Sunday, April 3, 2016

Coming up Thursday: forums for the Florida House and Senate primary elections

In our overwhelmingly conservative county, it’s likely that whoever wins the Republican primaries in August will go on to represent us next year – be it on the Board of Collier County Commissioners, in our county Constitutional Offices, in the state legislature or in the US House of Representatives.

There will be a lot at stake in Rick Scott’s last two years as governor, including such issues as tax cuts, education funding, fracking legislation, growth incentives, medical marijuana and spending to protect the environment and protect the Everglades.

So I encourage all Collier voters, especially those leaving town for the summer, to attend as many candidate forums as you can so you can be an informed voter in the August elections. It’s not too soon to become informed, and there’s no better way to do so than by seeing and hearing the candidates in person.

In this post, I’ll tell you about the forums to be held this coming Thursday, April 7, and the candidates who were invited to participate in them. In future posts, I'll be writing about other important elections that will take place in August.

Another reminder
As I’ve written before (see here, here, here and most recently here), because Florida is a closed primary state, only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican Party primary. The last day to change or register your party affiliation if you want to vote in a party primary in August is August 1. But don’t wait. Do it now … and while you’re at it, request a vote-by-mail ballot.

Florida Senate - District 28
If you live anywhere in Collier County, you live in newly-drawn Senate District 28. Current Senator Garrett Richter, who has served the maximum eight-year term, is vacating his seat, and current House Representatives Matt Hudson and Kathleen Passidomo are vying to succeed him.

It will be a hard-fought and expensive race. Passidomo has Ricther’s endorsement, but Hudson has the money advantage, having raised $418,500 through 2/29 to Passidomo’s $244,100.

Hudson had a 20-year management career at Walgreens and subsequently became a licensed real estate broker. He has lived in Golden Gate Estates since 1990. His campaign website is

Passidomo is an attorney who has lived in Naples since graduating from Stetson University College of Law in 1978. Her campaign website is

As with all races, our challenge as voters is to identify differences between the candidates. Both Hudson and Passidomo received A grades on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Report Cards each year they’ve been in office, indicating that both voted nearly lock-step with the Chamber’s position on Florida Business Agenda bills.

I also compared their votes (Hudon’s here; Passidomo’s here) on what Vote Smart calls “Key Votes” between 2011 (Passidomo’s first year) and 2016 and found that they voted the same way in all but a few cases:

2011 - HB 1127 - Abortions. Hudson voted Yay, Passidomo was they only House Republican who voted Nay. Bill passed House 81–37.

2012 - HB 277 - Prohibits abortions during the third trimester. Hudson voted Yay; Passidomo voted Nay. Bill passed House 78–33.

But Passidomo voted for seven other “key” anti-abortion bills, according to Vote Smart, and most recently voted for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

2015 - SB 290 - Authorizes concealed carry during emergency evacuations. Hudson voted Yay; Passidomo did not vote. Bill passed House 86–26.

2016 - HB 1325 - Revises various economic incentive & tax refund programs. Hudson voted Nay; Passidomo voted Yay. Bill passed - House 79 - 39. (The bill gives impact fee waivers to certain companies.)

As of now, only Republicans have filed to run for this Senate seat. If that remains the case, all qualified voters regardless of party affiliation will be entitled to vote in the August primary.

Florida House - District 106
If you live in coastal Collier County, you live in District 106 and have been represented by Kathleen Passidomo since 2011. Find your district here.

Like the Senate race, with the incumbent not running for another term, this is a wide open election. So far, two Republicans, one No Party Affiliation (NPA) and no Democrats have filed to run.

Lavaigne Ann Kirpatrick (R) is a former Registered Nurse and current candidate for a Master’s in Public Administration at the University of South Florida. She ran unsuccessfully for the Board of County Commissioners twice, losing to Fred Coyle in 2010 and to Penny Taylor in 2014. She reported $1,000 in contributions through 2/29. Her campaign website is

Robert Rommel (R) sold the mortgage company he co-founded and moved to Naples in 2002. He now co-owns three restaurants – two in southwest Florida, one in New Jersey. He has raised $48,700 through 2/29. His campaign website is

Brandon Smith (NPA) ran unsuccessfully for the Congressional District 19 seat in 2012, receiving less than two percent of the votes and losing to Trey Radel. He has raised $15 through 2/29. He doesn’t have a campaign website; his campaign Facebook page is here.

