Saturday, October 30, 2010

It’s not too late to make a difference for Florida

The pundits are predicting that Republicans will take 50 – 60 seats in the House, with Democrats having only a 16 percent chance of retaining the majority.  But interestingly, it seems that many races have been tightening in these last days before Election Day. 

The Florida Governor’s race is a toss-up.  The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight political blog shows Democrat Alex Sink beating Republican Rick Scott – but by only four-tenths of a percentage point – 48.8% to 48.4%.  They give her a 53.9% chance of winning the seat.

The Florida Senate race is “leaning Republican” – but not considered “solidly Republican.” 

So let’s not despair.  As summed up last night by FiveThirtyEight:

... the fact that there is a seeming consensus does not necessarily indicate that it will be right. However objective or subjective a forecasting method, all are pretty much looking at the same data, and 90 percent of that data amounts to polling. This is also the time of year when everyone tends to look at everyone else’s forecasts (our model does so explicitly, in fact, since the forecasts made by experts like Cook are an input in the model), which may reduce independence. If the polling is off — and it could be off in either direction — the consensus is liable to be too. 

As I wrote Thursday, it’s going to depend on what the Democrats who haven’t voted yet decide to do.  It’s all about turnout. 

Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in early voting by a wide margin.  Here in Collier County, as reported in today’s Naples Daily News, Republican turnout has been three times that of Democrats, and four times as high in absentee ballots.  The Supervisor of Elections’ office expects 30 percent of Collier voters to vote before Election Day, which means 70 percent are waiting until Tuesday.

That could be good news for Democrats and the anyone-but-Rubio voters, but we have our work cut out for us. 

First – we have to convince Democrats who haven’t voted yet that their vote does matter, and can still make a difference - especially in the Governor’s and Senate races.

And second – we have to convince those Democrats that a vote for Charlie Crist is our only chance of beating Rubio in the Senate race.

I’m off to the Collier County Democratic Headquarters this afternoon to make get-out-the-vote calls.  The Headquarters is at 13040 Livingston Road, Suite 6, on the southeast corner of Livingston and Pine Ridge Roads, in the Marquesa Plaza.  Click here to get directions.  The phone number is 239-434-7754. No appointment is necessary.  Walk-ins are welcome.

If each of us does something, we can make a difference for Florida in the coming four days.  Won’t you help?

Friday, October 29, 2010

A perfect example: vote NO on Amendment 4

Today’s Naples Daily News has a front-page story titled “Golden Gate Estates: Shopping center’s future up to vote.”  It’s a perfect example of what will happen if Amendment 4 is passed. 

Amendment 4, referred to as “Hometown Democracy,” would require voters to approve by referendum the adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans.  I wrote about Amendment 4 in my post The Amendments – Part 1, and recommended a vote against it.

Here’s the story.

A developer wants to build a 41-acre shopping center on the northwest corner of Golden Gate and Wilson boulevards, which would include a 27,000 square feet grocery store. It would require a change to the master land use plan.  The issue is so controversial that the County Commissioner put the question on the ballot for the six election precincts that would be affected.  Even though it’s a nonbinding straw vote, the Commissioners figure it will give them a sense of the community’s wishes.

According to the article, the developer has spent $10 million so far purchasing parcels of land for the project – and the zoning change hasn’t even been approved yet.

By election day, the developer will have spent about $175,000 on a marketing campaign that has included direct mailers, newspaper ads and yard signs, which now dot the community’s landscape. Campaign representatives have been on hand at community events, including yard sales, to pitch the project....

Peter Gaddy, president of the Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association, which hasn’t taken a position on the project, said he’s shocked by the amount of money the developer has spent on a marketing campaign, especially since the straw vote isn’t binding.

“To spend this amount of money on a political issue like this is more than what was spent on the sheriff’s race, and that was over the entire county,” he said.

“It just seems to be a little unfair that they are spending so much money and the people who are opposed to it are walking the streets with crayons and notebook paper, trying to get support,” Gaddy said. “There is a huge disparity obviously in money here.” ...

Mark Teaters, a founder and charter member of the Homeowners Association of Golden Gate Estates, said the question about changing the master plan never should have ended up on a straw ballot.

He said the right thing to do would be to reappoint a committee to take another look at the community’s master plan and to hold public hearings to debate any changes. “It’s overdue,” he said.

If a majority of voters support the project in the straw ballot, he said, it shouldn’t mean that county commissioners say, “We are going to do it.”

I agree with Teaters, and like Gaddy, I’m shocked at the spending.  Now just imagine what it will be like if Amendment 4 passes, and every land use plan change will require voter approval. 

It’s not fair that developers can come in and spend millions to market their cause, and local community members have only their “crayons and notebook paper” to make their case.

Vote NO on Amendment 4.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Don’t vote yet!

Friends have been asking if it’s okay to vote yet. They’re getting antsy and anxious. They see the latest polls on Florida’s U.S. Senate seat, and they think it’s all over. Maybe. Maybe not. Anything can happen. The polls can be wrong.  Remember “Dewey Beats Truman”??
On the morning after the 1948 presidential election, the Chicago Daily Tribune's headline read "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN." That's what the Republicans, the polls, the newspapers, the political writers, and even many Democrats had expected. But in the largest political upset in U.S. history, Harry S. Truman surprised everyone when he, and not Thomas E. Dewey, won the 1948 election for President of the United States.
In the two most recent polls reported by RealClearPolitics.com, Crist is pulling votes away from Meek, while Rubio is holding fairly steady. Rubio, at 42%, is about 10 points ahead of Crist. Meek is polling at 18%. That leaves 8% undecided.

If just over half of those who say they’re going to vote for Meek or are undecided actually vote for Crist, Crist would beat Rubio. It’s all going to be about turnout, and what people hear in the last couple of days to sway their decision.

So I say – sit tight. There’s still time.

