previously Board meetings started at 4 PM.
At last year’s meeting, Curatolo and Sprague offered historical perspective on why the 4 PM start had been chosen in the past:
  • Board meetings have been held at different times over the years. The current 4 PM start time was a compromise that seems to meet most people’s needs.
  • Some parents work second shifts, and a 5:30 start time would mean that they would have to miss the meetings.
  • Even with the 4 PM start time, the public recognitions portion of each meeting is the first thing on the agenda. The business part of the meetings starts later.
  • Going to a time-certain start to the business portion of the meeting might mean less time to recognize the children who are being honored and whose work is being showcased.
Despite their remarks, the Donalds/Lichter motion to change the time passed, with the conciliatory support of Terry. This past year, meetings have started at 5 PM, with the business portion of the meeting at 5:30 PM time certain. This is the only one of the Contract’s “major reforms” they have accomplished.
Given how long Board meetings have gone on this past year, not infrequently ending at 11 PM or later, I emailed Board members asking them to return meeting start times to 4 PM, with the Business meetings to start at 4:30 PM time certain. I urge you to do the same (email addresses below).
Invocation at Commencement of Board meetings
This matter has come up twice this past year, at the June 9 and July 28 Board meetings.
At the July 28 meeting, Collier County resident Jerry Rutherford, President of the self-described religious organization World Changers of Florida and a long-time advocate for prayer in the schools, requested permission during Public Comments, to “offer a prayer for the School Board.” In consultation with District Counsel Fishbane, permission was granted, with the understanding that Rutherford’s prayer would be part of the three minutes he, like any member of the public, was allowed to address the Board. 
Addressing “Almighty God and Our Heavenly Father,” he offered a specific prayer for each Board member, the Superintendent, and the District Counsel – by name, and concluded by saying, “So be it. In Jesus’ name.” (YouTube clip here.
During closing comments at that meeting, Fishbane provided historical information regarding the invocation at CCPS School Board meetings. (YouTube clips here: Part 1 and Part 2.) 
Chair Curatolo then recommended that Board members do research and bring their recommendations to the Organizational Meeting in November. 
An August 8 Naples Daily News editorial, “A better alternative than invocation at School Board meetings,” is worth the read. 
Board meetings frequently begin with recognition of students, and students often attend Board meetings. Just as prayer should not be allowed in public school classrooms, it should not be allowed before School Board meetings. 
It is particularly important that community members express their opinion on this highly-charged matter. 

Board member email addresses below. 
Board Assignments
The following 2015 committee assignments were approved unanimously by the Board at last year’s Board Organizational Meeting:
  • Education Foundation of Collier County-Champions for Learning - Roy Terry (Kathleen Curatolo-Alternate)
  • Head Start Policy Council - Julie Sprague (Erika Donalds-Alternate)
  • State Legislative Liaison - Roy Terry (Kelly Lichter-Alternate)
  • Value Adjustment Board - Erika Donalds (Julie Sprague-Alternate)
I expect similar assignments to be made at Tuesday’s meeting. 
Where and When
The November 17 School Board Orientation Meeting will begin at 4 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples. It will be followed by a School Board Work Session at 5:30 PM time certain (Agenda here). 
If you are unable to attend the meeting but want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, email them at:
Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Learnings from a lawsuit and a text message
I was concerned and perplexed by some of the closing comments made by Board members at the October 20 School Board Work Session on Blue Zones.

Roy Terry said (beginning at 3:01:23 in the video-on-demand recording of the meeting):

I was happy to hear that Mr. Bracci’s suit against Dr. Patton was thrown out. I was also happy to hear that Mr. Bracci’s motion to disqualify Judge Hayes was denied.

In the motion to disqualify the judge, a text between Mr. Lee Dixon and a sitting Board member was included which suggested that Board members were intimidated by Blue Zones advocates.

With respect to Blue Zones, I have been pressured by no one. I have reviewed the issues and made the decision based on what was in the best interest of students, and of the District. That’s all that I’m going to say on that because the implication was there that we were being intimidated by certain folks. The other comment by Mr. Dixon I’m not going to address at this time.

Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo said (beginning at 3:03:46; YouTube clip here) that she, too, was happy to see the suit against the Superintendent dismissed and the follow-up motion denied. And she too referred to a text included in the motion to disqualify the judge, describing it as one in which "a Board member was engaging in insidious derogatory remarks about another School Board member."

I had no idea what they were talking about, but it sounded serious. And expensive. District Counsel Jonathan Fishbane said lawsuits by Mr. Bracci have cost almost $190,000 in District operating funds to date.

I found the case they were referring to by searching court records on the Clerk of Courts website. Here's some of what the file for "Steven J. Bracci vs. Kamela Patton, " case number 11-2015-CA-001486-0001-XX, showed:
  • The lawsuit was filed on August 11, 2015. The Complaint claims that the Superintendent violated Florida’s open meeting (“Sunshine”) laws by participating in Blue Zones Project Steering Committee meetings, and that therefore the Blue Zones Project should not be implemented in CCPS.
  • On August 17, hoping the parties could resolve the matter without going to court, Judge Hugh Hayes appointed J. Dudley Goodlette, Esq., a respected community leader, former State Representative, Hodges University 2014 Humanitarian of the Year and current Chair of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce Board, to mediate the case.
  • On August 20, District in-house counsel Jonathan Fishbane and outside counsel James Fox of Roetzel & Andress moved to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the Superintendent is not subject to the Sunshine law. The hearing of their motion was scheduled by the Court for October 8.
  • On September 15, Bracci petitioned the court to disqualify Fishbane as attorney for the School Board, claiming he was part of a plan to keep information from the public in order to ensure “smooth approval” of the Blue Zones by the Board “without the knowledge, review or dissent of the public.” The court said no. 
  • On October 1, the mediation meeting ordered by the judge was held, but no agreement was reached.
  • On October 8, the District's move to dismiss the case was heard in court. Judge Hayes ruled against Bracci, agreeing with the District.
  • On October 12, Bracci filed a 22-page lawsuit to disqualify the judge because he "fears that he will not receive a fair trial or hearing ... because of the ... prejudice or bias of the presiding judge."
  • On October 14, Bracci's suit to to disqualify the judge was denied.

With this research, I understood what Roy Terry and Kathleen Curatolo were referring to when they said they were pleased that Bracci’s suit against Dr. Patton was thrown out and that his motion to disqualify Judge Hayes was denied.

As to the text message, Bracci's lawsuit to disqualify Judge Hayes contained a screenshot of the text to which the Board members referred. On page 12, Bracci described it as follows:

Here is a copy of a public record in the form of a text communication from School Board member Erika Donalds to some of her constituents, in which she describes the intimidation from certain “elite” members of our community who supported the Blue Zones Project.

Erika Donalds: Terry can’t withstand the pressure that the elites put on us over this thing. I saw that coming.
Lee Dixon: I knew it when he seconded the motion.
Lee Dixon: He has no spine.
Lee Dixon: Erika, can you give us an example of that pressure?
Erika Donalds: Weiss for one.
Erika Donalds: I was told I ‘don’t want to get in the way of the people that are behind this.’
Erika Donalds: Not by Weiss but someone connected in Naples.
Erika Donalds: Mayor Sorey emailed me.

Lee Dixon is a candidate for the School Board District 4 seat currently held by Julie Sprague. (See my post School Board elections less than a year away.) As a School Board candidate, his words are particularly revealing and concerning.

More troubling are the words of Erika Donalds. When viewed in the context of Bracci's suit to disqualify the judge, her use of the word “elites” to describe generous, dedicated, long-serving members of our community suggests an unappreciative, class-based, "us-vs.-them" mindset.

Bracci makes allegations and innuendos in his case about Roy Terry, NCH CEO Allen Weiss, Naples Mayor John Sorey, Rep. Dudley Goodlette, members of the Blue Zones Steering Committee, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, the Immokalee Foundation and the NAACP, as well as “certain government agencies and their representatives including a Collier County commissioner, a School Superintendent (Defendant Patton), the Mayor of Naples, the Collier County Sheriff, the Vice-Mayor of Bonita Springs, and a State Health Department representative.”

