Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sparker's Soapbox Month in Review - June 2017, Part 2

An improving economy and continued growth have created both the need and the opportunity for major infrastructure projects in our community. Last month, elected officials began discussing several upcoming decisions with long-term implications. They will be deciding not only what to do, but also how to pay for it all. Wherever you are for the summer, now’s the time to consider how these upcoming decisions will affect you and let your voice be heard.

Here is Part 2 of my Month in Review, highlighting top stories, editorials, and commentaries about Collier County, the City of Naples, and the Collier County School Board. For highlights of news from the state capital, see Part 1 of June in Review here.

Top stories: Collier County
  • County official says Collier planning well for growth. In the year ending June 30, 2016, the population of the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island area grew 2.4 percent to 365,136. By 2040 the county's population is expected to reach more than 482,000. (NDN, 6/14/17)
  • Property values set Collier County record in 2016. Taxable value is a key input to the County Budget, which will be discussed by the board in September. (NDN,  6/12/17)
  • County weighs property tax increase, land conservation, backlog of projects. Commissioners gave their preliminary approval to raise the tax to bring back Conservation Collier in a 3-2 vote early this year, with Bill McDaniel and Andy Solis dissenting. Now that they are looking at hard numbers of next year's budget, they will have to vote again. (NDN, 6/15/17)
  • Trial sales tax balloon being floated around Collier County as a new funding source for roads, affordable housing, and environmental preservation. If a majority of commissioners agree, the tax could be on the ballot in November 2018 for voter approval. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • Collier commissioners vote unanimously to raise bed tax from 4 to 5 percent, approve stadium and sports complex. The complex will cost $60 to $80 million and be paid for by issuing about $55 million of debt, using some of the tax increase to pay interest, using county general funds, and selling naming rights on the facility. (NDN, 6/13/17; Naples Herald, 6/14/17)
  • Commissioner seeks fee change to spur growth. Bill McDaniel is spearheading a pilot program that would allow impact fees to be spread over a decades-long period. The program could be rolled out county-wide if it goes well in an initial test area in a section of Immokalee. (WINK News, 6/29/17)
  • Commissioners agree to widen beaches, cap museum funding. The county will spend $2.5 million more a year to widen beaches and better protect them from erosion. About $1.5 million will come from the increased bed tax, leaving a funding gap partially made up by capping museum funding at $2 million, which is $500,000 below the current level. (Naples Herald, 6/27/17; NDN, 6/28/17)
  • Pine Ridge Road could see reconstruction to reduce congestion. The intersection at Livingston Road, just west of I-75, is the primary identified trouble spot. County officials say more than 55,000 cars a day flow through it as of 2016 and more than 75,000 are projected by 2040. (NDN, 6/8/17; Naples Herald, 6/15/17; )
  • County to build new ambulance station to keep up with growth along Collier Blvd. Commissioners set aside $2 million for it in a tentative budget to be finalized in September. The station will be large enough to fit a fire engine, should the Greater Naples Fire District decide to join the county at the site. (NDN, 6/24/17)
  • Commissioner Andy Solis brings community mental health program advocates together to talk strategy, need for aid. Seeks local plan to address the widespread mental health and substance abuse crisis facing the County. (NDN, 6/7/17)
  • County libraries to get more books, still far short. The increase in the Collier County budget would give county libraries a total of just over $1 million for books next year, which is still half of the $2 million-plus a year the county spent on books before 2008. (NDN, 6/25/17)

Top stories: City of Naples
  • Naples panel urges OK of $15 million 350-space parking garage at Fourth Avenue South and Fourth Street South. The City Council will consider the project for final approval in August. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • City Council says no to closing Naples Pier at night; closing overnight parking at the Pier’s 12th Avenue South parking lot to be considered. (Naples Herald, 6/15/17; NDN, 6/14/17)
  • Habitat for Humanity plans home rehabbing in Naples' low-income River Park area. Naples City Council has signaled support for subsidizing the effort with revenue from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency. (NDN, 6/25/17)
  • Three candidates file to run for Naples City Council seats in 2018: Jim Moon, a Naples attorney, Wynn Phillips, a former psychologist, and Mitch Norgart, a luxury real estate broker. Councilwoman Linda Penniman says she is running for a second four-year term but has not yet filed. (NDN, 6/24/17)

Top stories: Collier County Public Schools
  • Collier school district ranked fifth in the state by Florida Department of Education, up from 14th last year. It is one of 11 to earn an A rating, of the 67 districts in the state. Superintendent Kamela Patton credited “a focus on progress monitoring and ongoing adjustments to instruction.” (Sparker's Soapbox, 6/29/17; NDN, 6/29/17)
  • Superintendent's contract extended through 2021 by a 3-2 vote by the School board. Members Stephanie Lucarelli and Erick Carter echoed the concerns of many public speakers at the meeting that Patton would be stolen away by another district if her contract was not extended. Members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter voted no. (Naples Herald, 6/14/17)
  • School board votes to approve 5 textbooks with a 3-2 vote, unanimously rejects one, after hearing from more than 30 public speakers. The adoption process was contentious for both the board and the public and resulted in a lawsuit against the district. A judge denied the motion, allowing the board to proceed with the vote. (NDN, 6/1/17; NBC-2, 6/1/17)
  • Mason Classical Academy charter school board faces criticism, complaints about management. Just two of the six Mason board members who served during the school’s first academic year remain on the board. (NDN, 6/13/17)