Here’s a summary of my voting recommendations that you can print and take with you to the polls.

Congressional
U.S. Senator: Charlie Crist (NPA) or Kendrick Meek (DEM)
Representative in Congress: District 14: James Lloyd Roach (DEM)
Representative in Congress: District 25: Joe Garcia (DEM)

State
Governor and Lieutenant Governor: Alex Sink and Rod Smith (DEM)
Attorney General: Dan Gelber (DEM)
Chief Financial Officer: Loranne Ausley (DEM)
Commissioner of Agriculture: Scott Maddox (DEM)

Legislative
State Representative: District 101: Larry Wilcoxon (NPA)
State Representative: District 112: Sandra Ruiz (DEM)

Nonpartisan - Retention of Justices of the Supreme Court
Canady - NO
Labarga - YES
Perry – YES
Polston – NO

Nonpartisan - District Courts of Appeal
Crenshaw – YES
Kelly – YES
Khouzam – YES
Morris – YES
Northcutt – YES
Villanti – YES
Wallace – YES

Nonpartisan - School Board
District 1 – Pat Carroll
District 3 – Kathy Ryan
District 5 – Roy Terry

Nonpartisan - Independent Districts
Soil & Water Conservation Group 4: Laurie L. Mitchell
Mosquito Control District Seat 2: Robert D. Geroy

Proposed Constitutional Amendments
No. 1 – Repeal of Public Campaign Financing Requirement: NO
No. 2 – Homestead Ad Valorem Tax Credit for Deployed Military Personnel: NO
No. 4 – Referenda Required for Adoption and Amendment of Local Government Comprehensive Land Use Plans – NO
No. 5 – Standards for Legislature to Follow in Legislative Redistricting – YES
No. 6 – Standards for Legislature to Follow in Congressional Redistricting – YES
No. 8 – Revision of the Class Size Requirements for Public Schools – YES

Nonbinding Statewide Advisory Referendum
Balancing the Federal Budget a Nonbinding Referendum Calling for an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – NO

Straw Ballot Questions
Straw Ballot Referendum Election on Consolidation of the Unincorporated Fire Districts - YES

To find early voting locations or your Election Day voting location, or to get answers to any voting-related questions, go to Vote411.org or the Collier County Supervisor of Elections website.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

School Board District 1 race – my decision

Yesterday I laid out the issues I am considering in deciding who to vote for for the District 1 School Board seat. This afternoon I watched the Naples Daily News 30-minute interviews with Pat Carroll and Rosanne Winter to be sure I was clear on their positions. Now, by evaluating each priority issue, I’ll make my decision.

Which candidate is most committed to providing the best possible education to all of our community’s children, despite the many challenges?

In the NDN interview, when asked about the progress of the District over the eight years she has been on the Board, Carroll said she felt that the sheltered program for non-English speaking students was one of the positive improvements during that period. In the sheltered instruction program, students who enter the District not knowing English are taught academic subjects in their native language, while separately learning English. The idea is that this way, they won’t fall behind academically by being placed right away in an English-only classroom. Carroll said, “...after a year, when they’re embedded into an English class, they have the gist of the English language, they understand our academic programming, and they have made a year’s gain [academically.] I like that.”

According to a NDN profile of Carroll last July, “When you ask her about the successes she’s seen in her past two terms, Carroll immediately speaks about career education and the Collier County School District’s support of the Lorenzo Walker Technical Institute and Career and Technical High School, and the Immokalee Technical Center.... Carroll said she believes that career education will need a champion now more than ever.”

During her 30-minute NDN interview, Winter only mentioned the challenges of the District’s ethnic, language and socio-economic diversity in the context of how teachers should be resourced or evaluated when they have non-English-speaking or special education students in their classroom. Her focus was how to make it easier for the teachers to teach, rather than on how to raise the performance of the students.

After careful consideration, and based on what I’ve seen and heard, I believe Carroll is more focused on the interests of Collier’s children than Winter.

Which candidate is most likely to buy in to the draft strategic plan’s vision and goals, quickly come up to speed and contribute in a meaningful way to the process?

Connect Now was an 18-month process in which citizens all across Collier County participated in conversations about what they wanted for the community and schools. The culmination of this process was a Community Statement, published in April 2009. That Community Statement was the basis of a School Board workshop on April 14, 2009, in which the Board accepted the statement as a starting point for its formal strategic planning process that would set the vision and goals to guide the district’s work for the next three years.

In response to a question at the end of the NDN interview, Rosanne Winter said, “I think [Connect Now is] a fantastic program.... The strategic plan that has grown out of that is fantastic... We are now at the point that we need to take that strategic plan and turn it into operations. How we will measure.... The standards, the alignment, the evaluation, that’s the work that has to be done now.”  Based on that comment, I assume Winter has bought in to the vision and goals, and would contribute positively to the process.

However Pat Carroll was involved in and, from what I’ve seen and heard, supported the  Connect Now process since its inception. Knowing what was involved (since I was a participant in parts of it myself), I give Carroll an edge over Winter on this question.

Which candidate shares my values on social issues?

In yesterday’s post I shared some of Carroll’s and Winter’s responses to the League of Women Voters / AAUW candidate surveys, and reported that Carroll was unwilling to provide yes/no answers. Today, when visiting Winter’s website, I discovered that she had in fact posted lengthy responses to all of those questions there. I’m sorry I didn’t know that sooner, as I am impressed with her answers and find they are aligned with my own values.

Since Winter didn’t want her responses truncated, I urge you to read them in full, but for purposes of my analysis, I would summarize them as follows:
  • Do you support policies that prohibit school prayer and the distribution of non-academic religious materials during the school day and at school-sponsored athletic activities (excluding student clubs)? Yes
  • Do you support the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes? No
  • Do you support the teaching of man-made climate change as fact in science classes? Yes
  • Do you support the practice of religious invocations at the start of School Board meetings? No
  • Do you agree with the new School Board policy that mandates the teaching of comprehensive sex education from the 6th grade and up, and which includes information about contraception, condoms and abstinence? Yes
  • Do you support mandatory diversity training for all school personnel and School Board members? Yes
Clearly Winter's values are much closer to mine than Carroll’s. If this were the only basis for my decision, Winter would get my vote.