If Donalds, Dixon, and their supporters share Bracci’s opinion that a group of community leaders, including the “entire 20th Judicial Circuit,” is biased against them, there is serious cause for alarm.

I believe this group hopes to take over the School Board in next year’s election. Lee Dixon and John Brunner are its candidates. Stay tuned.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On the agenda for tonight's School Board Meeting

Tuesday, November 10

The next regular monthly meeting of the Collier County School Board takes place tonight beginning at 5 PM (business meeting at 5:30 PM). See agenda here. It’s a relatively short agenda, with only two items of business.

School Board Policy 3211 Whistleblower Protection (Agenda Item C1)

This is the second or third time this policy revision has come back as a First Reading. A sticking point in past attempts has been how the policy addresses whistleblower complaints about the Superintendent or a School Board member. See marked changes to the existing policy here. If there are no substantive changes, the policy will go forward for a Second Reading at the December Board Meeting.

Risk Assessment (or, should the District have an Internal Audit function?) (Agenda Item C140)

This is a continuation of a discussion begun at the August 18 School Board meeting. From my post at that time:

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.

At tonight’s meeting, the Board will discuss and decide if there is a need for assessment. An attachment to this agenda item includes, for discussion purposes, a Risk Assessment Definition, Scope, Cost and Time.

I appreciate this suggestion from the for-profit business world and look forward to hearing the Board discuss it further tonight.

Consent Agenda

There are some interesting items on the Consent Agenda as well:

School Improvement Plans (Agenda Item B16)

School Improvement Plans are required by State Statute and School Board Policy 2120. All plans must be approved by the Board prior to submission to the Florida Department of Education, Department of School Improvement. To view the School Improvement Plans, click here.

Letter to the Florida Department of Transportation regarding safety and capacity improvements to State Road 82 in Collier County (Agenda Item C100)

In the letter, Board Chair Curatolo says, “While it may be unusual for you to hear from a District School Board regarding a road project, we have a considerable number of students, teachers and administrative staff that travel this route daily and we are very concerned for their safety. As you may already be aware there have been an alarming number of fatal vehicle crashes on this road over the summer and unfortunately many more over the road’s history.”

CCPS 2014–15 Annual Financial Report (Agenda Item C170)

This Annual Report must be approved by the board before December 1, and filed with the State.

Next meeting

The Board will hold its annual Organizational Meeting next Tuesday, November 17, at 4 PM. At that time, it will choose the next Board Chair and Vice Chair, and assign other Board member responsibilities.

At 5:30 PM on November 17, the Board will hold a Work Session to discuss AdvancED and the accreditation process. In addition, it will review the Board’s updated self-evaluation and further discuss the Governance Model.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Friday, October 9, 2015

On the agenda for Tuesday's School Board Meeting

The next Regular School Board meeting is this coming Tuesday, October 13. See Agenda here. In this post, I’ll highlight items of interest.

Minutes of Past Meetings (Consent Agenda)

The Consent Agenda portion of the overall Agenda includes the recommended approval of the minutes of the last four meetings:
  • August 18 Work Session on Policies
  • September 8 Regular Meeting
  • September 8 Final Budget Hearing
  • September 15 Work Session on the Strategic Plan
I recommend reading the minutes. They condense hours of discussion into easy-to-read summaries, including the names of all public speakers and the agenda items addressed by each. It’s a good way to review or learn what happened.

2015–16 Strategic Plan (Consent Agenda - Item B15)

At its September 15 Work Session, Board members heard a presentation on and discussed the 2014–16 Strategic Plan that had been approved and put in place three years ago. On Tuesday, the Board will be asked to approve by consent the Goals, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Strategies for the last year of that three-year plan.

All Goals and KPIs approved three years ago remain unchanged for the upcoming year, with the exception of those KPIs that are linked to shifts in legislative mandates, test scores, or have been accomplished. The proposed Year 3 Strategies supporting progress towards the KPIs were developed based on the results of work completed in Years 1 and 2.