Florida House - District 80
If you live east of I–75, you probably live in District 80 and have been represented by Matt Hudson since 2007. Find your district here.

As in District 106, with the incumbent not running, this election should be interesting. So far, two Republicans have filed to run; no Democrats or NPAs.

Joe Davidow (R) is a practicing attorney in his own law firm, Willis & Davidow. He received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and law degree from St. Thomas University. He was one of six candidates in the 2012 Republican primary for Congressional District 19, receiving two percent of the votes and losing to Trey Radel. He has raised $28,100 through 2/29 and his campaign website is

Byron Donalds (R) serves on the Board of Trustees for Florida Southwestern State College, formerly Edison State College, having been appointed to the post by Governor Scott. He has an undergraduate degree from Florida State University in Finance and Marketing. Like Davidow, Donalds ran unsuccessfully in the CD 19 Republican primary, but won Collier County with 28 percent of the votes. With CCPS School Board members Kelly Lichter and Erika Donalds (his wife), Donalds is a founding Board member of the Mason Classical Academy Charter School, where he now serves as Board Vice President. He has raised $90,000 through 2/29. His campaign website is

I hope I’ve piqued your interest enough that you will join me Thursday to hear what these candidates have to say – both to us and to each other.

When: Thursday, April 7
4:00 - 5:30 PM - House Districts 80 and 106
6:00 - 7:30 PM - Senate District 28

Where: Hodges University, John White Community Room, 2655 Northbrooke Drive, Naples

Moderated by former Naples Daily News editorial page editor Jeff Lytle. Free of charge, open to the public, first-come seating.

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A great opportunity to learn: CCPS Community Forums this week

Three community forums will be held this week to inform and seek input from community members and CCPS employees about the 2017 - 19 strategic planning process. In this post, I will provide some information that I hope will inspire you to attend one of the upcoming meetings to learn about what’s happening in our schools and take advantage of the opportunity to share your thoughts, suggestions or concerns as the District's next strategic plan is being developed.

The CCPS Strategic Plan is important because it codifies District priorities and guides District decision-making. According to the School Board’s Governance Model, the Superintendent is responsible for recommending a Strategic Plan to the Board for approval.

You can review a draft of the community forum presentation on the District website.

I found it helpful that the presentation begins with the process by which the three-year Plan is being developed. As in the past, it aligns with the District’s vision (“All students will complete school prepared for ongoing learning as well as community and global responsibilities”) and mission (“By providing exceptional educational opportunities that motivate and engage each student”). That reminds us all of the big picture.

And as in the past, the Plan appropriately takes into consideration the District’s challenging cultural, home language, and socio-economic demographics: majority minority students; third highest percentage of English Language Learners in Florida; 57 percent of pre-K - third graders from non-English speaking homes; highest percentage of migrant students in the state.

The District began working on the Plan in May 2015, and to-date has consulted with school and District-based leaders and goal-specific community organizations. This week’s community forums and one held last week in Immokalee seek input from community stakeholders and District employees.

With this input, a revised draft will be published on April 12 for discussion at a School Board Work Session on April 19, revised and published again to incorporate Board input on May 3, and presented to the Board for approval on May 10.

Only positive changes
Since the District is doing well (see “Kudos to Collier public schools for A grade, fares well vs. others in state,” Naples Daily News editorial, 2/15/16), I am pleased that the proposed Strategic Goals modify only slightly those of the current Plan. The Goals for 2017 - 19 are:

  1. Early Childhood Education
  2. College and Career Readiness
  3. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (the current Plan does not include the Arts)
  4. Highly Talented and Engaged Workforce
  5. Student Achievement
  6. Maintain Fiscal Responsibility
  7. Communication - Parent and Community Engagement (new)

I am very happy to see the addition of the arts to the current Plan’s Goal #3 focus on science, technology, engineering and math. As someone who benefited from a liberal arts education, I feared our students were not getting what I consider to be an important part of their education.

