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.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On the Agenda for Tuesday’s School Board Meeting

Updated: 09/07/15 - 12:40 PM

There are three hot items on the Agenda for the Collier County School District (CCPS) Regular School Board Meeting on Tuesday, September 8, beginning at 5:30 PM:

In addition, the Consent Agenda contains 28 items, including approval of a new Collier Charter Academy (Consent Agenda - Item B10) and a one-year extension of the contract with Gulf Coast Charter Academy South (Consent Agenda - Item B11)

The Regular Meeting will adjourn at 6:30 PM for a Final 2015–16 Budget Hearing and Board vote to approve the 2015–16 Millage Rate and Budget. After that, the Regular Meeting will resume.

Highlights of what’s at issue with each of these items follow.

My hope in writing this - as with all my pre-Board Meetings posts - is that you will let Board members know your views on these matters either in person or by email before the meeting. Email addresses are at the end of the post.

Blue Zones Project (Unfinished Business - Item E2)

The Blue Zones Project was first discussed by the Board at its August 11 Meeting. From my pre-meeting post:

Last October, NCH Healthcare System, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project® of Southwest Florida. According to the press release: 
The Blue Zones Project® is a major initiative to improve the well-being and longevity of residents of Collier and South Lee Counties in Southwest Florida. The Blue Zones Project brings together citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and community leaders to improve the living environment so healthy choices are natural and often unavoidable. NCH is bringing the Blue Zones Project to Southwest Florida in support of its 10-year vision to make the region an even healthier, happier and more vibrant place to live.

At the August meeting, several public speakers and Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter expressed strong opposition to the District’s participation in the Project. See Naples Daily News “Board balks at school inclusion in Blue Zones.” While expressing support, Board member Roy Terry wanted to know how participation would affect District staff. Chair Kathleen Curatolo and Board member Julie Sprague also supported the District’s participation in the Project, beginning with a four-school pilot. The Board agreed to bring the item back for a vote at the September meeting.

As has become all too common, Collier parent/attorney Steven Bracci filed a lawsuit against CCPS Superintendent Kamela Patton, this time claiming her participation in Blue Zone planning meetings violated Florida’s Sunshine Laws. See Naples Daily News "“Collier superintendent sued over Blue Zones initiative” and the lawsuit “Steven J. Bracci vs Kamela Patton.”

I agree with the Naples Daily News Editorial “Collier School Board should support Blue Zones agreement,” which concluded:

Promoting well-being among those who will be around for generations to come makes sense. That’s why we urge the School Board to sign on, then move forward in addressing testing, classroom learning and budget oversight.

A list of community leaders who support the Blue Zones Project is included in the Southwest Florida Blue Zones Project Blueprint. In addition to Dr. Allen Weiss, CEO - NCH Healthcare System, and Bill Barker, Publisher of the Naples Daily News, it includes John Cox, President and CEO - Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Kevin Rambosk - Sheriff, Collier County, John Sorey, Mayor - City of Naples, Penny Taylor, Commissioner - Collier County – and more.

Don’t let an angry, vocal minority drown out the majority’s voices of reason. Email School Board members today that you support the Superintendent’s recommendation to participate in the Blue Zones four-school pilot project.

First Reading of School Board Policy 1010: Board - Superintendent Relationship (New Business - Item C29)

This one-page policy has been before the Board several times since February; this is the second time it is being heard as a First Reading. Past controversy about the policy concerned how suggestions for new policies or revisions to existing policies were to be made, specifically in the case of a Board member suggestion that the Superintendent did not support.

The Executive Summary of this item on Tuesday’s Agenda says this revision is necessary to align this policy with other policies and with the Board’s Bylaws. If that’s all that’s behind this, the item should move forward to a Second Reading with little discussion. Stay tuned.

“Tract K” (New Business - Item D3)

“Tract K” is an 11.6-acre parcel of land on Marco Island that was gifted to the District in 1989 by the Deltona Corporation, the developer of Marco Island. According to a 2006 Naples Daily News article, the then-president of the Marco Island Civic Association said it was the intent of the donor that the land be used for the benefit of citizens, and that the documents related to the transfer referred to the parcel as a “school site.”

The parcel has a long history of failed attempts to develop it. A search on the Naples Daily News website shows that in 2006, the Marco Island City Council wanted to buy the land. (More here). In 2008, a Marco Island resident and then-Superintendent Dennis Thompson wanted to put solar panels on the land and use them for energy production. (More here.) In 2010, the the land was wanted for a charter high school, but some Marco Island residents urged instead that Conservation Collier buy the land to protect nesting American Bald Eagles there. (More here.)