Top editorials and commentaries

  • Editorial: Collier County commissioners are considering steps toward preserving important Southwest Florida sites in perpetuity. While the desirable goal of preservation seems simple, ongoing discussions involving key properties show the complexities involved. (NDN, 6/5/17)
  • Editorial: Collier sports complex could diversify tourism. We applaud the unanimous decisions reached by Collier commissioners and their tourism advisory board to pursue construction of an amateur sports complex. (NDN, 6/18/17)
  • Editorial: Options will abound for Collier tax manna. When there’s more money to spend, the tug-of-war begins among competing interests. We urge public participation in helping define priorities. (NDN, 6/27/17)
  • Editorial: Collier bed tax increase from 4 percent to 5 percent one of several good moves. Also good: changing the allocation of those funds. Beaches first at 42.6 percent; continued museum funding capped at $2 million; cut in tourism promotion avoided; agreeing to bond land purchase for amateur sports complex. (NDN, 6/28/17)
  • Commentary: Ball Fields Built on Sand. A destructive coastal storm, a fall-off in tourist funds, an unexpected call on county reserves. Big plans today — for ball fields and beaches — could end up as projects built on sand. (Dave Trecker, The Resident's Corner, 6/17/17)
  • Commentary: Mental health shortfall a major issue in Collier County. To try to solve the problem by reshuffling what we now have is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Innovative planning will be needed, but make no mistake about it, so will additional money. (Jerry Godshaw and Dave Trecker, Members, Community Paramedicine Roundtable, NDN, 6/28/17)

Let your voice be heard.
Take a few minutes to tell your county commissioner (find her/him here) how the upcoming decisions will affect you and how you want them to vote. Reach Naples City Council members here.

In case you missed it, some recent Sparker's Soapbox posts:


Help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can read Sparker's Soapbox online at, subscribe to posts by email at, "like" Sparker's Soapbox on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Sparker's Soapbox Month in Review - June 2017, Part 1

The beginning of June was full of news about our state and local governments — so much so that I’ve split this Month in Review into two separate posts. In this one, I’ll share top stories about state government; in the next, I’ll report what happened in county and city government and the Collier County School District.

The big news at the state level relates to the final outcome of the 2017 Legislative Session. You’ll recall that it ended in May after House Speaker Corcoran and Senate President Negron struck a closed-door deal on a balanced budget that would pass both Chambers. They each got what they wanted, but the Governor’s priorities were ignored. It was clear something would have to be done to get the Governor to sign off on their budget before the June 30 end-of-fiscal-year deadline, and that played out in the early part of June.

There was another round of backstage negotiations, this time largely between Corcoran and Governor Scott, and another deal was struck. Scott and Corcoran got what they wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold. I described all the political maneuvering in Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3.

In addition to the education law changes I wrote about in Part 1, below are highlights and lowlights of the rest of what our elected leaders did for the people of Florida. Following that is an update on candidates who have filed or are rumored to be running for governor and other key offices in 2018.

Top stories: State Government

  • Legislature adjourns sometimes-bumpy Special Session after voting to improve funding for public schools, colleges, and universities, and revamping the way the state encourages economic growth. They also passed an implementing bill for the medical marijuana constitutional amendment the voters approved last year. (Florida Politics, 6/10/17)
  • 125 new Florida laws effective July 1. They include Florida’s $82 billion budget, along with $91.6 million in tax breaks and new rules regarding public notification of toxic spills. (The Ledger, 6/29/17)
  • Scott signs controversial HB 7069, shifting education from ‘traditional public schools.’ While the education omnibus bill offers changes for all kinds of schools in Florida, from requiring recess to reducing mandatory testing, it accelerates state tax dollar funding for profit and nonprofit charter and private schools, expands parents’ abilities to chose schools, and tightens Tallahassee’s controls over what local school boards can and cannot do. (, 6/15/17)
  • Florida’s 650 charter schools will see an extra $96.3 million, thanks to a controversial provision in a sweeping education bill Gov. Scott signed into law that forces school districts to hand over some of their local tax dollars. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)
  • Governor signed Religious Liberties bill into law. The bill requires public schools to let students lead prayers during the school day and at school-sanctioned events, such as assemblies. Students also cannot be punished for including religious materials in their course work, and may pray at school during non-course time. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/9/17); Miami Herald, 6/10/17)
  • New Florida law lets any resident challenge what kids learn in public schools, thanks to a new law that science education advocates worry will make it harder to teach evolution and climate change. Any parent or county resident can file a complaint, regardless of whether they have a student in the school system. (Washington Post, 7/1/17)
  • Florida law shifts burden of proof in ‘stand your ground’. Florida is now the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings. (AP, 6/9/17)
  • Bill expanding renewable energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties in Florida becomes law, after nearly 73 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment during last August’s primary elections. The bill also makes renewable-energy equipment exempt from state tangible personal property taxes. (PalmBeachPost, 6/19/17)
  • Southwest Florida gets $35.9 million in funding for local projects in FY2018 state budget. Collier’s Sen. Kathleen Passidomo brought home $750,000 for local mental health funding through the David Lawrence Center and $400,000 for a food bank that helps feed poor seniors in Collier and Lee. Rep. Bob Rommel got $500,000 for the Goodland Drive Rehabilitation program for Marco Island. (NDN 6/23/17)
  • Local post-secondary programs take big hits. Gov. Scott vetoed $15 million for FGCU's School of Integrated Watershed and Coastal Studies, $1 million for its Academic Career and Attainment Program, and $1 million for its Honors College. He also vetoed $1.2 million for the Naples Accelerator innovation center and Immokalee Culinary Technology Campus, and $175,000 for the Hodges University Identity Fraud Institute. See complete list of Scott’s $410 million line item vetoes here. (NDN, 6/3/17)
  • Passidomo Pleased With Result Of Special Session. Regarding the controversial omnibus education HB 7069, the senator thought the bill contained mostly positive measures. (Naples Herald, 06/14/17)
  • Collier legislators score poorly in the Florida Society of News Editors’ Sunshine Scorecard documenting support for open government. Sen. Passidomo received an essentially neutral C-, Rep. Carlos Trujillo earned a D+, and Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel received two of the only three F grades given (here and here). (First Amendment Foundation)