I'm intrigued by the change in Goal #5 from "narrowing the achievement gap on statewide accountability assessments" in the current plan to simply "student achievement" in this plan. According to the Naples Daily News, Superintendent Patton said, "We think it’s more correct at this point in time that you don’t get credit for narrowing a gap. We need to lift everybody up. You can’t leave anybody behind."

I find it interesting to see the addition of a new Goal #7, Communication. (See Naples Daily News  "Community involvement a key part of Collier Schools’ strategic plan.") This makes overt what I perceive to be an already strong commitment to engage with the District's external constituencies.

I look forward to hearing the District’s explanation of why they made both of these changes.

As in the current Plan, there are, for each Strategic Goal, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by which to monitor progress. KPIs are to be “SMART” (Specific; Measurable; Attainable/Action-Oriented; Relevant/Realistic; and Time-Bound), enabling the Board and the community to objectively evaluate the District’s performance.

Work within each KPI is guided by strategies set forth in the Plan that are to be reviewed and revised annually based on changing needs.

Included in the presentation about each Strategic Goal is an impressive list of community organizations with whom the District collaborated, along with the KPIs and first year strategies proposed for each goal.

Presenting this information at the Community Forums will be the senior leaders of the District:

  • Goal 1 - Jennifer Kincaid, Executive Director, Elementary Programs
  • Goal 2 - Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli, Executive Director, Secondary Programs
  • Goal 3 - Dr. Traci Kohler, Director, STEM Resources, Instructional Technology and Media Services
  • Goal 4 - Ian Dean, Executive Director, Human Resources
  • Goal 5 - Luis Solano, Associate Superintendent, Curriculum and Instruction
  • Goal 6 - Bob Spencer, Executive Director, Financial Services, and Patrick Woods, Executive Director, Student and Staff Projections, Allocations and Reporting
  • Goal 7 - Greg Turchetta, Executive Director, Communications and Community Engagement

When and Where
  • Monday, March 28, at Lely High School, 1 Lely High School Blvd, Naples
  • Wednesday, March 30, at Gulf Coast High School, 787 Shark Way, Naples
  • Thursday, March 31, at Barron Collier High School, 5600 Cougar Drive, Naples

Each meeting begins at 4:30 PM for District employees, and at 6 PM for community members.

If you can’t attend one of the meetings, email your comments to Board members and the Superintendent:

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

I’m really looking forward to attending one of this week’s meetings. It will be interesting to hear the District leaders take us through the presentation, and I expect to learn a great deal.

I hope you will join me in this opportunity to learn about our District and share your thoughts with District leaders.


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

Friday, March 18, 2016

Comments of interest from last week’s School Board meeting

I attended the regular meeting of the Collier County School Board on March 8 (minutes here; video here). Two comments made at the end of the meeting impressed me: Board Vice Chairman Roy Terry’s remarks regarding the current public discord between supporters of charter schools and supporters of traditional public schools, and Superintendent Kamela Patton’s report on the number of CCPS graduates who needed remediation classes upon entering Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in the Fall 2015 term.

Roy Terry’s remarks
Roy Terry
Mr. Terry was clearly troubled by what has become an ongoing, mean-spirited and disrespectful (my words, not his) back-and-forth taking place at School Board meetings, in the community and on social media between supporters of traditional public schools and supporters of charter schools. (Supporters of “home rule” and “parents rule” are being seen and heard more and more, too, through Terry didn’t mention them.)

He praised the variety of educational opportunities our District offers to meet the needs of Collier families and said, “I think we as Board members should make sure we recognize that all of our schools … deserve the support of all in Collier County, whether you’re a public school fan or a charter school fan or a private school fan.”

He gave examples of the many strengths of Collier County schools and teachers, and concluded by saying:
I don’t like to see things on Facebook and other places that [put] down one side or the other. I think all you’re doing is hurting children. You’re not making progress for one side or the other of the equation, so I think we need to stop some of that.
From usually mild-mannered Mr. Terry, those are strong words indeed. You can watch a YouTube video clip of his remarks here.

I, too, have been troubled by the words and tone of some of what I’ve seen and heard at School Board meetings and on social media. With the upcoming School Board elections, I fear it will only get worse. Whether supporting or criticizing the District, Superintendent, Board members or charter schools, I wish some of our community members and School Board members would be less vituperative and more respectful. What kind of example are they setting for the young people in our community?