Which candidate adds more to the diversity of the Board?

This issue specifically concerns the possibility of a Board made up of a majority of educators. Please read yesterday’s post for the backgrounds of the candidates.

After watching her NDN interview, I’m a bit puzzled about Winter's background, which she described more broadly than what I reported yesterday. Neither her own website nor the NDN summary from which I drew my report mention having been a classroom teacher, yet in the interview she said she had taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, both special education and general education, as well as at the university graduate level. I’m not sure what might explain the omission, but it leaves me a bit troubled.

Regardless, I believe Carroll’s business experience would provide much-needed diversity to the Board, while Winter’s professional experience would not.

In addition, Carroll brings an important experience with and awareness of the political realities of our state, whereas Winter is more knowledgeable about Virginia, as she said in the NDN interview. In her interview, Carroll brought up Senate Bill 4, passed by the legislature earlier this year. According to the NDN, this “so-called graduation bill will usher in new requirements for high school students to take harder math and science classes and pass end-of-course exams to earn high school diplomas.” Carroll said that in order to meet those requirements, the District would have to take away opportunities for electives, and said “we need to lobby to get flexibility in graduation requirements.”

Asked about tenure, Carroll said it’s not as big a problem as in other states “because Florida is a right-to-work state,” but “there are some in the state legislature that want to get rid of any existence of tenure whatsoever,” as would have happened had Governor Crist not vetoed Senate Bill 6. When asked, Carroll said, “I don’t support tenure.... I believe that they should negotiate a three-to-five year contract on a rolling basis based on their accomplishments and performance.”

Asked whether merit pay is really possible in the schools, Carroll said, “I don’t know. But the education community in the state of Florida must meet the state legislators half-way. Because the state legislators absolutely are convinced that it’s do-able and it will improve education.” According to the NDN, “Carroll, who has been asked to serve on an state ad hoc committee to develop a plan on teacher tenure and performance pay, said Collier County needs to stop being told what to do and to become part of the solution. ‘With something like performance pay _ I want to put it out to teachers and have the teachers come up with the program. No program is not an option. So what do you want?’ she said.”

When asked about teacher evaluation in the NDN interview, Winter spoke at length about evaluation of teachers' teaching methods and the value of videotaping teachers at work and reviewing the tapes with them. She said that in Fairfax, VA, “we did have a performance pay system.... Did it improve the quality of teaching? Yes, but I don’t think it was worth what we paid.”

There’s no doubt that Carroll’s views on these subjects are more aligned with mine than Winter’s.

My decision

This process has been fascinating for me. Other than the process I went through (and blogged about in So what do you think about that?) in deciding who to support in the 2008 Democratic Primary, this is the most time and effort I’ve ever spent on a voting decision. I was forced to identify my priorities and recognize that neither candidate gave me 100 percent of what I wanted. I found that whatever information I wanted to help me differentiate between the candidates was available, thanks to Google and the online Naples Daily News. As a result, I have made my decision.

I’m going to vote for Pat Carroll for School Board for District 1.

School Board District 1 race - the issues (revised 11:15 AM ET)

(This post was revised to correct the second paragraph.  The original post distributed by email incorrectly referred to Barbara Berry as Pat Carroll's opponent in District 1.  Carroll's opponent is Rosanne Winter.)

Three of the five Collier County School Board seats are up for election this year.  (The other two Board seats will be up in 2012.)  As I wrote last week, candidates for the School Board must live in the district they represent, but they are elected at-large, so all voters vote on all races.  School Board races are nonpartisan, but candidates are members of political parties.  For District 3, I will vote for Kathy Ryan (D), and for District 5, I will vote for Roy Terry (R).
 
As I’ve written, I’ve been struggling with who to vote for for District 1 – Pat Carroll or Rosanne Winter.  To explain why, I have to give you a bit of background.


Facts about the School District of Collier County (from the CCPSD website)

The District has 42,767 students in 50 schools including two charter schools.  It faces many challenges due to the ethnic, language, and socio-economic diversity of the student body:

  • 43% Hispanic; 40% White; 7% Haitian; 6% Black; 4% all other;
  • collectively, students speak 81 different heritage languages and are from 147 different countries of origin;
  • 46% of students live in homes where English is not the first language and sometimes isn’t even spoken (54% in grades Pre-K through 3, where learning to read is so critical);
  • 17% are in the English Language Learners (ELL) program;
  • 58% are “Economically Needy,” qualifying for free or reduced-priced lunch;
  • overall graduation rate 77%/ dropout rate 2%, for the 2008-2009 school year

The District employs about 3,000 teachers, 49% of whom have advanced degrees. With the budget always under pressure, teacher compensation has been a recurring issue:  while the District ranks in the top three in the state, Florida ranks 35th in the nation in average teacher pay.

I want a Board that is truly committed to providing the best possible education to all of our community’s children, despite the many challenges. 

Some background on the School Board

In addition to the challenges of the diversity of the student body, the District has had a traumatic couple of years due to Board issues.

The current superintendent, Dr. Dennis Thompson, was hired in 2007 after his predecessor was fired amid circumstances that divided the Board and the community.  Subsequently an accreditation team put the District on “warned” status, concluding that Board governance was “dysfunctional.”  Only after much work did the District receive full accreditation in 2009.  Later that year, a Board member became ill and resigned from the Board.  In February 2010, a replacement (current District 5 candidate Roy Terry) was appointed by the governor, in accordance with state law. 

