Monday, November 16, 2015

Checking in on Board Behavior

Tomorrow night’s School Board Work Session is an opportunity for community members to judge for themselves how well or poorly the Board is functioning at the one-year anniversary of its five members’ service together as a Board. On the agenda:
  • Board Self-Evaluation
  • Governance Model
  • Accreditation

Board Self-Evaluation (Item C280)

The Board gave itself terrible marks on its first self-evaluation in June. See my post about it here. As the result of Board member Julie Sprague’s request at the time (“I worry about accreditation” – video clip here), the Board conducted another self-evaluation this month.

Sprague had hoped that some of the issues and concerns reflected in June would be addressed and that this one-year evaluation would show improvement.

Unfortunately, while there was some improvement in the ratings of 15 of the 34 indicators of Board performance, 11 of the indicators received their lowest scores in the seven-year history of the evaluation.

I encourage you to look at the evaluation itself. It paints a sorry picture in several areas of how our School Board is functioning.

In particular, I want to share the written comments of Board members regarding three specific indicators as reported here:

Indicator 7: The School Board and the Superintendent work together to create a climate of good faith and goodwill through team work and clear communication

Curatolo: The dysfunction and lack of teamwork has become more evident as time passed.

Lichter: The Superintendent is confused on board and Superintendent roles. She is under the false impression that she has authority over board members i.e. board briefings in her office where she sits at the head of her conference table, refuses to meet with certain members, is insubordinate, has lied to certain board members, refuses to respond to questions in writing, continues to give committee appointments and other titles to vitriolic and hateful community members that continue to publicly slander certain board members, and finally she works closely with her personal attorney, Jon Fishbane, to create policies and amend bylaws to strip power from the elected and the people they represent.

Sprague: This is an area of grave concern. There has been a continuous erosion of trust between members of the leadership team based on false allegations and lack of respect for employees and fellow Board members. Some Board members have undermined operational decisions made by the Superintendent and supported law suits filed against the District and Superintendent.

Terry: There is still a lack of trust between some Board members and the Superintendent. Some members did not even show up for the opening of schools meeting to start the school year.

Indicator 14: The School Board and the Superintendent work well together in the spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

Curatolo: This has not been the norm since November 2014.

Lichter: I don’t trust her, because she lies to me and treats me like her subordinate. She works with Jon Fishbane and others to script meetings, so it makes it difficult to trust her. I also have in my possession emails where she and other district personnel were actively targeting a specific charter school in our community for no real reason.

Sprague: Trust and confidence have deteriorated since our June evaluation. A Board member has issued public records requests for fellow Board member’s and staff emails without any evidence of wrong doing. The Superintendent and staff have been accused by some Board members of lies and conspiracy at public meetings. One Board member disregarded the publicly shared advice of the District General Counsel and Superintendent which resulted in a Cease and Desist letter addressed to the entire Board by the Florida Education Association.

Terry: The lack of trust by a few Board members and their group in the Superintendent and the rest of the Board is a problem. This causes a lot of extra work for the Superintendent and her staff.

Indicator 34: The School Board addresses issues before they come urgent to critical.

Lichter: My final comment: The real evaluation will take place at the ballot box. Time could have been better spent looking at academic performance data and seeking solutions, so that every child has access to the very best education.

Sprague: We as a Board need to seriously address our dysfunctional behavior. It sets a horrible example for students and causes distrust in the school district and community. With an AdvancED [accreditation] review looming in the near future, the time to rectify the situation is now before drastic action is imposed on us. Sadly, our behavior has become the topic of conversation throughout the community. It is up to us as a team to work together and focus on our vision and mission for the benefit of all 45,000 children in our District.
Only four of the 34 indicators were rated favorably by all Board members. That’s very bad.

Governance Model (Item B16)

The Governance Model sets forth the terms under which the School Board members agree to operate. It includes such things as behavioral norms, roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Superintendent, the expectation of “cooperative governance,” and more.

The current Governance Model has been in place since 2010. Sprague suggested, as a result of the Board’s self-evaluation in June, that it be revisited, as explained in a prior post. It was discussed during the Board’s August Work Session, and is on tomorrow’s agenda to finalize changes. See latest draft here.