The Year 3 Plan submitted for Board approval is here. I encourage you, as an informed voter and community member, to look through it.

Labor Agreements (Consent Agenda - Items E91, E92, E93, E94, E95 and E96)

Of note:
  • Collier County Education Association (CCEA or Teachers’ Union) (Agenda Item E94):

    • Step salary increase on revised salary schedules.
    • One-time performance award for employees receiving a 2014–15 final evaluation rating of Effective or Highly Effective.
    • Reinstatement of a tuition reimbursement program.
    • Revision of supplemental pay.
    • Estimated cost $4,900,000.00.
    • Performance salary increases for school-based administrators per Florida Statute.
    • Salary increase for all other non-bargaining unit employees.
    • One-time performance award for school-based administrators who receive a 2014–15 final evaluation rating of Effective or Highly Effective.
    • Estimated cost $1,100,000.00.

School Board Polices (Unfinished Business)

At this meeting, the Board will consider Second Readings of 16 School Board policies.

Of particular interest to me is the broadened definition, which I support, of “protected classes” in Policies 3122 Nondiscrimination Equal Employment Opportunity (Agenda Item C5), 3362 Zero Tolerance for Discriminatory and Harassing Misconduct by Staff (Agenda Item C8), and 5517 Zero Tolerance for Discriminatory and Harassing Misconduct by Students (Agenda Item C11 ). As proposed, it would be impermissible to discriminate in the District on the basis of:
race, color, sex (including sexual orientation and/or gender identity), age, religion (including religious beliefs), disability, genetic information, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, pregnancy, political affiliations, and/or marital status.
The Board will also consider a First Reading of Policy 3211 Whistleblower Protection (Agenda Item C6 ). This policy was previously heard as a First Reading at the August Policy Work Session; changes suggested were substantive enough that the policy is coming back for a First Reading. To me, the proposed changes seem to address the current distrust by the junior Board members of the Board Chair and Superintendent. That said, I don’t object to the policy as proposed for Tuesday’s consideration.

2016 Legislative Platform: Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards (New Business - Agenda Item E90)

At its August 11 meeting, the Board unanimously adopted the District’s 2016 Legislative Platform, consisting of four items that together ask the state for more funding and more local control over testing and accountability. See My Report on the August 11 School Board Meeting. It is admirable that the District limited their request; that focus on money and testing underscores these topics importance to our community.

This month, the Board takes up the proposed 2016 Legislative Platform of the Greater Florida Consortium of School Boards, a group representing the school boards of Broward, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, St. Lucie, Charlotte, Collier, Monroe, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Board member Roy Terry represented the Collier School Board at the meeting at which the proposed Platform was drafted.

Unlike the focused, limited CCPS Platform, the Consortium’s Platform runs to seven pages. It consists of five Priority Goals (each with a number of sub-requests) and a number of Additional Issues. The Priority Goals, which will be printed and distributed to Legislators, address:
  • Constitutional authority / governance / unfunded mandates
  • Funding
  • Optional capital outlay levy (2.0 mills)
  • Charter schools
  • Accountability and state testing program
The Additional Issues address matters related to governance, funding, capital outlay, accountability, and other. If adopted, these issues will provide direction to the Consortium’s lobbyists if needed during the legislative process.

Under the Consortium’s bylaws, if any of the 11 school boards rejects any issue, that issue will be removed the GFCSB Platform. No amendments are permitted.

I was pleased to see that the four items in the CCPS Legislative Platform also appear in the Consortium’s Platform.

Next up: Work Session on Blue Zones October 20

The Blue Zones Project was addressed by the Board at its September 8 meeting, after hearing 29 public speakers on the topic. At that meeting, as requested at the August Board meeting, District General Counsel Jon Fishbane reported on his review of the Blue Zones pledge and Blue Zones documents, and provided an overview of seven existing, relevant School Board policies:
  • Policy 8510 Wellness
  • Policy 8500 Nutrition Services
  • Policy 2417 Comprehensive Health Education
  • Policy 2410 Health Services
  • Policy 5512 Tobacco Free Environment
  • Policy 7430 Risk Reduction Program
  • Policy 5830 Student Fund-Raising
You can view Mr. Fishbane's comments on this YouTube video, courtesy of our friends at Great Schools, Great Minds. If you haven't checked out GSGM's websiteFacebook Page or YouTube Channel yet, I encourage you to do so.