In 2011, the District leased the land to the Marco Island Eagle Sanctuary Foundation (Foundation) for $30,000 per year; that lease expires in April 2016. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board will consider two competing proposals for the land:

  • A 5-year Lease Purchase Agreement with the Foundation, under which, should the Foundation exercise its option to purchase the land, the sale proceeds would be distributed “for the benefit of the public school populace of Marco Island and Marco Shores on a proportionate basis to the schools (both District schools and public charter schools) where such students attend,” versus
  • Allowing the Marco Island Academy use of the land as a school site.

Thomas Eastman, CCPS Director Interagency, Real Property and Regulatory Coordination, will present the background and two proposals. (PowerPoint here; draft Lease Purchase Agreement here.) The Superintendent and staff recommend accepting the Foundation’s proposal.

Application for Collier Charter Academy (Consent Agenda - Item B10)

If approved, Collier Charter Academy, operated by the for-profit management company Charter Schools USA, would open in August 2016 under a five-year contract. The Charter would enroll 661 students in grades K through 6 in its first year, expand to grade 8 in 2018, and have a student population of 1,145 by 2020, according to an article in the Naples Herald.

District staff recommends approval of this application. As I’ve written in the past, the District has little discretion over the approval of charter school applications that meet state requirements.

Contract extension - Gulf Coast Charter Academy South (Consent Agenda - Item B11)

Gulf Coast Charter Academy is a tuition-free charter school in the City of Naples for students in grades K through 8. Its current contract with CCPS will expire in June 2016, and it is requesting a one-year extension. According to the Executive Summary, “The District needs to maintain consistency of review and renewable timetables in all of its Charter School contracts,” and as a result, the District recommends that the Board deny the contract extension request.

2015–16 School Tax Millage Rate and Budget (Final Budget Hearing - Agenda)

A July NDN guest commentary by Board Chair Curatolo provided an excellent review of the District’s budget since the 2007 economic downturn. The District has also provided good background information, including 10-year historical data on the value of the District’s tax roll (property value upon which the School tax is levied) and millage rate:

Source: CCPS 2016 Final Budget Book
The proposed 2015–16 millage rate and budget were presented to the public and the Board at a Tentative Budget Hearing on July 28. (PowerPoint here.) They will be presented for final approval on Tuesday.

The proposed millage rate is 5.480 mills, or $5.480 per $1,000 of taxable property value. This rate is 0.100 mills lower than last year’s rate; the reduction is solely attributable to a cut in the Required Local Effort set by the state from 3.332 mills to 3.232 mills. The proposed Discretionary portion of the levy over which the Board has control is 2.248 mills, unchanged since 2009–10.

The budget being presented for approval is $977 million.

As was to be expected, many public speakers and the two newest School Board members spoke against the District’s proposals at the July meeting (Naples Daily News article here). I expect the same this week.

Public Input Requested

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts about any of these items, but especially the Blue Zones Project, with Board members and Superintendent Patton:

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

If you attend the meeting, please wear BLUE to indicate your support of the Blue Zones Project.

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.
Note: This post was revised to correct a typo regarding the millage rate. The revised sentence is "The proposed millage rate is 5.480 mills, or $5.480 per $1,000 of taxable property value."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Report on the August 11 School Board Meeting

In last week’s post, I provided background on items to be addressed at the August 11 School Board meeting that I thought would be of interest to voters. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts on those discussions. I’ll also describe something that came up toward the end of the meeting I think voters should be aware of.

As always, my goal is to help readers be informed voters in the August 2016 School Board elections.

2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the District’s proposed 2016 Legislative Platform, following changes requested by the Board last month. The Platform asks the state for more funding, and more local control over testing and accountability (without saying what changes the Board would make if they had it). After agreeing to two clarifications, the Board adopted the Platform unanimously. The final document can be read here.

It’s important to view the CCPS Legislative Platform in the broader context of the national debate taking place as Congress considers updating the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. NCLB itself was a reauthorization of the 1960s-era Elementary and Secondary Education Act that included Title I, the main program through which the federal government aids poor and minority children.

Last month, the House and Senate passed separate and different reauthorization bills. The House bill (H.R. 5 - Student Success Act) passed with a very close vote of 218–213. Twenty-seven Republicans, including Florida District 19’s Curt Clawson, crossed party-line to join the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the bill. The Senate bill (S. 1177 - Every Child Achieves Act) passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, 81–17, but Florida’s Marco Rubio was not among them.

