Monday, July 27, 2015

My hopes for Tuesday's School Board meeting

This coming Tuesday evening will be packed with not just one but two School Board meetings. The regular monthly meeting will begin as usual with academic highlights and recognitions at 5 PM followed by the business agenda beginning at 5:30 PM. That meeting will adjourn at 6:30 PM for a Hearing about the proposed 2015–16 District Budget. When that meeting ends, the regular Board meeting will resume.

In this post, I’ll tell you what I’ll be hoping for as I watch the regular Board meeting. Click here for the agenda.

Governance Model Review - Agenda Item C1

In 2010, the School Board adopted a Governance Model to codify the way the District School Board of Collier County will operate. It includes:

  • Roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Superintendent
  • Policies review process
  • Strategic plan
  • Superintendent evaluation process
  • Board evaluation process

At the request of Board member Julie Sprague at last month’s meeting, the Board will discuss revisiting and possibly making changes to the Model. Discussion will include date and time of the review session and selection of a facilitator to lead the discussion, as well as any related cost.

While the Model worked well for previous Boards, this would be an opportunity for the two newer Board members (Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter) to express their views and, if shared by the majority, changes to the Model could be made.

In my opinion, past interactions on the dais between the three senior Board members (Kathleen Curatolo, Julie Sprague and Roy Terry) and two newer Board members make obvious the need for an outside facilitator – and one whom all Board members trust to be impartial. The newer Board members were critical of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) representative who facilitated a previous session, and support an alternative coalition of school boards because of differences with the FSBA. An FSBA facilitator would likely not be acceptable to them.

As I watch this discussion, I will be hoping for a unanimous vote to hold a session to discuss the Governance Model, led by a facilitator acceptable to all five Board members.

Outside Counsel for the Board - Agenda Item C2

Donalds and Lichter want the Board to have its own attorney, separate from the District’s, believing there’s an inherent conflict of interest currently with the District General Counsel representing the Board, the Superintendent and staff.

A Summary of Issues accompanying the agenda says there are examples of both models both in Florida and nationally. With respect to conflicts of interest:

… While this rarely occurs, since the corporate direction, policy, and operational goals are typically an alignment, it is the responsibility of the General [Counsel] to assess the conflict and bring in outside counsel if needed.

According to the Summary, the District has only had three conflicts of interest since 1992.

The issue has been raised before, but this is the first time it has been an agenda item to be voted on. A March 2015 Naples Daily News article reported that:

Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo says she can’t justify the expenditure. “I’m not interested in hiring a separate [counsel] because it’s far too much of a burden on taxpayer dollars,” she said.

But Lichter says the board counsel would pay for itself because there ultimately could be less lawsuits over procedural issues. The last such lawsuit, settled last month, cost the district $6,500.

Therein lies the real issue: the recent spate of lawsuits brought against the District by a few disgruntled parents. It began with suits filed by parent/attorney Steve Bracci concerning the District’s 2013 decision to make changes to its after-school programs. That decision led to the formation of Parents ROCK by now-Board member Donalds. (Background here.) Bracci subsequently brought other suits, as did parent Cory Seegmiller, after Curatolo told him to “speak to issues and not people” while addressing a Board meeting.

At the June Board meeting, Sprague asked District General Counsel Jonathan Fishbane to comment on “the frivolous lawsuits filed against us.” Fishbane said that “very, very many” suits have filed, referring to those filed by Sports Club, Parents ROCK and Bracci, and the District has won them all. Most recently, all five federal counts brought by Seegmiller were dismissed while his two state counts are still pending. Fishbane said the cost to the District of these suits was “a lot of money … more than $100,000.” (See 2–1/2 minute clip of the Sprague/Fishbane exchange about the lawsuits here.)

Watching the discussion Tuesday evening, I will be paying attention to the way Board members conduct themselves. My hope is that they listen respectfully to each other, keep an open mind in considering the need for two in-house lawyers (or lack thereof), and then vote so that this matter can be closed once and for all.

School Board Self-Evaluation - Agenda Item C280

At its discussion of the Board Self-Evaluation at the June meeting, Sprague proposed that the Board conduct another self-evaluation in November, when they will have been together for a full year. The idea is that they will take steps between now and then, including the facilitated Governance Model Review meeting discussed above, that will help them work better together, resulting in an improved evaluation.

Given the terrible results reflected in the mid-year evaluation (see my post of June 3), I hope the Board votes unanimously in support of this motion on Tuesday.