Now that you know how the 2017 Legislative Session ended, take a few minutes to email your representatives (find them here) and let them know you were watching and are holding them accountable. Thank them for their votes, or express your disapproval:

In other state news:

  • Scott appointee Jimmy Patronis was sworn in as Florida's new chief financial officer to serve through the November 2018 election, succeeding Jeff Atwater, who resigned to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. The CFO is one of three members of the elected Florida Cabinet and is paid about $129,000 a year. He oversees a staff of about 2,000 employees and a $300 million budget. (Tampa Bay Times, 06/30/17)

In the race for Congress:

  • Democrat Dr. Alina Valdes is running for Congressional District 25. As an unknown first-timer challenging popular incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart in 2016, she garnered 38 percent of the vote. (Letter, Alina Valdes, NDN 6/22/17)

In the race for Florida Governor:

  • Potential rivals to current Agricultural Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam gear up. Since the state’s legislative session ended, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, both Republicans, have become increasingly politically active, spurring speculation that it’s only a matter of time before each enters the race. (Politico, 6/27/17)
  • Fresh off big talk-radio endorsement, Congressman Ron DeSantis makes moves to run for governor. First elected in 2012 with strong tea party backing, he was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus and, during his U.S. Senate bid, received the backing of anti-establishment conservative groups. (Politico, 6/5/17)
  • Democrat John Morgan ramps up 'living wage' campaign as he eyes governor's race. The father of Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, possible wild-card candidate for governor, outspoken trial lawyer and big Democratic donor wants a $14 hourly “living wage” for voters to decide in 2020." (Politico, 6/26/17)

In the race for Attorney General (Florida Cabinet member):

  • Former Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody files to replace incumbent Pam Bondi who will have to leave office in 2018 because of term limits. The Attorney General is one of three members of Florida’s elected Cabinet. Moody, a Republican, joins a field that already includes Republican state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa. (Tampa Bay Times, 6/1/17)

In case you missed it: Sparker's Soapbox in June:

  • Month in Review - May 2017 (6/1/17)
  • Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3 (6/21/17)

Thanks for your interest. Stay tuned for Sparker's Soapbox June in Review Part 2, soon!


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, June 29, 2017

CCPS: An “A”-Rated School District

Congratulations to Collier County Public Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton, principals, teachers, school staffs, District administrators and School Board members!

CCPS is again an “A”-rated Florida school district. Of note from the school grades released this week, Collier County Public Schools:
  • Ranked 5th highest of 67 districts in the state, an increase from 14th in 2016 and 33rd in 2011;
  • Was among only 11 “A”-rated districts in the state (see districts in green in map below); 
  • Had the second highest year-over-year improvement measured by points earned in 11 areas of student success that include achievement, learning gains, middle school accreditation, graduation rate, and college and career acceleration;  
  • Had 46% of its schools earning an “A”; 74% earning an “A” or a “B”;
  • Had 17 schools improve one or more letter grades;
  • Had four schools increase two letter grades: Estates, Palmetto and Shadowlawn Elementary Schools from “C”s to As; Immokalee Community School from D to B;
  • Had no schools with a decrease in grades; and 
  • Had no “F” schools.
 Message from SuperintendentPatton
Click image to hear Dr. Patton’s message

The District attributed the results to “the hard work and commitment of students, teachers, administrators, District staff, and strong community support. A focus on progress monitoring and ongoing adjustments to instruction are integral to overall student achievement.”
Read the District’s full Assessment Brief, with individual school grades and comparisons to last year here, and the Naples Daily News article here. For more CCPS test results, click here
Florida’s 67 Districts
2017 School Grades
Florida’s school grading system focuses on measures of student success according to Florida law and rules adopted by the State Board of Education. Read more on the Department of Education School Grades web page here.

Florida’s 11 “A”-rated school districts are: Brevard, Collier, Gilchrist, Martin, Nassau, Okaloosa, St. Johns, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole and Wakulla.

