Sunday, November 15, 2015

Invocation at Commencement of Meetings and More on Agenda for November 17 School Board Organizational Meeting

Each November, the Collier County School Board holds an organizational meeting to elect officers and decide upon meeting times and dates for the upcoming year. (Agenda here.) Last year, then-newly elected Board members Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter began what was to become a year-long and still-ongoing battle, following their Contract with Collier County playbook. 
Unfortunately, I expect this year’s meeting to be as full of drama and discord as it was then. (See my post about that meeting here.)
There will be an opportunity for Public Comments, although only on agenda items, which include:
  • Election of Officers
  • Meetings and Times
  • Invocation at Commencement of Board Meetings
  • Board Assignments
If you wish to speak, register your intention online or in person before the meeting’s 4 PM start. 
Election of Officers
Last year, Lichter nominated Roy Terry to be Board Chair, even though Kathleen Curatolo had first been nominated by Terry and it was Curatolo's turn in the long-standing rotation. Curatolo was elected by a vote of 4 to 1.  
For the coming year, it is current Board Vice Chair Julie Sprague’s turn in the rotation. 
Meetings and times
One of the seven “major reforms” of the Contract with Collier County was to “require Board meetings to commence on or after 5:30 PM in order to give all parents and working taxpayers the opportunity to attend and participate.” Previously Board meetings started at 4 PM.
At last year’s meeting, Curatolo and Sprague offered historical perspective on why the 4 PM start had been chosen in the past:
  • Board meetings have been held at different times over the years. The current 4 PM start time was a compromise that seems to meet most people’s needs.
  • Some parents work second shifts, and a 5:30 start time would mean that they would have to miss the meetings.
  • Even with the 4 PM start time, the public recognitions portion of each meeting is the first thing on the agenda. The business part of the meetings starts later.
  • Going to a time-certain start to the business portion of the meeting might mean less time to recognize the children who are being honored and whose work is being showcased.
Despite their remarks, the Donalds/Lichter motion to change the time passed, with the conciliatory support of Terry. This past year, meetings have started at 5 PM, with the business portion of the meeting at 5:30 PM time certain. This is the only one of the Contract’s “major reforms” they have accomplished.
Given how long Board meetings have gone on this past year, not infrequently ending at 11 PM or later, I emailed Board members asking them to return meeting start times to 4 PM, with the Business meetings to start at 4:30 PM time certain. I urge you to do the same (email addresses below).
Invocation at Commencement of Board meetings
This matter has come up twice this past year, at the June 9 and July 28 Board meetings.
At the July 28 meeting, Collier County resident Jerry Rutherford, President of the self-described religious organization World Changers of Florida and a long-time advocate for prayer in the schools, requested permission during Public Comments, to “offer a prayer for the School Board.” In consultation with District Counsel Fishbane, permission was granted, with the understanding that Rutherford’s prayer would be part of the three minutes he, like any member of the public, was allowed to address the Board. 
Addressing “Almighty God and Our Heavenly Father,” he offered a specific prayer for each Board member, the Superintendent, and the District Counsel – by name, and concluded by saying, “So be it. In Jesus’ name.” (YouTube clip here.
During closing comments at that meeting, Fishbane provided historical information regarding the invocation at CCPS School Board meetings. (YouTube clips here: Part 1 and Part 2.) 
Chair Curatolo then recommended that Board members do research and bring their recommendations to the Organizational Meeting in November. 
An August 8 Naples Daily News editorial, “A better alternative than invocation at School Board meetings,” is worth the read. 
Board meetings frequently begin with recognition of students, and students often attend Board meetings. Just as prayer should not be allowed in public school classrooms, it should not be allowed before School Board meetings. 
It is particularly important that community members express their opinion on this highly-charged matter. 

Board member email addresses below. 
Board Assignments
The following 2015 committee assignments were approved unanimously by the Board at last year’s Board Organizational Meeting:
  • Education Foundation of Collier County-Champions for Learning - Roy Terry (Kathleen Curatolo-Alternate)
  • Head Start Policy Council - Julie Sprague (Erika Donalds-Alternate)
  • State Legislative Liaison - Roy Terry (Kelly Lichter-Alternate)
  • Value Adjustment Board - Erika Donalds (Julie Sprague-Alternate)
I expect similar assignments to be made at Tuesday’s meeting. 
Where and When
The November 17 School Board Orientation Meeting will begin at 4 PM at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples. It will be followed by a School Board Work Session at 5:30 PM time certain (Agenda here). 
If you are unable to attend the meeting but want to give comments to the Board and/or Superintendent, email them at:
Kathleen Curatolo - curatoka@collierschools.com
Erika Donalds - donale@collierschools.com
Kelly Lichter - lichteke@collierschools.com
Julie Sprague - spraguju@collierschools.com
Roy Terry - terryro@collierschools.com
Superintendent Kamela Patton - patton@collierschools.com

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