Should the suggestion come up, I would not support any effort to change the evaluation instrument between now and then. The reason to do another evaluation is to compare the Board’s May and November assessments to see if there is improvement. Changing the questions would make a like-for-like comparison impossible.

Further, since the self-evaluation is part of the Governance Model and linked to the strategic plan, the time to consider changes to the instrument is after the Board agrees on any changes to the Governance Model and after it adopts the next multi-year strategic plan (scheduled for 2015–16).

Preliminary 2016 Florida Legislative Platform - Agenda Item E90

The Board will hear a presentation on the District’s proposed priorities for the 2016 State Legislative Session. The items included are in reaction to legislation passed during the 2015 Session and/or based on other key issues anticipated to come forward during the 2016 Session.

Three of the five priorities pertain to funding:

  • Substantially increase the Base Student Allocation to cover inflation, workload adjustments and provide salary increases for teachers and other district employees.
  • Restore funding so that students can meet requirements for advanced study and industry certified programs without financially penalizing school districts.
  • Create and fund a separate program exclusively for the 100 low (reading) performing elementary schools so that funding follows the identified students/schools and is not mixed with other programs, and districts have flexibility in how the extra 180 hours per year are scheduled and provided.

In addition, the District wants the Legislature to extend the transition timeline for full implementation of the new educational accountability system until July 1, 2017. The Rationale for Legislative Priorities summarizes five reasons this extension is needed.

Finally, the District wants the Legislature to eliminate student learning growth as a required component of teacher and school administrator evaluations. According to the Rationale:

Teachers and school administrators do not receive student learning growth (value-added model - VAM) data until after the following school year has already started. At that point, teachers have already established professional growth plans for the year based on the feedback received at the end of the prior year on instructional practice and based on the individual student assessment data that has been reviewed. The VAM serves no meaningful purpose when it is received. Student assessment data should be used for its original intent, to inform instruction in the classroom and to guide decisions about professional learning, and not as a means to evaluate employees.

It’s important for all of us – teachers, administrators, parents, students and community members – to understand the difference between the things local School Districts can change on their own, and the things they have no control over because they are mandated by state or federal law. By watching the presentation and Board discussion of this agenda item, I hope to further my understanding of these differences.

School Board Comments

One of the last items on the agenda is School Board Comments. This is an opportunity for each Board member to make any comments she/he wants about any topic. Having read the summary of Board member comments in the minutes of last month’s meeting, I realized that much of interest is discussed and that this portion of the meeting – despite the late hour – should be monitored by the public. We can’t know in advance what comments Board members will make, but I plan to watch for items like those last month that provide insight into District matters not otherwise known by the public.



For more information about the meeting, including the agenda and all related materials, visit the School Board Meeting Agenda Page of the CCPS website.

If you have input to share with the Board and Superintendent about any of the agenda items, you can attend the meeting in person (be sure to register in advance), or email them:

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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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Public comments at the last School Board meeting ... and looking ahead

In my last post (“A report on the June 9 School Board meeting”), I reported on the Board’s discussion and subsequent three-to-two-vote to approve its annual self-evaluation and evaluation of the Superintendent. I had written in depth about both processes in a previous post. I believe awareness of the outcomes of these annual Board assessments is critical to being an informed voter in School Board elections. Here’s why.

The Board’s self-evaluation is an important component of the Board’s Governance Model. Responses reflect Board members’ assessments of how effectively they are functioning as a Board and furthering the District’s strategic plan. Since poor Board conduct almost caused the District to lose its accreditation in 2007/2008 (more here), voters should monitor the annual self-evaluation for signs of trouble. And as I wrote last month, this year’s evaluation is cause for concern.

Similarly, voters should monitor the Board’s annual evaluation of the Superintendent to ensure she is meeting expectations. This year, fortunately, she is. (See my post and the Naples Daily News editorial “Supt. Patton deserves all the accolades she received in 2015 evaluation,” behind pay wall.)

My mission - what drives me to write this blog - is to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting. I hope those previous posts did that.

In this post, I will deliver on last month’s promise to report on the public comments that preceded the business portion of the Board meeting (acknowledging that my notes may not be complete), and how I will cover public comments going forward.