At that September meeting, District participation in a Blue Zones pilot project at four schools (Lake Park Elementary, Sea Gate Elementary, Gulf View Middle, and Naples High) was approved with a 3-to–2 vote, Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voting no.

Then, given the extensive discussion that had just occurred, Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo suggested that the Board consider a different topic for its October Work Session other than Blue Zones, previously scheduled for that meeting. But that was not to be. Instead, the Board decided to keep Blue Zones as a topic for the October Work Session, specifically to address two questions:
  1. How are the wellness councils selected? and
  2. How is the pilot success going to be measured?
Stay tuned.

If you are unable to attend this Tuesday’s Regular Board meeting or the October 20 Board Work Session, and want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, you can email them:

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

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

School Board elections less than a year away

With all the media attention on next year’s presidential election candidates, it’s easy to forget that there will be many other positions on the ballot as well. In this post, I’ll tell you about our local School Board positions; in another post, I’ll tell you about the rest.

I focus first on the School Board because so few Collier voters voted in those elections last year. 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 the votes of just 30 percent of registered voters. I want to do what I can to encourage more, and more informed, voters next time.

Undoubtedly, the lack of general public interest in the School Board, combined with the significant and obviously coordinated marketing and organizing done in support of these women, played a big role in the outcome. And those things cost money: Donalds spent over $82,000; Lichter spent almost $20,000.

We have seen the effect their election has had on the effectiveness and civility of Board meetings, as well as the changes they are trying to make. And with just one more like-minded member, they will gain control of the Board.

After reading this post, I hope you will be inspired to start monitoring the candidates for School Board NOW, and that you will actively begin raising the awareness of your friends and colleagues, so that there will be many more, and more informed, voters in next year’s School Board elections.

Two School Board positions on the 2016 ballot

Two of the five School Board positions will be on the ballot next year: District 2, currently held by Kathleen Curatolo, and District 4, currently held by Julie Sprague. Neither incumbent has yet begun a reelection campaign; the official qualifying period is not until next June.

At this writing, two challengers have created campaign accounts and reported campaign contributions to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections: John M. Brunner for District 2, and Lee Dixon for District 4.

Both are members of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC), on which Lichter serves as Secretary, and which reportedly will vote to censure Curatolo as “a public expression of severe disapproval of her votes to undermine the party platform” at its October meeting. (See WINK-TV news report from the CCREC’s September meeting and the censure resolution posted by The Collier Conservative, a local group “connecting Collier County residents to news and information that impacts their freedom and liberty.”)

John M. Brunner
John M. Brunner - Candidate for District 2

Brunner’s Candidate’s Statement is here; his campaign website is here. His first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

No current employment is reported on his campaign bio. Through June 2015, he was a second grade teacher at Mason Classical Academy, the conservative Hillsdale College charter school started by Donalds and Lichter and currently led by Lichter. Donalds' husband Byron is Vice President of the MCA Board and a Republican Party candidate for Florida State House District 80.

His campaign finance reports to-date show $11,145 in monetary contributions, $35 in in-kind contributions, and $988 in campaign expenditures.

Ten people have donated the maximum $1,000 each to Brunner’s campaign. Those listing Naples addresses are Wilson Bradley, Nancy Lauridsen, Irma Leonard, Thomas Leonard, Ellis Naegle, Robert Naegele, Linda Schoenhals and Jay Stonesifer. Those listing out-of-district addresses are John C. Hunter, Bonita Springs, and Marvin Schoenhals, Wilmington, DE.

$100 donations reported to-date from Naples are from Bria Bare, Ellen Elmore, Joan Jaindl, Tim Kelly, Charles Marshall (2) and Matt Mathias. Out-of-district $100 donors are Kathleen LeSage, Chittenden, FL; Becky MacGregor, Sandia Park, NM; and Cari Turner, Valparaiso, IN.