In August 2010, the Board voted 3-2 (candidate Carroll and outgoing Board member Steve Donovan in the minority) not to extend Thompson’s contract.  The three Board members who are elected on November 2, along with the two continuing members, will immediately have to decide how to conduct the new superintendent search.  Thompson’s contract runs through July 2011, but he could certainly leave sooner if he chooses and take with him the three senior staffers he brought with him when he was hired.

I want a Board that will function professionally and effectively.  I want a Board that will conduct an efficient, successful superintendent search.  I want a Board that will hire someone who will calm the tensions with the principals and teachers, quickly earn the trust and respect of the community, and work hard to improve the performance of the schools that are not meeting our kids' needs. 

The District’s strategic plan is a work-in-progress

In Fall 2009, the School Board launched a long-range strategic planning and community engagement process to guide District work for the next two to three years. The process has resulted in a draft vision with goals for the Collier County Schools and the associated operational goals to implement the vision.

Unfortunately, the strategic plan was not completed before the Board voted to not renew the superintendent’s contract.  Clearly the plan must be completed and clear, measurable expectations must be set before a search for a new superintendent can begin.  A workshop to do so has been scheduled for November 4, but at least one (District 3) and as many as three (Districts 1, 3 and 5) Board members may be newly-elected. 

I want new Board members who will buy-in to the agreed-upon vision and goals, quickly come up to speed and contribute in a meaningful way to the process.

We are a community of diverse political and social values

We live in a county that is politically conservative and where the social values of many are different than mine.

The League of Women Voters of Collier County and the American Association of University Women Greater Naples Branch jointly surveyed the candidates on topics of mutual interest.  Consider their responses to these questions:

Do you support policies that prohibit school prayer and the distribution of non-academic religious materials during the school day and at school-sponsored athletic activities (excluding student clubs)?
  • District 1 - Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry - no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – no; Whitehead - no

Do you support the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes?
  • District 1 - Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry - yes; Ryan - no
  • District 5 – Terry - no; Whitehead - no

Do you support the teaching of man-made climate change as fact in science classes?
  • District 1 - Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry - no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry - no; Whitehead - no

Do you support the practice of religious invocations at the start of School Board meetings?
  • District 1 - Carroll – yes; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry - yes; Ryan - no
  • District 5 – Terry – yes, as long as all groups are represented; Whitehead - no

Do you agree with the new School Board policy that mandates the teaching of comprehensive sex education from the 6th grade and up, and which includes information about contraception, condoms and abstinence?
  • District 1 - Carroll – no; Winter – (1)
  • District 3 – Berry - no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – yes, with a strong opt-out policy; Whitehead – no, wants a different focus for the sex ed curriculum

Do you support mandatory diversity training for all school personnel and School Board members?
  • District 1 - Carroll – no; Winter – yes
  • District 3 – Berry - no; Ryan – yes
  • District 5 – Terry – yes; Whitehead – yes for school personnel; no for Board members
(1) Unwilling to provide yes/no answer

As much as possible, I want a Board whose members share my values.

Diversity of Board member experience

Given the usual friction between school administration and the teachers’ union over compensation and other contract issues, and the fact that the Board sets the superintendent’s goals and approves union contracts, should we have a Board on which educators are the majority?

Continuing Board member Julie Sprague, representing District 4, taught for 30 years, with 10 years at Immokalee High School and 10 at Gulf Coast High School. She is currently Education Coordinator for the SWFL Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Continuing Board member Kathleen Curatolo, representing District 2, has more than 30 years of professional executive experience, currently serving as executive officer of the Collier Building Industry Association (CBIA). She has also taught English at the community college level.

The score: one educator; one non-educator.

Now consider the candidates’ professional/business experiences:

District 1 – one non-educator; one educator
  • Carroll – marine biologist; environmentalist; bookkeeper. She is currently comptroller for Carroll and Carroll, Inc., her family’s business.
  • Winter – high school principal (including two years at Naples High School); school district director of instructional technology; high school assistant principal and dean of students; adjunct professor; consultant then vice president for an online school system.

District 3 – two educators, although one has other experience
  • Berry – teacher for 6 years; paraprofessional 2 years; attendance aide for a year. 1984-88 Collier County School Board; 1990-96 Collier County School Board; 1996-2000 Collier County Commission. Currently a Realtor.
  • Ryan – 40+ years as teacher, counselor, dean, district summer school administrator, consultant and principal; 30+ years of this was in Immokalee. Retired.

District 5 – one educator; one non-educator
  • Terry - 46 years in education; 32 of those in Collier County as teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and principal. Currently serving as appointed member of the School Board.
  • Whitehead - recently retired Naples police detective; deputy sheriff (Spencer County, Ind.); ordained member of the Diocese of St. Augustine; elected trustee/chair for the police pension board of trustees; served as commissioned officer and chaplain in the U.S. Navy.

I am concerned that a Board dominated by educators, and without a representative of the non-White or non-English-speaking community, might have trouble putting the best interests of all the students ahead of the best interests of the teachers, especially if matters of teacher tenure and pay-for-performance – both of which I support -- are being discussed.

Tomorrow

I hope I’ve given you a sense of the many issues I’ve been grappling with in trying to decide who to vote for for School Board. I’ll be voting for Kathy Ryan for District 3 and for Roy Terry for District 5. Tomorrow I’ll make my final decision for District 1, and let you know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Amendments – Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about three of the six constitutional amendments we will be voting on this year. Below are my thoughts on the remaining three.

Amendments 5 & 6: Standards for Legislature to follow in redistricting (I will vote YES)

These amendments would place standards in the Constitution that would prohibit politicians from manipulating legislative district lines to favor incumbents or a particular political party. This all-to-common practice is known as “gerrymandering.” They would also prohibit the drawing of districts that reduce the ability of minorities to equally participate in the political process. It would require that districts be compact and have community-based boundaries.