2–1/2 hours of public comments

Twelve community members made comments generally in support of Board members, District staff and/or the Superintendent. Thanks to the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube Channel, you can actually watch clips of several of those speakers, including:

  • Beth Povlow, president of the recently-formed Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE), who introduced the Coalition as having been "born out of the frustration at witnessing increasingly dysfunctional School Board meetings." Click here.
  • John Lynch, a spokesman for C4QPE, who encouraged Board members to commit to another facilitated session to “resolve [the Board's] difficulties through compromise, discussion and negotiation.” Click here.
  • Eric Otto, a Collier County parent, who summarized and commended the District on the results of the recent parents’ survey. Click here.
  • Roseanne Mello, a Collier County parent, who thanked the Board and Superintendent for providing an excellent public education for her son, who recently graduated magna cum laude from a Collier high school and was accepted to NYU on a half-scholarship. Click here.
  • Reynerio Joseph Muradaz, a rising junior at Gulf Coast High School, who said that the possibility of “the loss of accreditation is terrifying” and reminded Board members of their responsibility to all 45,000 CCPS students, not just the minority of voters who elected them. Click here.
  • Dianne Mayberry-Hatt, a retired educator who served as a trained facilitator of the 2009 Champions for Learning Connect Now community engagement initiative, who shared the ground rules used in the Connect Now community conversations “that enabled diverse points of view to be heard,” and suggested that it’s time for Connect Now 2.0.  Click here.

Nine community members made comments generally critical of the District and Superintendent. They included:

  • Steve Bracci, a Collier County parent and litigant against the Collier County Public Schools (CCPS),
  • David Bolduc, a Collier County parent and Parents ROCK president,
  • Doug Lewis, a Collier County parent and author of the pre-election “Contract with Collier County, Florida Voters.” Mr. Lewis’s reading from “Dreaming in Cuban,” a novel available at five Collier high schools, caused a bit of a stir.

Four community members spoke in support of restoring an invocation to the beginning of School Board meetings. (See “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools,” by ACLU of Tennessee). On a related note, School Board member Kelly Lichter’s husband Nick commented on the subject on the Sparker’s Soapbox Facebook Page on July 8, writing in part: “WE THE PEOPLE want the invocation …. An invocation before school board meetings is sorely needed in Collier County. Maybe it will help alleviate some of the disdain the three senior board members have towards the public.”

Byron Donalds, husband of School Board member Erika Donalds, Vice President of the Mason Classical Academy Charter School’s Governing Board and 2016 candidate for Florida state legislative District 80, addressed the Board to state that “racist and divisive remarks [were] said to Board members at this dais” and that “politics is happening at this podium.” He was referring to a previous speaker’s reference to the Mason Classical Academy as the “Mason Academy for Middle Class White Students.” (Read more in Mr. Donalds’ letter in the Naples Daily News, calling the characterization a “vile, racist remark,” and in “One of Collier’s top schools drawing criticism for its racial makeup,” both behind pay wall.)

Four community members spoke on other topics.

It was a long 2–1/2 hours, during which upwards of 30 people took advantage of their opportunity under School Board Policy 0169.1 to address the Board and Superintendent. I encourage you to listen to the speaker clips at the Great Schools, Great Minds YouTube channel and/or watch some of it through the Video-on-Demand recording of the Board meeting.

My reporting on public comments going forward

I’ve learned a lot about our community by watching and listening to public comments at School Board meetings. Mostly I’ve heard about issues that critics of the senior Board members and the Superintendent think are important. I’ve seen a small number of angry people complain and criticize the same things month after month, with little hope of changing the outcome before the next election.

The good news is that those frequent critics have energized and engaged another group of voters - community members, parents, grandparents, and at least one student - to become more informed and involved.

The Coalition for Quality Public Education (C4QPE) and Great Schools, Great Minds’ website, Facebook Page and YouTube Channel would likely not have formed without the ongoing disruption and unpleasantness displayed by some of the frequent speakers at School Board meetings.

That civic engagement has strengthened my commitment to what I am doing. It has also made easier my decision that reporting on the public comments portion of School Board meetings is not critical to furthering my mission to encourage and facilitate community involvement in civic affairs and, ultimately, informed, fact-based voting.

Going forward, readers of this blog can expect continued reporting on Collier School Board actions as they relate to CCPS policy, governance, performance, and the strategic plan – things I believe informed voters should know. In addition, I’ll be expanding my scope to include information about upcoming elections, candidates for County and statewide office, and issues I think are relevant to voters’ decisions in the 2016 elections. I hope you’ll stay tuned.



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