A summary of the differences between NCLB and the House and Senate bills in the areas of testing, accountability, standards, teacher quality, low-performing schools, school choice, funding, federal programs and preschool can be found in “Revising the No Child Left Behind Act: Issue by Issue.” Voters should pay attention to how their elected officials vote on whatever reconciliation bill ultimately comes forward.

2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

The purpose of this item was to obtain Board approval of the 2015–16 student testing schedule, as required by state law. The proposed schedule was approved as presented by a vote of 3 to 2, with Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter in the minority.

As I described in last week’s post and as clearly shown in the District’s summary of annual student assessments, most District-wide student tests are either mandated by the state or optionally taken by students for college readiness, acceleration or industry certification. Only four District-wide assessments are under local control.

Donalds asked whether the 10th grade PSAT, listed as a state-required test, wasn’t actually optional, since a parent can choose to have her child not take the test, and if so, if that “opt-out” option could be changed to “opt-in.” She also asked about opportunities for parents to opt their children out of two of the four District-required local assessments. Both requests reflect Donalds’ frequently-expressed desire to reduce student testing. Discussion ensued, with Superintendent Patton explaining why the requested “opt-out” was not really an option.

Lichter asked how much classroom time is spent on the state-required Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screening. The Superintendent explained that this assessment is required by state law, within the first 30 days of school. She shares Lichter’s concern, saying that’s why the District and others are lobbying the State to allow the screening to be given in pre-K, leaving fewer children to test in kindergarten.

Voters should know that there is benefit to having a parent’s perspective among the varied experiences of a School Board. I was pleased to learn from the discussion that the District had already considered the opportunities to reduce testing raised by Donalds and Lichter, but it was also good to hear the concerns they expressed.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

As I explained in last week’s post, this was an Information-Only agenda item, with no Board vote to be taken. At issue is whether or not the community-wide Blue Zones Project interferes with parental choice, and if so, if the Board should limit or prohibit the District’s participation in it.

Donalds expressed concerns about the Blue Zones School Pledge, specifically the list of 21 Blue Zones policy initiatives from which each school would adopt a subset toward the goal of becoming a Blue Zones Approved school. While some of the choices are already District policy (e.g. “Enforce a tobacco-free campus”), she wanted School Attorney Jonathan Fishbane to review the list to ensure it did not include measures that would require Board approval.

Donalds had other concerns as well. As reported in a post by reporter Mel Leonor in the Naples Daily News “Making the Grade” blog, Donalds said, “We do not want to tell our parents what they can send in their child’s lunch.”

Lichter expressed a different concern. “Fitness is important,” she said, “but curriculum is more pressing than Blue Zones…. I don’t want staff time spent on initiatives [like these] when we have yet to address academic issues.” Presumably she was referring to her frequently-expressed opinion that the District’s academic performance is lacking.

After a lengthy discussion, the Board asked Attorney Fishbane to review the list and report back at the September 8 Board meeting, at which time the Board will then vote on how to proceed. In the meantime, the Superintendent will also delay the start of the previously planned four-school Blue Zones pilot program.

This debate gives voters an example of how a Board member’s political philosophy can affect District policy. Referring to the Blue Zones school policy initiatives as “Nanny state controls,” Southwest Florida Citizens’ Alliance leader Keith Flaugh wrote that the delay gives the public time to better understand “what specific freedoms can be lost.” Others see District participation in the Blue Zones Project as giving each school the opportunity to be part of a community-wide effort to make Southwest Florida a healthier place to live, play and work.

Internal Auditor - Agenda Item C1

Donalds, whose accounting credentials were cited by many who supported her candidacy, believes that without an Internal Audit function, the District may be at risk of financial loss or “inadvertent inefficiencies.” She also thinks compliance with Board policies and state laws should be reviewed, saying she wants to add “verify” to the “trust” the District has that staff appropriately do their jobs. She said an internal audit function is a best practice in business, and wants to bring that function to the District. As a first step, she wants to hire an outside firm to do a “risk assessment” so that the Board can then make an informed decision about if and how to proceed.

After a long discussion during which some Board members said they didn’t understand what Donalds was asking for of why it was needed, Donalds offered to get more information and the Board agreed to add discussion of a “risk assessment” to the agenda for its November business meeting.

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

Not on Agenda: FEA Cease and Desist Order

Toward the end of the meeting, Board member Julie Sprague asked Attorney Fishbane to advise the Board how it should respond to a cease and desist letter the District received from the Florida Education Association (FEA) on behalf of the Collier County Education Association (CCEA; Teachers’ Union). Fishbane recommended that the Board make clear its intention to honor its exclusive bargaining agreement with the CCEA. Sprague asked that the recommendation be brought forward as an action item for the Board to vote on.