Amendment 5 addresses redistricting for the Florida legislature; amendment 6 addresses Congressional redistricting.

The amendments are sponsored by FairDistrictsFlorida.org, a nonpartisan organization which is supported by more than 50 nonpartisan Florida organizations including the League of Women Voters, AARP, NAACP, Democracia Ahora, Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties, and Florida School Boards Association. Take a look at FairDistrictFlorida’s really clever commercial.



According to the League of Women Voters of Florida, gerrymandering is the reason that despite the fact that the state’s voter registration is politically balanced (36 percent Republican, 41 percent Democrat, 23 percent other), our districts are not.

Sixty percent of our U.S. Congressional districts are represented by Republicans, 40 percent by Democrats. In the Florida House, 63 percent of the seats are Republican; 37 percent are Democratic.

Opponents of the amendments claim the proposed standards are conflicting and will be difficult to implement. They also contend they could potentially reduce minority representation.

I find that hard to believe. It is clear that something is wrong when there are more Democrats than Republicans in Florida, yet almost two-thirds of the Legislature is Republican.

No doubt whichever party is in power has benefitted from gerrymandering in the past. But now – finally – we have an opportunity to do something about it. I will vote YES on amendments 5 and 6.

Amendment 8: Revision of the class size requirements for public schools (I will vote YES)

This amendment would amend the Constitution to revise the current class size limits passed in 2002 by 52 percent of Florida voters. The amendment is sponsored by the Florida Legislature.

The Florida Constitution currently limits the number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms as follows:
  • for pre-K through grade 3 - 18 students;
  • for grades 4 through 8 – 22 students;
  • for grades 9 through 12 – 25 students
These limits are being phased in and were scheduled to take full effect in August 2010.

Under the amendment, the current limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher would become limits on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher, by specified grade grouping, in each public school.

The amendment also adopts new limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher:
  • for pre-K through grade 3 – 21 students (up from 18);
  • for grades 4 through 8 – 27 students (up from 22);
  • for grades 9 through 12 – 30 students (up from 25)

The amendment requires the Legislature to provide the funding to meet the new requirements, and would take effect retroactively to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

I became familiar with this issue earlier this year by attending School Board meetings. I learned that some Collier County elementary schools would need additional classrooms to meet the class size limit, while others have excess classrooms. One possibility discussed was purchasing "portable" classrooms (i.e. trailers), but rezoning 15 schools in Naples and three schools in Immokalee is the most cost-effective way to meet the requirement. After hearing from parents of the children who would be affected, the School Board unanimously decided to delay the rezoning until voters voted on this amendment.

According to the Naples Daily News, “If the amendment passes, then the previously recommended large scale rezoning of elementary school students will not be necessary, nor will the estimated need to hire more than 200 additional teachers at an expense of more than $15 million.” If the amendment fails, the District will have to pay a multi-million dollar penalty.

Many teachers believe the amendment is the wrong way to achieve class-size flexibility. The president of the Teachers Association of Lee County wrote, in an op-ed in the Fort Myers News-Press, that amendment 8 “is an unnecessary political ploy created by Florida legislators to undo the progress made through the 2002 voter approved citizen initiative.” He said, “... the concerns being raised now could have been, and still could be addressed legislatively, without the need for another constitutional amendment.” Opponents believe passing this amendment lets the Legislature off the hook in terms of providing the funding for the current class size requirements.

I heard, at the School Board meetings, the angst and anger of parents who did not want their children to be rezoned. I heard the Superintendent and staff explain the current law’s lack of flexibility, such that if just one new student entered a school whose classes were at their limits, it would be necessary to add another classroom and shuffle all the kids mid-year.

To me, the flexibility provided by this amendment is needed, and the higher maximum class sizes permitted by the amendment are still not very high. I will vote YES on amendment 8.

The Amendments – Part 1

Florida voters are being asked to vote on six amendments to the Florida Constitution in this election, each of which must be ratified by at least 60 percent of the voters in order to pass. If you ask me, amending the Constitution is a strange way to legislate. But that’s Florida. Since 1968, Florida’s Constitution has been amended well over 100 times.

These are the amendments we are being asked to vote on this year, and how I plan to vote. Unless otherwise noted via hyperlink, the background information provided is from the League of Women Voters of Florida’s Guide to the 2010 Amendments, which I highly recommend.

Amendment 1: Repeal of public financing requirement (I will vote NO)

This amendment, sponsored by the Florida Legislature, would repeal the public campaign financing requirement of the Florida Constitution. The purpose of public campaign financing is to make it possible for more citizens to run for office and to offset the undue influence that private campaign contributions may bring. If you like what’s happened to campaign spending as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United case, you’ll like this amendment.

Florida has had public campaign financing since 1997, when 64 percent of voters approved adding it to the Constitution.

Relatively speaking, we’re not talking a lot of money: candidates for governor and the four Cabinet offices received a total of $11 million in public funds to finance campaigns in 2006. To put this in perspective, Rick Scott, Republican candidate for governor, has already spent $60 million of his own money on this campaign. Even with public campaign financing, how can ordinary folks hope to compete?

Unfortunately the voters left it to the Legislature to set the campaign spending limits that candidates who accept public financing must adhere to. In 2005, the Legislature selfishly increased the spending limits by more than 300 percent. Today candidates can spend up to $24.9 million in the gubernatorial race and up to $12.5 million in other Cabinet races and still qualify for public campaign financing in Florida!

Supporters of the amendment who want to outlaw public financing argue that the funds could be put to better use and help with the state's needs. The more libertarian object to being taxed to support candidates in general. In its editorial in support of the amendment, nwfdailynews.com writes:

... Florida taxpayers are free to support the political candidates of their choice by donating money, volunteering to canvass neighborhoods and so on. They should not be required to support, with their taxes, the campaigns of candidates they don’t like or know nothing about.
While I think the current spending caps are too high and would like to see them lowered, I think some public financing is better than none at all. I will vote NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2: Homestead ad valorem tax credit for deployed military personnel (I will vote NO)

This amendment, sponsored by the Florida Legislature, would reduce property taxes for members of the military who were deployed outside the United States in the previous year on active duty.