The success or failure of a school district lies with the skill and leadership of its Superintendent. As a Collier voter, it is important that you remember that in Collier County, the Superintendent is hired by our five elected School Board members

If you are happy with this year’s District report card, take a minute and let them and Dr. Patton know!
Erick Carter -  
Erika Donalds -
Stephanie Lucarelli -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -
Congratulations to our school principals, teachers and staff, as well as Superintendent Patton and her team, for the continued improvement of Collier County Public Schools!
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.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Recapping Florida's 2017 Legislative Session - Part 3

In Part 1 of this series of recap posts, I took a high-level look at the roughly $82 billion FY 2018 state budget passed by the Legislature on May 8th. It included K–12 funding of $20 billion, up just 1.2% over the current year, which equated to per-student funding of $7,220.72, up just 0.3%.

I also described the sweeping $419 million education policy overhaul bill (HB 7069) that was cobbled together over a long weekend behind closed doors in the session's final days. That bill was championed by House Speaker Corcoran, a strong proponent of “school choice.”

While that bill passed easily in the House, it was a tough sell in the Senate. In addition to strong objections to portions of the bill, the way the bill was cobbled together in secret attracted national attention.

As quoted by the Washington Post in “It’s hard to overstate how much critics hate Florida’s ‘scam’ education bill” from a piece in the Orlando Sentinel:

Instead of carefully considering education proposals one at a time, Republican leaders went behind closed doors to cram 35 different proposals — rules on everything from sunscreen use to charter-schools incentives — into a single, 278-page, take-it-or-leave-it bill unveiled at the last minute. For me to simply reprint the bill, it would take 75 columns this size … and you still wouldn’t get to the part where legislators want to siphon money away from traditional schools until column No. 46.

House Speaker
Richard Corcoran
To get his bill passed, Corcoran agreed to deliver the House’s votes on Negron’s number two priority, SB 374, a higher education bill meant to “help certain state universities attain ‘elite’ status, while putting community colleges back in their place.” (Negron had already gotten his top priority, a controversial new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, in another closed-door deal. More here.) It was a classic quid pro quo arrangement.

Ultimately HB 7069 passed the Senate by just one vote., with three Republicans, including the chair of the Senate Education Budget Committee, voting against it.

When the Legislature adjourned on May 8, Corcoran and Negron were happy, but the Governor was not. His priorities had been soundly ignored. He wanted $7,421 per student for K-12 public school funding; he got just under $7,221. He wanted $76 million for his VISIT Florida tourism marketing agency; he got $25 million. And he wanted $85 million for his Enterprise Florida economic development organization; he got $16 million.

When Part 1 of this Session recap was published last month, it was clear that another deal was needed, and that with his veto pen, Scott had the upper hand. In Part 2 on May 22, I summarized the major education policies that, along with the budget, awaited the Governor’s signature and urged readers to weigh in.

Senate President
Joe Negron
On June 2, after “several days of backstage negotiations mostly involving Corcoran, Scott and their top staff members,” at a hastily convened press conference with Corcoran and Negron at his side, Scott announced that agreement had been reached. After signing the 2017-18 budget and vetoing the entire public education budget and $410 million in local projects, he called a special session of the Legislature for June 7 to 9 “to fight for students and jobs.”

Going in to that session, Scott wanted another $100 per student for K-12 education, a total of $76 million for VISIT Florida, and $85 million for a new Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Corcoran wanted Scott to sign his charter-friendly HB 7069. And Negron wanted him to sign his sweeping higher education SB 374.

When it was over, Scott got what he wanted, Corcoran got what he wanted, and Negron was left out in the cold.

Scott vetoed Negron’s higher education bill, saying it would “impede” progress at state colleges by boosting Florida’s universities at the expense of community-based schools. More here.

This stunning outcome was beautifully described in a Sun Sentinel editorial, “Joe Negron got played — Florida public schools pay price:”

Florida Senate President Joe Negron so badly wanted his top priority this year that he failed to do what citizens expect of the Legislature's upper chamber: stop bad things from happening.

Until now, the Senate has been the more-measured chamber, the adult in the room that kept an important check on the upstart House, whose members too often walk in lockstep on extreme proposals.

And sometimes, doing the right thing means being willing to sacrifice your pet project.

But after securing his first priority of the session — a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee — Negron fiercely sought his second: a sweeping higher education bill meant to help certain state universities attain "elite" status, while putting community colleges back in their place.

To secure Senate Bill 374, Negron made a bad gamble on the session's last day. He agreed to push his chamber to pass House Speaker Richard Corcoran's pet project: House Bill 7069, a bill to further privatize public education, tied with a bow of elementary school recess and teacher bonuses.

In the end, “Negron got outplayed,” wrote the Sun Sentinel. “His leadership mantle is shaken.

"And all this matters because our public schools are about to pay the price.”

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, June 1, 2017

Sparker's Soapbox Month in Review - May 2017

May was a busy month for our elected officials. At month-end, the School Board was sued by three parents and the Florida Citizens Alliance over its textbook selections. Earlier in the month, the Board heard public comments in support of a local charter school and began considering next year’s budget.

The County Commission discussed major road and building projects, whether to purchase a significant parcel of land, and whether to raise the tourist tax. Naples City Council is debating the ethics of one of its members, and it too, has a major building project to consider.

