Sunday, February 1, 2015

We still have work to do

Updated: 3/7/15, 1:30 PM

In my last post, I wrote about a Board of Collier County Commissioners (BCC) resolution “petitioning the District School Board of Collier County, the Florida Legislature, and Governor Rick Scott to reclaim Florida’s educational sovereignty and return control of educational standards, curriculum, and student assessments to the local county school districts.” I concluded that “County Commissioners, elected in partisan elections, have no role to play in setting the legislative priorities for our School Board,” and I urged readers to contact the five County Commissioners and tell them to vote NO on the resolution.

Our voices were heard. The resolution was not adopted at Tuesday’s meeting.

But by a vote of 4 to 1, Commissioners agreed to bring back a yet-to-be-seen amended resolution that “promotes Home Rule and aligns the Commission with the District School Board.”

We still have work to do.

Public speakers at the meeting who supported the resolution far out-numbered opponents, and I sensed that the Commissioners thought the speakers were representative of the larger community. It is therefore very important that if you don’t agree with the premises or recommendations of the amended resolution, you let the commissioners know - both before and at the next Commission meeting on Tuesday, February 10th.

In this post, I’ll tell you about what the public speakers at the meeting said, the Board discussion, my take-aways, and what you can do to affect how this matter is ultimately decided.

Click here for materials received from the Clerk of Courts in response to my request for items related to this agenda item.

The public speakers
Ten people completed speaker request forms. Nine were in support of the resolution and one (Becky Newell, President - League of Women Voters of Collier County) was opposed.

Since the BCC allows a meeting attendee to cede speaking time to another speaker, only four of the nine resolution supporters spoke, allotted 27 minutes in total: Keith Flaugh, Joseph Doyle, Joseph Cofield and Jared Grifoni. Flaugh is the leader of Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance (SFCA), Doyle is a medical doctor active with SFCA, Cofield is ex-military and an educator, and Grifoni is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Collier County.

Public speakers' key messages
Speakers in support of the resolution delivered several key messages.

Commissioners should support the Florida Education Stakeholders Empowerment Bill that the Florida Citizen’s Alliance is working to have introduced in the Florida Legislature.
According to Mr. Flaugh’s handout, this Act will:
  1. Restore accountability of curriculum content and materials to local districts and parents.
  2. Dramatically reduce costs and complexity of testing.
  3. Increase learning time and increase choices for students.
  4. Eliminate the risk of data mining.
Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because Common Core is bad.
Flaugh and Doyle made the same points they and others have made at School Board meetings before. Some are summarized on four slides Flaugh used in his presentation. He told the Commissioners that Common Core is “damaging our students both psychologically and with classroom content which is EVIL.” Grifoni said high-stakes testing is “bullying” and “for some of these kids, it’s probably terrorism.”

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because we need local control of our schools.
Doyle said that not only do our schools suffer from federal burdens (e.g. testing) imposed by Common Core, they suffer from state overreach as well. As a result, he said, school taxes will have to be raised to pay for unfunded, state-mandated computer-based testing that requires retrofitting of classrooms, which will make it harder for commissioners to raise taxes for the things they want to do.“ Grifoni said, ”This resolution is certainly not the end of the road. But it’s the legitimate, reasonable, effective first step that must be taken in order to assert the importance of local control in our education."

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because it is similar to one adopted by the Republican Executive Committee.
Doyle showed Commissioners a document titled “Resolution Concerning Common Core Education Standards” adopted by the Republican Executive Committee, which he said “I know several of you are members of.”

Commissioners should support the proposed resolution because they want to attract new businesses to Collier County.
Flaugh said that “if we’re turning out people who can’t read and write, businesses won’t want to come down here.” Doyle said he said he knows people who will not come to Collier County because “schools are better in the northeast where they have local control.”

Becky Newell, President of the League of Women Voters of Collier County, was the only public speaker who urged the Commissioners to vote against the resolution. She said it was not right for the BCC to pass a resolution telling the School Board what to do, any more than it would be right for the School Board to tell the BCC what to do. She also pointed out that the School Board would be revisiting its 2015 Legislative Platform at its next meeting, and urged the Commissioners to “let the School Board do its job.”

The Commissioners’ Discussion
There was general agreement that Commissioners did not want to tell the School Board what to do.

But Commissioner Fiala said “They [the public speakers] make some good points.” She said many children in her district come from non-English-speaking homes or have reading disabilities, making it difficult for them to test well. She said, “I don’t know that I want to demand anything of the state with a resolution but we should let them know of our displeasure, … maybe in a more politically-correct way.”

Commissioner Taylor disagreed. She said it is "not the purview of the County Commission to opine on School Board issues.... [It] is not our business and I could never support this."

Commissioner Hiller said she agreed with Commissioner Fiala and with the League of Women Voters that they should not be telling the School Board what to do. But, she said, “I also agree that education is absolutely critical to economic development” so “education IS of importance to this Board…. We do need to communicate to our legislative delegation at the state and federal level,” favoring use of a letter rather than a resolution.