Abe Skinner, Collier County’s property appraiser, presented this amendment at a Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Collier County, the Naples Daily News and others on October 12, calling it a “no brainer.” He said, “This amendment, if passed, is going to help our military personnel and their families by giving them an additional amount on their homestead exemption.”

While I greatly appreciate the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families, there are lots of people and causes I would like to support. The fact is if we provide this tax exemption, the state will have to take funds away from something else or raise our taxes to generate the lost revenue.
The League of Women Voters of Florida also recommends a NO vote on this amendment, but for a different reason: “The League believes no tax sources or revenues should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution.” (For League positions on all the ballot amendments, click here.)

Amendment 4: Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plan (I will vote NO)

This amendment would add an additional step to the current process of amending a comprehensive land use plan or adopting a new land use plan by local government. Specifically, after the current process has been gone through and the requisite number of members of the local governing body (county commission or city council) has approved the comp plan amendment or new plan, the amendment or new plan would then have to be approved by the public by referendum.

The amendment was brought to the ballot by petition organized by a group called Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc., PAC. The initiative was led by a land use attorney and an environmental attorney with backing from groups such as the Sierra Club of Florida.

Supporters of Hometown Democracy are frustrated with the growth management decisions made by their elected officials, and they want a way to stop some of them from taking effect. According to the Hometown Democracy website:
The atmosphere of corruption and distrust in local government can be changed by giving taxpayers [the] final veto or approval on new projects and changes to existing developments, based on recommendations from the County Commission.
The Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are among the groups that oppose the amendment, as does the Collier County Democratic Party. The Dems write:

Proponents claim that there is too much influence on the part of developers and others in having plans amended to suit their purposes. On the other hand, if we cannot expect good stewardship from our elected representatives, why are they voted into office? This amendment will mean gathering the hundreds of changes requested into existing ballot schedules, delaying sometimes urgent matters and making ballots even more complex. Will voters give an informed opinion on each of the many, many questions?
This amendment would also add cost for referendum elections and could slow the comprehensive land use process. It would also introduce the potential for political advertising to influence referendum voting on land use decision. Can’t you just imagine it?

In my opinion, if you don’t like the decisions being made by your elected officials, vote them out and vote someone else in. I will vote NO on amendment 4.

Tomorrow I will post about amendments 5, 6 and 8, and early in the week I’ll tell you how I’ll vote for School Board District 1, describe the issues I’ve been struggling with, and how I reached my decision.

As for when to vote, I’m still waiting, although the odds of one of the candidates dropping out remain slim. The last day of early voting is next Saturday, October 30th. The last day to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you is this Wednesday, October 27th; after that, you can pick one up at the Supervisor of Elections Office. For details, click here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It’s not that Carroll

Just a quick post to let you know that the yard signs around town that say SCOTT on top and CARROLL on the bottom do not refer to Pat Carroll, candidate for Collier County School Board. The Carroll referred to is Jennifer Carroll, Rick Scott’s running mate as lieutenant governor.

When I saw the signs, I jumped to the wrong conclusion. Fortunately, I emailed Pat Carroll to ask about it, and she promptly replied.

I’m still undecided about the District 1 election. I’ve spoken one-on-one with both candidates, and have another meeting tomorrow with someone whose opinion I respect. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whitehead: “America emerging as a Third World county”

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Naples Daily News on November 6, 2008 under the caption “We can only hope ...’ --

Editor, Daily News:

Well, you got what you asked for. The Daily News endorsed Barack Obama and you got him!

As for me — and many others — I see a disaster in the works. I must say that I do identify with the pre-election thoughts of Michelle Obama. For the first time in my life, I am truly ashamed of my country.

The America I see emerging under the Obama regime is a Third World country. Obama and the Democrats will transform us from lead-dog status to that of road kill.

While we can only hope that he will be only a one-term disaster, the next four years do not hold much promise for prosperity or security.

Obama as a candidate for the presidency avoided wearing a flag and shunned the national anthem. Under his presidency, I would encourage all real Americans to do the same.

We can only hope that his four years will be over before he has a chance to completely destroy this country.

Joe Whitehead, Naples
Yes – the same Joe Whitehead who is running for School Board from District 5.
The same Joe Whitehead who was endorsed by the Naples Daily News.

What a terrible example this letter sets for the children of this community. The thought of the writer of this letter sitting on our School Board is appalling.

I had already decided to vote for Roy Terry, Whitehead’s opponent in District 5. I’ve met Terry on several occasions, and observed him in School Board meetings. (He was appointed by Governor Crist to finish the term of Richard Calabrese, who resigned from the Board at the end of last year.) I’ve been impressed.

Still – this letter by Whitehead is relevant to our decision-making. I thought you should be aware of it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Local endorsements – continued

A reader asked, in response to my previous “Local endorsements” post, for guidance on several  ballot items I had not discussed: the Mosquito Control District 2 and Soil & Water Conservation Group 4 elections, the nonbinding state-wide advisory referendum calling for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the county straw ballot question about consolidation of fire districts.  While I’ll be writing about the constitutional amendments in the next day or so, here’s what I can tell you about those other items.


Soil & Water/Mosquito Control -- I am not familiar with these bodies or the candidates running, so I checked with the Collier County Democratic Party for their recommendations.  Although these are nonpartisan positions, the CC Dems support Laurie Mitchell and Robert Geroy, respectively.

Nonbinding referendum -- The question is:
In order to stop the uncontrolled growth of our national debt and prevent excessive borrowing by the Federal Government, which threatens our economy and national security, should the United States Constitution be amended to require a balanced federal budget without raising taxes?