What Mr. Terry said needed to be said, and I applaud him for it.

Superintendent Patton’s comment
Kamela Patton
The other thing that impressed me was a comment Dr. Patton made toward the end of her closing remarks. She told us that the District had finally received some long-awaited data on the remediation rates of CCPS graduates who go on to college. Only Florida Gulf Coast University has provided the requested data so far, after what I surmise was many requests made by the District of more than this one higher-ed institution.

Of the 373 CCPS students who entered FGCU in the Fall 2015 term, 10 (2.7 percent) needed remediation, less than half the rate (5.9 percent) of FGCU’s out-of-state students.

This is a terrific reflection on our administrators, teachers and students, and something that deserves more public attention.

By way of background: incoming first-year students who lack the skills necessary to perform college-level work at the degree of rigor required by the institution are required to take remedial classes before being allowed to take regular college courses. A high remediation rate suggests that a school or district is doing a poor job preparing its students for college.

I did a Google search that revealed that, in some circles, high remediation rates for public schools are used to justify the need for Common Core standards and/or charter schools. See, for example, a January 2013 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics under contract with American Institutes for Research titled First-Year Undergraduate Remedial Coursetaking: 1999–2000, 2003–04, 2007–08. Setting the context, the report began:
A primary goal of the U.S. Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Blueprint for Reform is to improve the college readiness of high school graduates (U.S. Department of Education 2010). College readiness is a complex benchmark and has been measured in several ways, including transcript analysis (Adelman 2006) and standardized test scores (ACT 2005). One such measure, and the focus of this [report], is remedial coursework enrollment. [links to sources added by me]
The report cited a 20 percent overall remediation rate for first-year undergraduate students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the 2007–08 academic year! See also, for example, How College Remediation Rates are Distorted — and Why (Update) in the July 7, 2014 Washington Post.

I subsequently received from the District the FGCU chart referred to in the meeting. In addition to the data shared by Dr. Patton, the chart showed that 119 full-time freshmen from 28 Florida school districts needed remediation upon entering FGCU in the Fall 2015 term, or 5.1 percent of those enrolled. Seven districts accounting for 96 freshmen had no students needing remediation, and seven districts accounting for 140 freshmen had ten percent or more students needing remediation.

Given Collier County’s demographics, I’d say our District is doing a very good job in preparing students for college!

I, like Dr. Patton, would like to see the remediation rates for CCPS graduates from ALL post-secondary schools they attend – and see it on a regular basis.

But for now, I say “Congratulations” to CCPS students, teachers, administrators and District staff for what appears to be a job well done in preparing our students for college.

I’m glad the District will continue to focus on college and career readiness in the 2017 - 2019 Strategic Plan, and urge them to use the remediation rate as one of the metrics to measure its performance toward that important goal.

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, March 14, 2016

I've decided

Tomorrow is Election Day. I've finally decided who I will vote for in Florida’s Republican Presidential Preference Primary.

I wrote just over a month ago that the possibility of a Trump presidency is terrifying. I registered as a Republican to vote in that party’s primary election to try to keep him from becoming the nominee. The question I’ve struggled with since then was who to vote for.

Why I waited
I've had my mail-in ballot for over a month, and early voting had been available since March 5th. But I waited until the last minute mainly because Florida’s Republican Party will award 100% of its delegates to the winner of the primary (“winner take all”), unlike in other states where they have been awarded until now on a proportional basis. So it seemed to me that the only way to block a Trump nomination is to vote for the candidate who has the best chance of beating him.

Rubio has consistently been second in the Florida match-up polls, but I waited to make sure he didn’t drop out before Election Day. As recently as last week, CNN reported that “A battle is being waged within [Rubio’s] campaign about whether he should even remain in the Republican presidential race ahead of his home state primary on March 15.”

But Rubio has consistently said he’s staying in, and I can’t put off my vote much longer.

It looks pretty hopeless
That said, the chances of anyone but Trump winning the Florida primary are remote. The average of the most recent polls show him ahead of his closest challenger, Rubio, by close to 20 points.