The Florida Legislature completed its 2017 session, with House and Senate leaders criticized for both what they did and how they did it. With term-limits triggered next year, races to succeed the Governor and the three Cabinet members got underway.

With all that is happening, how are busy Collier voters, many who are out of town for the summer, to keep up?

This post is my attempt to help. It's the first in what could become a new series called Sparker's Soapbox Month in Review. It was inspired by a narrowly-focused daily email I receive about one small aspect of national news. By reading it and some of the news stories it references, I feel well informed on its topic. I wondered if I could do something similar that is narrowly focused on our local and state elected officials and the issues and decisions they face.

Throughout May, I clipped articles and web posts about the Collier County School Board and District, the Board of Collier County Commissioners, the Naples City Council, the Florida Governor and Legislature, and upcoming state and local elections. I also clipped Naples Daily News editorials that provided meaningful relevant commentary. In the last days of the month, I pared down and organized what I'd collected. My goal was to publish a summary of top stories for Collier voters on the first of June.

I certainly can’t guarantee I found everything that is relevant, but I hope what I did find is informative.

With that -- here's Sparker's Soapbox Month in Review for May 2017.

Top stories: Collier County Public Schools

  • Three parents and Florida Citizens Alliance sue the Collier County School Board over textbooks slated for public school classrooms next fall. The suit calls for an "emergency injunction" on the books and the School Board's selection process for violating state transparency laws and education standards. (Naples Daily News 05/31/17)
  • Florida Citizens Alliance Objections to Textbooks to be Heard at Special School Board Meeting June 1st. Florida Citizens Alliance is a "self-professed constitutionalism group" whose issues are the Second Amendment and local control of public education. (Sparker's Soapbox 5/25/17)
  • CCPS critics believe textbook review committees were stacked to promote progressive ideas in history, economics and the law. School officials say the committees reflect who applied and that neither party affiliation nor political leanings were considered when selecting members. (Brent Batten, Naples Daily News 5/22/17)
  • Florida’s Auditor General calls Collier schools ‘best in state’ on internal controls and FEFP compliance. The senior lead auditor who conducted the District’s last three audits routinely uses the District’s processes and procedures as the model when conducting statewide training. (Kamela Patton, Guest Commentary, Naples Daily News 5/14/17)
  • Better-than-budgeted FY17 results expected to add $3.5 million to District reserves. The preliminary FY18 budget anticipates revenue and additional cost savings to more than cover higher costs, making staff salary increases a possibility. (CCPS Budget Presentation 5/20/17)
  • Thirteen Collier schools will have new principals in the fall. The retirement of Deputy Superintendent David Stump provides an opportunity to restructure the District leadership team to support new principals and offer more ongoing professional development. (CCPS Press Release 5/16/17; Naples Daily News 5/23/17)
  • The School Board should hire an internal audit firm to perform a risk assessment and develop a longer-term internal audit plan. (Erika Donalds, Guest Commentary, Naples Daily News 5/20/17)
  • A large crowd of Mason Classical Academy supporters turned out for the May 9 School Board meeting. They urged the Board to renew its charter, which expires June 30, in over an hour of public comments before the business portion of the meeting. (Video-on-Demand 5/9/17)

Top stories: Board of Collier County Commissioners

  • Decision on $60 - $80 million sports complex likely at June County Commission meeting. The project seems to have support from a majority of commissioners, but how it will be funded is more controversial. (Naples Daily News 5/3/17; Naples Herald 5/24/17)
  • County resumes long-delayed plans to extend Vanderbilt Beach Road. It will need to buy rights-of-way from dozens of homeowners in the six to eight miles between where the road ends now, just east of Collier Boulevard, and the project’s end. Expected completion in 2023, at a cost of about $60 million. (Naples Daily News 5/5/17)
  • Collier Commission votes 4-1 to end temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries October 10. Commissioner Bill McDaniel dissented, saying the moratorium should end immediately. Proposed regulations will be vetted during public meetings this summer. (Naples Daily News 5/9/17)
  • County to increase spending on wildfire prevention after recent fires in Golden Gate Estates put it “one spark away from losing 900 structures and 500 homes in a densely populated area.” (Naples Daily News 5/13/17)
  • An 18-story, 300-unit mixed use project with a 75-slip marina proposed near Vanderbilt Beach in North Naples. It would replace several buildings, most more than 30 years old, and require a rezoning and growth plan amendment. (Naples Daily News 5/16/17; Naples Daily News 5/18/17)
  • County loses lawsuit against CVS and landlord over eminent domain; commissioners to consider appeal. A win would let the County recoup some of the $6.5 million it paid CVS and its landlord for taking away 11 parking spaces to widen a road, and could drastically reduce the cost to taxpayers of eminent domain for years to come. (Naples Daily News 5/22/17; Brent Batten, Naples Daily News 5/29/17)
  • HHH Ranch owners offer Collier County 1,010 acres in exchange for mining proceeds. The ranch is three miles east of Collier Boulevard and north of I-75/Alligator Alley. Commissioners will get two appraisals of the property as a first step in considering the proposal. (Naples Daily News 5/25/17)
  • Lawyers ditch Everglades City's troubles with water, sewage plants, citing "irreconcilable differences" with city leaders. Will the County have to take over? and at what cost? (Naples Daily News 5/26/17)
  • County to take back Goodland Drive from the City of Marco Island, but repairs still years away. The road floods substantially during the rainy season and has been a public safety concern for years. Construction could begin in 2020, but a budget for it has not yet been approved. (Naples Daily News 5/28/17)
  • Collier officials soon to decide on room tax, beach aid, advertising, sports complex. On June 13, Commissioners will revisit how they spend the roughly $20 million the county collects every year from a sales tax on overnight stays. (Naples Daily News 5/30/17)