This question was placed on the ballot by – you guessed it – the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.  The very same Legislature that balanced Florida’s current budget with federal stimulus money. 

It seems to me that this referendum is nothing more than political posturing, since it would have no effect on anything.  Amending the U.S. Constitution is no small feat.  Just ask those of us who have been trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment – first proposed in 1923 - passed. 

I will be voting NO on this ballot question.                                                                                     

Straw ballot question re: unincorporated fire district consolidation – The possibility of fire district consolidation and the somewhat related question of how emergency medical services should be provided in Collier County have been recurring yet unresolved issues for many years, and this nonbinding straw ballot won’t change anything. 

Collier County is divided into a hodge-podge of five independent fire districts, two dependent fire districts, and two city (Naples and Marco Island) fire districts.  This ballot question specifically addresses the unincorporated districts – i.e. the parts of the county that are not within the Naples or Marco Island city limits.  

In August 2006, I gave a presentation titled “County-wide Fire and EMS Service: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?” which provided an overview of how these services are provided and paid for in the county, and discussed the proposal at the time that the independent fire districts be merged.  It’s a useful overview, if you’re interested.

To me the question is a no-brainer.  Who wouldn’t support consolidation if it would “improve efficiency and promote a more cost-effective use of tax dollars?”  The devil, I suspect, is in the details. 

A reminder – please continue to hold off on voting until it is clear whether a vote for Kendrick Meek (D) will be a wasted vote in the effort to defeat Marco Rubio (R) for U.S. Senate.  Meek continues to emphatically deny the possibility of withdrawing from the race, despite the fact that Crist is gaining support from prominent Democrats.  The latest polls reported by RealClearPolitics show Crist taking votes from Rubio, with Meek holding steady at about 21-22 percent. 

The Collier Democrats website states: “We are recommending Kendrick Meek because a vote for either of the other candidates will put control of the U.S. Senate at risk! Some feel that Charlie Crist has a better chance of defeating Marco Rubio, but there is no guarantee that he would caucus with the Democrats. The Meek campaign states that this race will be won by about 38% of the vote, which they feel is doable for Kendrick Meek.”

I’m not at all sure.  If Crist continues to strengthen, a vote for him may be the way to go.  But again, there’s no rush to vote.  Let’s keep watching.

By the way – please note that Charlie Crist’s last name does not have an “h” between the “C” and the “r” ....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Local endorsements – the candidates

Several people have asked me for advice on how to vote in the local Collier County races, on the proposed constitutional amendments, and straw poll votes.  This is not something I’ve ever done before.  In fact, it feels presumptuous and makes me a bit uncomfortable to share how I’m going to vote so publicly.  But this is, after all, my political blog, so here it goes.  I’ll appreciate your comments and feedback.

For the record, I am a life-long Democrat and I support the principles and platform of the Democratic Party.  The Democrat’s view of the role of government is, in an over-used phrase, part of my DNA.  That said, I will not hesitate to vote against a Party candidate or position if I disagree.  As proof, consider my hesitation to vote for Democrat Kendrick Meek for U.S. Senate and my consideration of voting for Republican Pat Carroll for the School Board.  (More on the latter in another post.) 

In the state-wide races, here’s something many people don’t know: Florida has a “weak governor” in that his vote doesn’t count any more than that of the other Cabinet members (Attorney General, CFO and Commissioner of Agriculture).  It’s the majority of the Cabinet that makes most of the Executive-level decisions in Florida.  The only power the governor has that the other Cabinet-members don’t is veto power over legislation and line-item veto power on the budget.  So knowing who you support for governor is only ¼ of what you need to know to make a complete vote for the head of the state’s Executive Branch of government.

For the Florida Cabinet, I support the Democratic ticket – Alex Sink for governor; Dan Gelber for Attorney General; Loranne Ausley for CFO, and Scott Maddox for Commissioner of Agriculture & Commerce.

For the U.S. Senate, as I’ve written in this blog, I prefer Kendrick Meek (D) but will vote for Charlie Crist (I) if, on Election Day, it appears that vote has a better chance of defeating Marco Rubio.  Stay tuned to this blog; I'll let you know when I've decided.

For the U.S. Congress, I live in District 14 (western Collier County), where Connie Mack (R) is running as the incumbent.  I will vote against Connie Mack with a vote for James Roach (D), because I have disagreed with most - if not all - of Mack's party-line votes in Congress.  

This brings up an important question: how do you know what district you live in?  Your voter registration card and sample ballot will tell you, but another way is to visit Vote411.org, a really cool website, and build your ballot with their online voters’ guide.  You just type in your address to see the races on your ballot. Candidates' positions can be compared side-by-side, and you can print out a "ballot" indicating your preferences as a reminder and take it with you to the polls on Election Day.

For the Florida Legislature, I live in House District 101, where Matt Hudson (R) is running as the incumbent.  I will vote against Hudson with a vote for Larry Wilcoxson (No Party Affiliation), because I have disagreed with most - if not all - of Hudson's party-line votes in the State Legislature.

State Senators serve for four-year terms and are elected in presidential election years, so there are no State Senate candidates on this year's ballot.

Candidates for the Collier County School Board must live in the district they represent, but they are elected at-large, so all voters vote on all three of this year’s races.  (The other two Board seats will be voted on in 2012.)  School Board races are nonpartisan, but candidates are members of political parties.  For District 3, I will vote for Kathy Ryan (D), and for District 5, I will vote for Roy Terry (R).  I have not yet decided on District 1 – Pat Carroll (R) vs. Rosanne Winter (I; endorsed by the Collier Democratic Party).  I’ll write about my dilemma in another post.

Judges - Florida uses a system called “merit retention” to select our justices and judges.  New justices are initially appointed by the Governor from a list of three to six names submitted by a Judicial Nominating Commission.  After that, voters decide every six years whether they should remain in office.  Interestingly, no appellate court judge or Supreme Court justice has ever been voted out of office in a merit retention election since this system was put in place in the 1970s. 