Brunner’s campaign expenditures to-date include payments totalling $831 to Transcend Creative, a St Petersburg, FL, graphic design and marketing firm that showcases several Libertarian Party candidates and organizations among its clients. In-kind contributions show $25 from Charles Marshall for “website.”

On the Current Topics page of his website, Brunner notes his opposition to Collier Schools’ participation in the Blue Zones Project, as well as to the District’s Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) initiative. On Issues, he lists Parental Involvement and Choice, Fiscal Responsibility, and Returning to Local Control.

Lee Dixon
Lee Dixon - Candidate for District 4

Dixon has not posted a Candidate’s Statement on his Supervisor of Elections Candidate Report web page; his campaign website is here. Like Brunner, Dixon’s first campaign financial report is for July 2015.

Also like Brunner, no current employment is reported on Dixon’s campaign bio, which only says he began his career as a golf course Superintendent in 1992 and moved to Naples in 1995.

Dixon’s campaign finance reports to-date show $846 in monetary contributions, no in-kind contributions, and $37 in campaign expenditures.

Dixon’s largest donors to-date are from out-of-district: Marc Weintraub, New York, NY - $250 and Craig Luckman, Bonita Springs - $150.

Donors from Naples include Deirdre Clemons (see “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children - English Language Arts” and “Brainwashing and Indoctrination of Our Children- US History”); Jared Jones (Libertarian Party-endorsed, unsuccessful 2014 candidate for the Collier Soil and Water Conservation District); and Nicholas Lichter (husband of School Board member Kelly Lichter).

On the Issues page of his website, Dixon leads with his love of America and “her First Principles of Limited Government; the Rule of Law; Unalienable Rights; and Equality.” He opposes Common Core and the District’s “obsession with technology, testing and test prepping.”

While not noted on his website, Dixon is (according to NBC–2) Vice President of Parents ROCK, the parents group formed by School Board member Erika Donalds. Like Brunner, Donalds and Lichter, Dixon opposes Collier Schools’ participation in the community Blue Zones Project.

Call to action

There is clearly an organized, well-funded effort in place to take control of the School Board in the upcoming election.

In what are required by law to be nonpartisan elections, the two candidates’ ties to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (partisan political organization; upcoming censure vote against Board Chair Curatolo; Secretary Kelly Lichter), as well as the out-of-town contributions to candidate Brunner, are extremely troubling.

Equally concerning is that no other candidates have yet come forward to offer Collier voters an alternative to these two candidates’ right-wing, anti-Common Core, anti-testing, anti-Blue Zones agenda. But there is still time.

The School Board primary elections will take place next August. If a candidate for office is unchallenged, or receives more than 50% of votes cast for the position, the election will be decided then. That’s what happened last year when Kelly Lichter was elected with 51% of the votes cast, though that was just 9% of Collier’s registered voters. If no candidate receives 50% of the votes in the primary, the top two vote-getters will go on to a runoff election on November 8, 2016, as happened with the election of Erika Donalds.

Here’s what you can and should do right now:

  • Begin monitoring the candidates’ activities. Sign up for emails on their websites. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where you can also follow Parents ROCK, Great Schools, Great Minds and Sparker’s Soapbox. Create Google Alerts to monitor the web for new content about them. Follow the money: campaign finance reports are posted monthly.
  • Make sure your voter registration is up-to-date. Confirm with the Supervisor of Elections that your address is current. Importantly, if there is any chance your signature has changed since you last submitted your voter registration, update it now and avoid a possible election day or mail-ballot hassle. Call the Collier Supervisor of Elections office at 239–252-VOTE to learn how.
  • Request a mail ballot. Request a mail ballot from the Supervisor of Elections Office for either all eledtions through the next two General Elections (what I recommend), or for specific elections only. You can do this online, by mail or in person.

Finally, continue reading my Sparker’s Soapbox posts, and share them with your friends. Let them know that there is a great deal at stake in the 2016 School Board elections. It’s not too soon to start paying attention.