Commission Chairman Nance was most strongly in support of both the use of a resolution and the proposed direction to the Legislature. He said he believes it is “very appropriate for us to send a resolution that addresses this topic” and that based on what he has heard from “my wife [who] has worked over 35 years as a teacher,” “the testimony we’ve heard today is very, very accurate.” He said he hopes the BCC and the School Board “can work in concert” on these issues.

He said, at 2 hours 8+ minutes into the meeting, for those who want to view the recording:
“I really endorse, particularly, the last two elements of the resolution that Commissioner Henning has proposed, particularly the last one that calls on the governor and state legislature to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum and assessments to the local Collier County School District. I don’t think you could find anyone in the County who doesn’t support restoring home rule.” (emphasis added)
Nance then proposed that “we come back with a little more thoughtful resolution that everyone on this dais can support.”

Commissioner Taylor said, in response to Nance’s proposal:
“If it’s the will of this Board to bring [a resolution] back for discussion, then we need to be educated…. We need to hear the facts…. We need to understand from the School Board, Superintendent Patton: What is home rule? Do we have home rule? Common Core has nothing to do with curriculum…. I’m not willing to support this.”
No one spoke in support of Taylor’s suggestion, and with a vote of 4 to 1, the Commissioners voted to bring back an amended resolution that, per the meeting minutes, “promotes Home Rule and aligns the Commission with the District School Board.”

My take-aways
Our efforts to persuade the Commissioners not to involve themselves in School Board matters were only partially effective.

The matter is coming back and I do not expect the amended resolution to be much changed, if at all, from what was initially proposed, other than dropping the direction to the School Board.

These are the last two elements of that proposed resolution that Nance said he particularly endorsed:
THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY calls upon the Governor, and the Florida Legislature to immediately pass an act repealing Common Core Standards Content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Curriculum and High Stakes Testing that are being imposed through incentives and punitive actions by the Federal Department of Education and State Government agencies in violation of the Constitution of the United States, the US Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the State of Florida; therefore are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate its true meaning and intent as given by the Founders; and are hereby declared to be invalid in this state.

THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY calls upon the Governor and the Florida Legislature to pass legislation that restores the control of standards, curriculum, and assessments to the Local County School Districts under State of Florida, Article 9, Section 4b.
I certainly don’t agree with the premise (“that are being imposed through incentives and punitive actions by the Federal Department of Education and State Government agencies”) or the request (“to immediately pass an act repealing Common Core Standards Content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, Curriculum and High Stakes Testing”) of the first item.

I continue to believe the BCC should not be directing other elected bodies as to education policy. That is solely the purview of the School Board, which will be reviewing its Legislative Platform at its February 10th meeting.

And like Commissioner Taylor, I don’t know enough to support the second item, despite Commissioner Nance’s assertion that “I don’t think you could find anyone in the County who doesn’t support restoring Home Rule.”

In fact, in a county where 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 with the votes of just 30 percent of registered voters (see my post Reflections on Tuesday’s Elections), in elections where money played a big role in the outcome (Lichter raised almost $20,000; Donalds raised over $82,000), I am very leery about asking for Home Rule.

You can make a difference
Write to each of the five County Commissioners, and copy the five School Board members and Dr. Patton.
Commissioner Donna Fiala - DonnaFiala@colliergov.net
Commissioner Georgia Hiller - GeorgiaHiller@colliergov.net
Commissioner Tom Henning - TomHenning@colliergov.net
Commissioner Penny Taylor - PennyTaylor@colliergov.net
Commission Chair Tim Nance - TimNance@colliergov.net

School Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
School Board Vice-Chair Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
School Board Member Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
School Board Member Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
School Board Member Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
School Superintendent Kamela Patton - Patton@collierschools.com
Let them know how you feel about the BCC passing a resolution or even sending a letter to the Governor, Collier County’s state representatives and senators, and/or congressmen and U.S. senators on the subjects of Common Core and testing.

Tell them Commissioner Nance is wrong in his belief that everyone wants Home Rule.

Tell them you continue to think that telling Collier County’s state and federal representatives what Collier wants in terms of education policy is the purview of the School Board, not the Board of County Commissioners.

Ask them who, besides Southwest Florida Citizens Alliance and the Libertarian Party of Collier County, thinks this is a County matter that they need to involve themselves in.

And let them know what County issues you would rather they be working to address, instead of education policy.

Your letter/email doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be well-researched. Trust me: you know enough to write it right now.

But it does have to come from your heart.

The Commissioners seem to assume that those who attended last Tuesday’s meeting are the only ones who have an opinion on the subject.

We just can’t let that happen.

Note: This post was revised on March 7, 2015. The Libertarian Party of Collier County (LPCC) has not endorsed the Florida Stakeholders Empowerment bill, as previously stated. Jared Grifoni is the current Chairman of the LPCC, not a past Chairman, as previously stated. And according to Mr. Grifoni, he first addressed the School Board in January 2015 and he has not spoken at or attended a School Board workshop to date. Neither he nor Joseph Cofield have been frequent speakers at School Board meetings and workshops, as previously stated. 



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