What came next was an angry and defensive outburst by Lichter. “What this is all about is to call me out!,” she said. “The cease and desist letter is a bullying tactic from the FEA! I did nothing wrong!” She accused Fishbane of colluding with Sprague on a “script” (presumably to bring the matter up at the Board meeting) and setting her up. Fishbane denied Lichter’s charges that he had spoken with Sprague, pandered to the Union, or tipped anyone off. “That’s not who I am,” he said.

Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo, to her credit, got the meeting back under control and the Board to accept Fishbane’s recommendation. “There is consensus that we will honor CCEA’s exclusive bargaining agreement with the Collier Public Schools,” she concluded.

To an observer (me), it was a very uncomfortable 10 minutes.

Subsequent to the meeting, I obtained a copy of the FEA letter. It claimed that Lichter made statements “advocating on behalf, and extolling the virtues, of the Association of American Educators (”AAE“)…. acting as an agent of the school board, and her express purpose is to undermine and erode the role of the [Teachers’ Union]….” As a result, the letter says, the District is facing “tremendous legal exposure” which “could be very costly to the District unless School Board member Ms. Lichter immediately ceases from making any similar statements….”

Voters should know that Lichter took actions that School Attorney Fishbane told her would put the Board and the District at risk. Those actions resulted in the threat of a “very costly” lawsuit. Fishbane said at the meeting that he repeated his opinion to Lichter on three separate occasions, yet it appears that she persisted.

As a voter, I find this School Board member’s disregard of the advice of District counsel, as well her behavior on the dais during this discussion, unacceptable.

If you have thoughts or comments on any of the above, I encourage you to share them with the Board by email:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -

In addition, please help me reach more Collier County voters by sharing this post with your friends. You and they can subscribe to Sparker’s Soapbox by email at, “like” me on Facebook at or follow me on Twitter @SparkersSoapbox.

Monday, August 17, 2015

August 18 School Board Work Session on Policies and More

A School Board Work Session will be held on Tuesday, August 18, at 5:30 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

The Agenda includes a First Reading of 16 Board Policies, a long-postponed discussion, at the request of Board member Julie Sprague, of the Board’s Governance Model - Agenda Item B15, and a discussion, at the request of Board member Erika Donalds, of the need for a Board-appointed Budget Committee - Agenda Item C17.

If you would like to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent before the meeting, you can email them:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -

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, August 10, 2015

On the Agenda for Tuesday's School Board Meeting

Three items on the Agenda for Tuesday’s School Board meeting should be of particular interest to Collier parents and teachers, because they affect what goes on in the classroom:

  • the CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform,
  • the CCPS 2015–16 Assessment Schedule, and
  • the Blue Zones® Project, a community-based, healthy-living initiative.

In addition, the Board will discuss whether the District should create the new position of Internal Auditor.

In this post, I’ll provide some background on each of these items and explain what you should know about them to be an informed voter.

CCPS 2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

Each year around this time, agencies of local government and other interested parties in Florida develop a set of legislative actions they want their elected State House and Senate representatives to take on their behalf in the next state Legislative Session. Organizations present these “Legislative Platforms” to their local “representatives ”Legislative Delegation" at a day-long meeting and public hearing.

Collier County’s Legislative Delegation consists of State Senators Garrett Richter and Dwight Bullard and State Representatives Matt Hudson, Kathleen Passidomo and Carlos Trujillo. This year’s meeting and public hearing will be on Thursday, October 15 (details here).

The Board considered a proposed Legislative Platform for the School District at its July 28 meeting. See my posts here and here. On Tuesday, it will consider and likely vote on a Platform revised to reflect last month’s comments.

The first item in the Platform concerns testing and teacher evaluations, which generated a good discussion last month. As I wrote then, “This may be one of the most important areas of education policy facing [Florida] School Boards and state legislators today.”

As revised, this item provides for greater flexibiliy (i.e. local control) over student, teacher and school-administrator evaluations and student assessments. It reads: The District School Board of Collier County urges the Legislature to:

Extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017 and provide flexibility to school districts that includes an alternative, state-approved, locally developed student and educator (instructional personnel and school-based administrators) evaluation system that measures state standards and is correlated to Florida’s accountability system. Such flexibility must include the valid and appropriate use of new state and local student assessment results for personnel evaluations, performance pay, and school grading. Such flexibility may include alternative assessments, alternative methods of testing including paper-based exams, and/or elimination of Florida’s Value-Added Model (VAM) data as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations (s.1012.34, F.S.).