Top stories: Naples City Council

  • Councilwoman Linda Penniman and City Attorney differ on development disclosure rules. Penniman requested the disclosures after the Naples Daily News reported on a potential conflict of interest involving Councilman Sam Saad’s relationship with a real estate investment group. (Naples Daily News 5/11/17)
  • Collier NAACP files an ethics complaint against Councilman Saad, saying he violated Florida Bar rules when he voted to approve a development project in the City’s River Park neighborhood. (Naples Daily News 5/24/17)
  • Naples design board OKs plan for 118-room hotel at Third Street Plaza. The project would replace the >25-year-old plaza often described as an eyesore. It requires final approval by the Naples City Council. (Naples Daily News 5/24/17)

Top stories: State Government

  • Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 1 (Sparker's Soapbox 5/15/17)
  • Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 2 (Sparker's Soapbox 5/22/17)
  • Gov. Scott signs legislation aimed at building reservoir that should eventually help ease freshwater discharges to the Caloosahatchee River. (News-Press 5/12/17)
  • Food money for low-income seniors in Lee, Collier, Charlotte counties back in budget, thanks to Naples Sen. Kathleen Passidomo’s “last-minute maneuvering.” (News-Press 5/15/17)
  • Passidomo, Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel reflect on 2017 legislative session. (Naples Daily News 5/10/17; 5/18/17)
  • Legislative budget includes $1.2 million for Collier's business accelerators, thanks to “last-minute push” by Passidomo, Donalds and Rommel. (Naples Daily News 5/16/17)
  • Byron Donalds among four freshmen House Republicans running to be Speaker in 2022. (Politico 5/22/17)

Top stories: 2018 state elections

  • Florida governor’s race well underway: Already 18 candidates for 2018. (Palm Beach Post 5/28/17)
  • The biggest financial backers to-date of candidates running for governor in 2018. (Tampa Bay Times 5/18/17)

Top Naples Daily News Editorials

  • 'Local control' may be House without home. The House voted 68-48 for House Bill 843 by Naples state Reps. Byron Donalds and Bob Rommel. Thankfully the misguided bill didn’t pass. (Naples Daily News 5/4/17)
  • A visionary approach to future fire danger. Editorial Board applauds Collier government leadership for taking a three-point approach toward addressing the high fire danger that inevitably will return. (Naples Daily News 5/10/17)
  • Goodland Drive, ATV Park: numbers may not add up on beneficial deals. When government agencies fail to strike a deal, the cost of that failure affects everyday citizens who see promises broken by public officials or people’s well-being caught up in a political tug-of-war. (Naples Daily News 5/11/17)
  • Two state formulas need revision to help replenish Florida beaches. The $50 million the Legislature and Gov. Scott agreed to spend for beach projects in the 2017-18 state budget isn’t nearly enough to address the state’s extreme coastal erosion problem. (Naples Daily News 5/17/17)
  • There's no emergency to merge Collier fire districts with ambulance service. The desirable goal is a patient who has received thoughtful, progressive care -- not rushed, emergency treatment. This is a case where it’s good to be waiting for the ambulance. (Naples Daily News 5/18/17)

What do you think? Did reading this post make you a more informed voter? Would you like to read something similar weekly, bi-weekly or monthly?

I welcome your feedback and suggestions.

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, May 25, 2017

Florida Citizens Alliance Objections to Textbooks to be Heard at Special School Board Meeting June 1st

Thursday, June 1, 4 PM
CCPS Administrative Center
5775 Osceola Trail, Naples
Seven Collier County parents affiliated with the Florida Citizens Alliance will each have up to ten minutes to object to Collier County Public School textbook selections at a Special School Board meeting next Thursday, thanks to SB 864: Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education, signed into law by Gov. Scott in 2014.

Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA) is a "self-professed constitutionalism group" whose issues are the Second Amendment and local control of public education. It was founded by Keith Flaugh of Marco Island; Collier School Board member Erika Donalds was also a founding member, and unsuccessful 2016 School Board candidate Louise Penta serves on the group’s Board of Directors.

Backed by FCA, SB 864 requires at least one parent to be included in a school district’s textbook review process. This year’s CS/HB 989, sponsored by Donalds’ husband Rep. Byron Donalds and also backed by FCA, takes SB 864 even further by giving any local taxpayer the right to challenge, in FCA’s words, “factually inaccurate instructional materials (materials that do not present balanced viewpoints on issues), as well as other instructional materials that contain age-inappropriate sexually explicit material that violates existing Florida Laws.”

Read the objections to the textbooks on FCA’s website here or on the CCPS website here.