Yes, polls can be wrong. See, for example, “Why were the polls in Michigan so wrong?,” about Hillary’s loss to Sanders in Michigan. But in Florida’s case, being wrong would mean someone OTHER than Trump would win … which would be fine with me.

I’m voting for Rubio
For now, the Republican with the best chance of beating Trump on Tuesday is Rubio. So that’s who I’ll be voting for.



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, February 29, 2016

Dear Soapbox blog readers ...

Please don't think I've forgotten you; I haven't. Having urged you to change your party affiliation so you can vote in Florida's March 15 Republican Presidential Primary, it weighs heavily on me that I owe you a post about how I will vote. 

My mail-in ballot sits on my desk, waiting to be filled out. 

The problem is, I fear that the only meaningful choices in this winner-take-all Republican primary are Trump and Rubio. (Yes, Trump, despite what I said earlier.) 

And choosing between them requires me to put aside my values and idealism, and make a purely calculated, political bet. 

The Moment of Truth: We Must Stop Trump, by Danielle Allen, a Harvard University political theorist, describes of one possible approach I'm considering.

Unlike past elections, when I've urged early voting, this time I think waiting until the last minute may be the better strategy. A key factor in my ultimate decision will be who the likely top two vote-getters in our Florida primary will be. And a lot can still happen between now and March 15.

I will continue to struggle with my decision, possibly until the last minute, and will let you know how I'm thinking as soon as I'm comfortable sharing it. Thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile, if you've decided who YOU are going to vote for in the Republican PPP, please let me know your thought-process and rationale.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tuesday is the deadline!

In 2011, months before the Presidential Preference Primary in which Florida’s registered Republicans would choose between Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, I changed my party affiliation to Republican. I wrote about that decision in a post called “An Unorthodox Suggestion.”

As I explained then, Florida is a closed primary state. Only voters registered with the party that is holding the primary may vote. (There are five kinds of primaries: blanket, top-two, open, closed and hybrid. More here.)

I understand and appreciate the differences between the Republican and Democratic Party philosophies of government, and I know which Party's candidate I will vote for in November.

But I am appalled that Donald Trump won the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican primaries and is winning in the polls. He is an embarrassment to our country.

And the possibility of a Trump presidency is terrifying.

So regardless of how you will vote in November, right now you have the opportunity to try to keep Donald Trump from getting that far IF you are a registered Republican by Tuesday and vote in that party’s primary next month.

You can change your party affiliation at any time, as often as you like. But you MUST BE REGISTERED AS A REPUBLICAN BY TUESDAY, February 16, in order to vote in Florida’s Republican Presidential Preference Primary on March 15.

It’s easy to do. Just click here, complete and print the form, and get it to the Supervisor of Elections office by Tuesday.

Every vote matters. Don’t miss your one opportunity to deny Trump the presidency.

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.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Upcoming Naples mayoral and city council candidate forums

While only residents of the City of Naples can vote in City elections, decisions of the Naples mayor and city council affect many of us. From the League of Women Voters of Collier County:
The first of a year-long series of public forums sponsored by a broad-based civic coalition are set for next week. 
The races for mayor of Naples and three seats on City Council will be featured from 6 to 7:30 p.m.on January 25 and 27 respectively at Naples City Hall. 
The events will be broadcast live on the city's Comcast cable channel 98. Incumbent Mayor John Sorey and City Council members Bill Barnett and Teresa Heitmann will face off January 25, and council candidates Ellen Siegel, Reg Buxton, James Moon, Michelle McLeod and Wynn Phillips will discuss the issues on January 27. 
Election day in Naples is March 15. All the races are non-partisan. For council, the top three vote-getters win four-year terms. 
Sponsoring organizations for this and further state and local political forums are the League of Women Voters of Collier County, Collier Citizens Council, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Collier County Presidents Council, Greater Naples Better Government Committee, Naples Press Club, Pelican Bay Property Owners Association, East Naples Civic Association, Greater Naples Leadership, Golden Gate Civic Association and the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association. 
Retired Naples Daily News editorial page editor Jeff Lytle will moderate. Candidates will field written questions from sponsoring groups and the audience. 
To vote in the March 15 election, you must be registered to vote by February 16. For more information, visit and the City of Naples Election 2016 webpage here.

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.