The three additional Platform items are requests for increased funding for specific purposes, noting that:

Through 2013, Florida still ranked in the bottom quintile … in per pupil spending at $8,433 compared to the $10,700 national average. Implementation of state mandates and policy expectations on performance pay [require] adequate funding.

We Collier County voters will want to see whether our elected School Board members support the District’s priorities, and later, whether our elected state representatives supported the actions requested by the Board.

The 2015–16 Assessment Schedule - Agenda Item B6

Last spring, the Florida Legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a wide-ranging Educational Accountability bill (HB 7069) that was in many ways a response to the growing outcry about the number of standardized tests being given in the public schools. Placing more responsibility on local School Boards, the new law requires, among other things, each School Board to approve its District’s schedule of statewide standardized testing and district-required tests. It also requires each District to publish the testing schedules on its website and submit the schedules to the state Department of Education by October 1 of each year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Board will be asked to approve the District’s proposed 2015–16 Assessment Schedule. Materials provided in advance for public review are:

  • A PowerPoint presentation on the Assessment Schedule Requirements of HB 7069, to be made by Associate Superintendent Luis Solano, and on the proposed 2015–16 CCPS Assessment Schedule, to be made by Dr. Cheng Ang, Executive Director, Assessments, Accountability and Data Management.
  • An easy-to-read chart with information about each of the 2015–16 student assessments, separated between the 10 state-required tests (Florida Standards Assessment - FSA, Florida Comprehensive Assessment - FCAT 2.0, Florida End-of-Course Exam - EOC, and more), four District-required local tests (Pre-Test, Quarter 1 Benchmark Assessment, Quarter 2 Benchmark Assessment and District Post-Test), and seven student self-selected tests for college readiness/acceleration/workforce (ACT, SAT, AICE, AP, PSAT, PERT and industry certification assessments). The chart summarizes, for each test, its subjects, grade level, time allotted, paper versus computer, how results are used, and more.
  • A very helpful Glossary of Assessment Terminology

By requiring Board approval of the testing schedule, the Legislature has given parents, students, teachers and community members an opportunity to give input to the Board before they vote. I am interested to see if the public takes advantage of this opportunity, and if so, what their comments are.

Blue Zones - Agenda Item E2

Last October, NCH Healthcare System, Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways announced the launch of the Blue Zones Project® of Southwest Florida. According to the press release:

The Blue Zones Project® is a major initiative to improve the well-being and longevity of residents of Collier and South Lee Counties in Southwest Florida. The Blue Zones Project brings together citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores and community leaders to improve the living environment so healthy choices are natural and often unavoidable. NCH is bringing the Blue Zones Project to Southwest Florida in support of its 10-year vision to make the region an even healthier, happier and more vibrant place to live.

This is an Information Only item, brought forward at Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo’s request at last month’s Board meeting. At that same meeting, Board Member Erika Donalds called the Blue Zones® initiative “a fad.”

I think it sounds like a great idea, and I’m interested to learn more about it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Does CCPS Need an Internal Auditor? - Agenda Item C1

This item, which appears in the District/School Operations section of the Agenda, was requested by Ms. Donalds. Under “Recommended Action” (i.e. what action the Superintendent would like the Board to take on the matter), is simply stated, “Pursuant to Board Member request.”

The District has provided two documents for the Board and public to review before the meeting:

  • A 2-page document listing the three major external audits already conducted at CCPS: Financial, Internal Funds and the state’s Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), and CCPS’ outstanding performance on the four most recent FEFP audits.
  • An 8-page document listing an additional 135 internal, self-assessment and monitoring audits of various kinds the District currently conducts, many required by State or Federal Departments and Agencies.

Together, these documents make the case that the District’s current audit function is extensive, no doubt costly and time-consuming. If the Superintendent thought there was a need for an Internal Auditor, she would have made that recommendation – but she didn’t. I am interested to hear the discussion, see if a compelling case to hire an auditor is made, and if so, and see how the Board members vote.

Public Input Requested

Last month, the Board asked for input from the community on these matters. I hope you will take the time to consider them and share your thoughts:

Kathleen Curatolo -
Erika Donalds -
Kelly Lichter -
Julie Sprague -
Roy Terry -
Superintendent Kamela Patton -
The meeting is this Tuesday, August 11, beginning at 5 PM.


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