My goal with this post is to make readers aware of who these objections are coming from (not just any parent) and their ideology. I will share some of the objections to each book, but to get the full flavor, I encourage you to read at least one of the submissions in its entirety. By clicking a book’s title, below, you can access the book from the District’s website, but this access may only be available until the conclusion of the Special School Board Meeting.

Florida Social Studies - used in grades K–5

The objection to this series of social studies books was submitted by Kenneth Lee Dixon, unsuccessful 2014 School Board candidate and parent of a Mason Classical Academy Charter School student, and Mary Ellen Cash, a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Read it here. They assert that the series is suited for English language learners and therefore “reduce(s) rigor and is not appropriate for mainstream or gifted students.” They also criticize when and the way in which immigration is presented and that immigration law is not addressed.

By the People: A History of the United States - used in high school Advanced Placement U.S. History

David Bolduc, who succeeded Erika Donalds as president of Parents ROCK, and a parent of a Naples High School student, objected (here) to this book. In his view, “this History textbook is more concerned with indoctrinating our children to become future social justice warriors part of a humanistic, collectivized society where rights are given by government, rather than teaching them the United States of America was created based on the universal principles of the unalienable God-given rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence.” He believes the theme or purpose of the book is “To glorify advocates who want to destroy the founding values of the United States of America and substitute them with an authoritarian, communist, collectivise [sic] form of government and economy,” the consequence of which would be “to accept collectivism as beneficial."

Understanding Economics - used in high school Economics

James Kelly submitted an objection (here) to this textbook. The same document on the Florida Citizens Alliance website was submitted by Joseph Doyle, a frequent CCPS critic at School Board meetings. They call the book “a continuation of the left-leaning propaganda that demonizes free enterprise while advocating top-down government, deficit spending and class warfare.” They point to a lesson on fiscal policy that “is riddled with editorializing and sweeping generalizations that disparage supply-side economics,” and say the textbook “glorifies the biographies of ideologues Karl Marx, Cezar Chavez, and Paul Krugman as well as pop culture financial industry celebrities Suze Orman and Janet Yellen, and CEO's [sic] Daniel Akerson and Irene Rosenfeld.”

Street Law: A Course in Practical Law - used in high school Law Studies

Brantley Oakey, parent of a Mason Classical Academy student, objected (here) to this textbook. He sees a “recurring theme that the Constitution is inferior and should model the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and provide economic rights.” As a consequence, “Students will be conditioned to believe everyone should be entitled to free healthcare, housing, and work as a legal right and that the Constitution needs to be changed to accommodate this.”

Steven J. Bracci also objected to the Law Studies textbook (here). Bracci, a Naples attorney who has sued both the Collier County School Board and the Superintendent, is a parent of students attending Gulf Coast High School and North Naples Middle School. He cites a “bias against the status quo of the U.S. legal system, and the U.S. Constitution in particular.” Among his specific criticisms:

  • The book frames the National Rifle Association in the negative (they "oppose restrictions on gun ownership and use”) rather than in the affirmative (“for instance, promoting the Constitutional right to bear arms as set forth in the Second Amendment”).
  • The section on voting “is slanted as a criticism of a republic form of government, advocating instead in favor of direct votes by the people.”
  • The section on campaign finance reform is biased in that it does not “provide any hyperlink to an organization that supports the Citizens United position; by contrast, the link to the League of Women's [sic] Voters specifically opposes it.”

United States Government: Our Democracy - used in high school U.S. Government

J. Eric Konuk, parent of a Naples High School student, submitted a review (here) that according to the FCA website was co-written with FCA founder Keith Flaugh. It begins by criticizing the book’s title, writing: “US is not a democracy; We are a Constitutional Republic,” and quotes the following from which I traced to The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles:

“Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between (a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and (b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority …."

The ”About Us” page of the Lexrex website Konuk and Flaugh reference concludes: “Forget about 'Saving the Public Schools!' SAVE YOUR OWN CHILDREN FIRST! Hopefully the kids in the government-controlled schools can be rehabilitated by your homeschooled kids later. We should have free (100% voluntary - funded by true charity) schools for poor kids and government-controlled schools for no one's kids.”

Florida United States History - used in high School U.S. History Honors

Douglas A. Lewis, an attorney and parent of three Mason Classical Academy students, and H. Michael Mogil, owner of a local math tutoring company, submitted a 26-page objection (here) to this textbook. Among their objections:
  • There is “a strong social undercurrent in the book, attacking white men and businesses and favoring immigrants and government activity.” 
  • Judging the missions and goals of “the large number of civic and social groups that are listed as program advisors and program partners”, “it is clear that community action for social change and social justice are strong focus.”
  • “The material is written in too simplistic a format; questions are not rigorous enough; supportive material is often lacking; and the focus remains on a timeline rather than topical. Further, history in this book is dominated by social and people issues, rather than discussions of significant issues."

My take, and looking ahead

While I commend the effort it took to review the materials and prepare the written objections, I do not share FCA’s ideology and find a good deal of the rhetoric on its website and the cited website, and in the submitted objections, disturbing.

That said, if the criticism that the books fail to present both sides of issues is valid, I encourage teachers to supplement those presentations. In these highly polarized and politicized times, young people must learn that there ARE controversial issues and how to identify them. They must learn that there are extreme positions as well as more moderate ones, and that dialog and ultimately compromise on difficult issues are necessary in a civil society.