Justices of the Supreme Court – All Florida voters vote on retention of the seven Supreme Court justices.  This year, four are on the ballot. 

I will vote NO for Justices Canady and Polston, because both tried to stop the FairDistricts amendments 5 and 6 from becoming law.  I will vote YES on the other two justices on the ballot – Labarga and Perry – who did not.

Judges of the District Courts of Appeal – Florida has five District Courts of Appeal with 62 judges who serve for six-year terms.  Only residents of a District vote on the merit retention of that District’s judges.  Collier County is in the Second Appellate District, in which five of 14 judges are on the ballot this year.  Having heard nothing negative about these judges, and relying on Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, which has authority to investigate and recommend removal of judges who have violated the Canons of Judicial Ethics, I will vote YES for these five judges. 

I haven’t provided you with my rationale for some of  these decisions, but if there are any you’d like to discuss, just let me know how to get in touch with you.

In another post, I’ll tell you how I plan to vote on the proposed constitutional amendments.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another reason to wait

Some tough political decisions are being considered behind the scenes these days.

Yesterday, on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown, Savannah Guthrie and Chuck Todd asked Kendrick Meek about an unsourced story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal saying a deal may be in the works for him to withdraw from the race.  Meek strenuously denied it, and pointed to the fact that former President Clinton is coming to Florida next week to campaign for him. (Click here for the clip.)



Today I heard a Democratic strategist say this is the time in a campaign when the national Party has to decide where to spend its remaining money – which means deciding which races are lost causes that should no longer be funded.  From Chuck Todd today, about House races:
There are a number of Democratic-held House districts the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] will be making tough choices about in the next few days because if they want to pull BACK a buy they promised a specific TV station, there's no penalty if they do it in the next few days.

The latest polls show Crist increasing his lead over Meek, and Rubio increasing his lead over Crist, with Meek falling further behind.  In the most recent 15 polls listed on RealClearPolitics.com, Rubio has been ahead of Crist by between 2 percentage points (a CCN/Time poll of 899 registered voters taken between 9/2 and 9/7) and 25 percentage points (a Rasmussen Reports poll of 750 likely voters on 10/7).

Meek hasn’t polled ahead of Crist in any of the polls listed, which go back to November 2009.

If you vote for Meek now - with your absentee ballot, or in early voting - which begins next week, and he later pulls out of the race, you’ll have wasted the opportunity to cast a vote against Rubio by voting for Crist.  I don’t want to have to do it, but I want to preserve the option.

At the same time, if you vote for Crist now and some damaging story later comes out (was he ever a witch?), you may wish you had voted for Meek.

So don’t vote yet!  Let’s just continue to wait to see how this shakes out.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

So many opportunities

There are many opportunities to see and hear our local candidates and learn about the state-wide ballot initiatives in the coming weeks.   

I hope you will try to attend one or more of these FREE programs to learn about the candidates and ballot questions we’ll be voting on.

I plan to attend each of them, and if you’d like to meet up to attend, just let me know.


Monday
10/11/10
1 – 2 PM
Naples Hilton, 5111 Tamiami Trail N, Naples
FREE

Candidate Forum: with candidates for the Collier County School Board and State Legislative Districts 75, 101 and 112
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Collier County

Tuesday
10/12/10
5 – 6:30 PM
St. John the Evangelist Church, 111th Avenue N, Naples
FREE
Will also be rebroadcast/webcast on naplesnews.com, WGCU Public Media, The Education Channel (Collier cable 99), Collier County cable 97, City of Naples cable 98

Amendment Forum: Hometown Democracy, Class Size and other Florida Constitutional Amendments: Pros and Cons
Sponsored by:
League of Women Voters of Collier County
Greater Naples Better Government Committee
Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce
Naples Daily News

Moderator: Jeff Lytle, Naples Daily News

Speakers will include:
Amendment 1: Repeal of Public Campaign Financing, Roger Green of Florida Gulf Coast University

Amendment 2: Homestead Tax Credit for Deployed Military Personnel, Abe Skinner, Collier County Property Appraiser

Amendment 4: Subjecting Major Land Use Plan Changes to Referenda (aka Hometown Democracy), FOR: attorney Andrew Dickman, AGAINST: attorney Bruce Anderson

Amendments 5 & 6: Legislative and Congressional Redistricting (aka FairDistricts), FOR: Ellen Freiden, AGAINST: Florida Representative Garrett Richter

Amendment 8: Revising Class Sizes, FOR: Collier County Schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson, AGAINST: Florida Senator Alex Villalobos

Wednesday
10/13/10
6:30 – 8:30 PM
Gates Community Room, Naples Daily News, 1100 Immokalee Rd, Naples
FREE

School Board Candidate Forum
Sponsored by:
The Education Foundation of Collier County
Naples Daily News

Questions will be posed by a panel that includes Dudley Goodlette, Alan Horton and Phil Lewis.  Topics may include legislative issues (incl. Amendment 8 and SB 4); district strategic plan; governance and roles of the board and superintendent; academic achievement and the “achievement gap;” accountability; determining the desired qualities of the next superintendent

Thursday
10/14/10
6 – 8 PM
Board of County Commissioners Chamber, 3rd Floor, 3301 E Tamiami Trail, Naples
FREE
Will also be broadcast live on Comcast Cable 97 or on CollierTV Online

School Board Candidate Forum
Sponsored by:
League of Women Voters of Collier County

Tuesday
10/19/10
7 - 9 PM
Board of County Commissioners Chamber, 3rd Floor, 3301 E Tamiami Trail, Naples
FREE
Will also be broadcast live on Comcast Cable 97 or on CollierTV Online

State Representative Candidate Forum (Districts 101 and 112)
Sponsored by:
League of Women Voters of Collier County