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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, September 14, 2015

School Board Work Session Tuesday - Strategic Plan

Setting the strategic direction for the District is one of the School Board’s most important responsibilities.

At Tuesday's Work Session  Superintendent Patton and senior members of her staff will update the Board on the District’s performance for Year Two of the District’s three-year Strategic Plan, and present the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Strategies they propose to work on in the upcoming, final year of the Plan.

In this post, I’ll provide a quick refresher on the District’s Strategic Plan, a reminder that the Plan played an important part in the Board’s discussion in June of the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals, and an overview of the agenda for Tuesday night.

If you attend or watch Tuesday's meeting, you will see once again that elections have consequences.

The 2014–2016 Strategic Plan - in brief

The Strategic Plan is the District’s roadmap for achieving its vision to have all students complete school prepared for ongoing learning as well as community and global responsibilities.

The current Strategic Plan governs the three school years ending in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and was approved by the School Board in May 2013. It was developed with consideration of research and best practices, including:

  1. Recommendations made by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ (SACS) Council on Accreditation on School Improvement (CASI), a division of AdvancED;
  2. Recommendations from community members received via town hall meetings, community forums, round-table discussions with students, and discussions at local CEO Briefings; and
  3. An extensive review process within the District of 26 strategic plans from other school districts.

The Plan consists of six Goals:

  1. Expand early childhood education to enhance school readiness and early learning.
  2. Extend college and career readiness to advance rigor and relevance.
  3. Engage STEM education to strengthen global awareness and 21st-century learning skills.
  4. Elevate talent management to augment a highly qualified workforce.
  5. Narrow the achievement gap on statewide accountability assessments.
  6. Maintain fiscal responsibility.

When it approved the Plan, the Board also approved a series of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be reviewed on an annual basis to monitor the District's progress toward each goal. (More here.)

At the beginning of each year of the Plan, the Board approves a set of Strategies to achieve of each of the KPIs. The Strategies will guide District activities for the coming year.

The Goals, KPIs and proposed Strategies for FY 2016 are detailed in the Year Three Strategic Plan document, with which I encourage you to familiarize yourself.

Past Board discussion of the Strategic Plan

At its June meeting, the Board approved, with a 3-to–2 vote, the Superintendent’s 2014–15 evaluation and 2015–16 goals. In my June 16 post about that meeting, I attempted to summarize the Board’s discussion. Donalds and Lichter voted no because they were unable to persuade a majority to make changes to the Superintendent's goals, which were and remain directly tied to the previously-approved three-year Strategic Plan, and procedurally the evaluation and goals could not be voted on separately.

I encourage you to re-read that post, because it provides important background for what is likely to be discussed Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s meeting

Three documents are posted online along with Tuesday's Meeting Agenda:

  • The PowerPoint to be presented, containing an overview of the Plan and the reporting process, and a sample of some of the Year Two Highlights and Results and Year Three Updates;
  • A 76-page detailed report with Year Two Highlights and Year Three Updates on all Strategies covered by the Plan; and
  • A 22-page Year Three Strategic Plan document, containing the Goals, KPIs and specific strategies proposed for the 2015–16 year.

Take a few minutes to look through that last document for an overview of what District staff will be focused on in the coming year.

Tuesday night

Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment beginning at the 5:30 PM start of the meeting, but at Work Sessions, unlike at Regular Board meetings, they may only comment on the topic of the Work Session - in this case, the Strategic Plan.

After public comments, senior District staff will review the progress made in Year Two of the Plan and the Strategies they propose to achieve the Plan’s Year Three Goals and KPIs, and answer questions from the Board. Then the Board will discuss the staff’s recommendations and reach consensus on next steps.

Given the discussion at the June Board meeting, I expect a lively and substantive discussion Tuesday night.

Be an informed observer/participant in a critical part of public education in Collier County by watching the School Board discuss the District Strategic Plan for the 2015–16 school year. Review the materials provided and share your comments with Board members and the Superintendent:

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

The tune in to watch the Board meeting in person (register here if you plan to speak), live on Channel 99 or streamed on the District’s website, or after the fact via the District’s Video-on-Demand.


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, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.