Curriculum and instructional materials were issues in past School Board elections and will continue to be in the elections ahead. FCA can be expected to continue its efforts.

Five elected School Board members make District policy and hire the Superintendent who oversees the education of Collier’s kids. Three of the five seats will be on the ballot in August 2018. It’s not too soon to be paying attention.

As initially published, this post had an incorrect date for the Special Board Meeting, and said each speaker would have three minutes to address the Board. The correct meeting date is Thursday, June 1. I have been advised that each speaker will have up to ten minutes to address the Board.

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, May 22, 2017

Recapping Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session - Part 2

As promised in my last post, here's a look at the major education policies contained in bills awaiting the Governor signature.

Testing - The many people who wanted fewer state-mandated tests, a later “testing window” (calendar) in which to give them, and a return to paper-based assessments got much less than they asked for. Just one end-of-course exam (Algebra II) and phys ed for student-athletes who don’t take a PE course were eliminated. The testing window was pushed back to start May 1 and reduced to two weeks, gaining one to three weeks of instructional time. Paper-based testing will be required for grades three through six in English language arts (ELA) and math starting in the 2017-18 year, and for all ELA and math exams no later than 2018-19. Test results will have to be provided more quickly and with clearer explanations. Exceptions are for third-grade reading and paper-based tests in grades three through six, which take longer to grade. These provisions are included in the massive HB 7069, which has not yet been received by the Governor but could well be vetoed.

Teacher Pay - The Legislature again this year favored bonuses for “effective” teachers over across-the-board pay increases for all teachers. They expanded the 2015 “Best and Brightest Scholarship” program to more teachers in that for the next three years, those who earn a "highly effective" rating would get a $1,200 bonus while those with "effective" ratings would get $800. After that time, new criteria would kick in for a higher payout. They also added an award for principals in schools with the highest percentage of Best and Brightest teachers, and eliminated the bonus cap for teachers whose students successfully complete AP, AICE and similar tests. Responding to teacher complaints, they  removed the requirement for districts to evaluate teachers using the controversial "value-added model," which relies on test scores. But they took away the ability of school boards to offer guaranteed employment extensions to teachers on annual contract, something many districts have done since 2011. All these provisions are included in HB 7069.

Mandatory Recess - Florida's self-designated "recess moms" wanted 20 minutes of daily elementary school recess. They found quick support in the Senate, but the House was slow to respond. The idea resurfaced in the final days of horse-trading and was included in the massive HB 7069, but with an unrequested exemption for charter schools.

Instructional Materials Review - Rep. Byron Donalds and local supporters including the Florida Citizens Alliance and Better Collier County Schools wanted non-parent community members to be able to challenge curriculum and library materials. Opponents, including Florida Citizens for Science, strongly opposed the controversial HB 989, citing supporters’ “vociferous opposition to established, accurate science concepts” including evolution and climate change. Following a massive lobbying effort by both sides, lawmakers adopted most of Donalds’ original bill. And districts will have to bring in an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer" to hear complaints and issue recommendations. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Religious Expression in Public Schools - Further testing the line between church and state, the Legislature passed SB 436, the "Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act.” Students may use religious content during lessons, wear clothing and jewelry with religious symbols at school, and participate in religious activities including prayer at school during “appropriate" times. Districts must adopt policies allowing "limited public forums" for students to pray at school events, and school employees may participate in student-led religious activities on school grounds, as long as the activities are voluntary and do not interfere with the employees' responsibilities. Next stop: the Governor’s Office.

Improve middle school study performance - The Legislature was shown data sourced to an email from the Foundation for Florida’s Future showing that Florida students in grade 8 have performed below the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Mathematics test since 1990, and below or most recently at the national average on the NAEP Reading test since 1998. It was told that NAEP is “the largest nationally representative assessment of students’ knowledge and performance in a variety of subject areas, including but not limited to mathematics, reading, and writing.” In response, the Legislature passed HB 293 directing the state Department of Education to solicit competitive bids to “conduct a comprehensive study of states with high-performing students in grades 6 through 8 in reading and mathematics, based on the states’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress,” and submit recommendations to improve middle school study performance by the end of this year. The bill is pending in the Governor’s Office; he has until June 2 to act.

It’s not too late to weigh in

Do you oppose the lack of transparency with which so many education policy issues were decided and shoe-horned into a 274-page bill? Do you think there’s still too much state-mandated testing? Do you object to the charter-school exemption from the mandated recess time? Do you think the "Best and Brightest Teacher and Principal Scholarship" program is the best way to attract and keep the best teachers in Florida? Are you okay with the “Religious Expression in Public Schools” bill? Are you concerned about the education budget or any of the other policy changes included in HB 7069? If so, it’s not too late to let Governor Scott know!

And given the many press reports that he’s listening, I urge you to do so. (PoliticoFlorida)

It’s easy to call the Governor’s office — (850) 488-7146 or (850) 717-9337 — and leave a message with your name, your city and zip code, the bill number you’re calling about, and whether you want him to sign or veto it. It would be nice, but not necessary, for you to include a one-sentence reason why. Or email

Let your voice be heard now!

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 follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.