The Board’s inability to reach agreement on something as basic as its Governance Model is simply appalling.

Accreditation (Item B15)

Many School Board observers, myself included, share Sprague’s concern that the hostility of certain Board members toward Superintendent Kamela Patton and, to varying degrees, other Board members, will affect the District’s accreditation.

Our concern is based on history: poor Board conduct almost caused the District to lose its accreditation in 2007/2008 (more here), and the Board’s conduct this past year has been even worse – as evidenced by its self-evaluations.

The last item on Tuesday’s Work Session agenda is a presentation on the accreditation process by a representative of accreditation agency AdvancED, followed by a presentation on how the District prepares for accreditation by its Executive Director responsible for overseeing the process. Click here for the PowerPoint to be used in the presentation.

Conclusion

We as a community should be extremely concerned and embarrassed by what this second Board self-evaluation says about us. I know I am.

I couldn’t agree with Licther more: in addition to the next accreditation review, an equally important evaluation will take place at the ballot box – not just in August, when the District 2 and 4 seats are on the ballot, but in 2018, when Districts 1, 3 and 5 will be up.

Tuesday’s Work Session will begin at 5:30 PM time certain, following the 4 PM Board Organizational meeting, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

If you wish to speak at the meeting concerning Work Session topics, register your intention online or in person before the 5:30 PM start. 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



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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Learnings from a lawsuit and a text message

www.CollierClerk.com
I was concerned and perplexed by some of the closing comments made by Board members at the October 20 School Board Work Session on Blue Zones.

Roy Terry said (beginning at 3:01:23 in the video-on-demand recording of the meeting):

I was happy to hear that Mr. Bracci’s suit against Dr. Patton was thrown out. I was also happy to hear that Mr. Bracci’s motion to disqualify Judge Hayes was denied.

In the motion to disqualify the judge, a text between Mr. Lee Dixon and a sitting Board member was included which suggested that Board members were intimidated by Blue Zones advocates.

With respect to Blue Zones, I have been pressured by no one. I have reviewed the issues and made the decision based on what was in the best interest of students, and of the District. That’s all that I’m going to say on that because the implication was there that we were being intimidated by certain folks. The other comment by Mr. Dixon I’m not going to address at this time.

Board Chair Kathleen Curatolo said (beginning at 3:03:46; YouTube clip here) that she, too, was happy to see the suit against the Superintendent dismissed and the follow-up motion denied. And she too referred to a text included in the motion to disqualify the judge, describing it as one in which "a Board member was engaging in insidious derogatory remarks about another School Board member."

I had no idea what they were talking about, but it sounded serious. And expensive. District Counsel Jonathan Fishbane said lawsuits by Mr. Bracci have cost almost $190,000 in District operating funds to date.

I found the case they were referring to by searching court records on the Clerk of Courts website. Here's some of what the file for "Steven J. Bracci vs. Kamela Patton, " case number 11-2015-CA-001486-0001-XX, showed:
  • The lawsuit was filed on August 11, 2015. The Complaint claims that the Superintendent violated Florida’s open meeting (“Sunshine”) laws by participating in Blue Zones Project Steering Committee meetings, and that therefore the Blue Zones Project should not be implemented in CCPS.
  • On August 17, hoping the parties could resolve the matter without going to court, Judge Hugh Hayes appointed J. Dudley Goodlette, Esq., a respected community leader, former State Representative, Hodges University 2014 Humanitarian of the Year and current Chair of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce Board, to mediate the case.
  • On August 20, District in-house counsel Jonathan Fishbane and outside counsel James Fox of Roetzel & Andress moved to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the Superintendent is not subject to the Sunshine law. The hearing of their motion was scheduled by the Court for October 8.
  • On September 15, Bracci petitioned the court to disqualify Fishbane as attorney for the School Board, claiming he was part of a plan to keep information from the public in order to ensure “smooth approval” of the Blue Zones by the Board “without the knowledge, review or dissent of the public.” The court said no. 
  • On October 1, the mediation meeting ordered by the judge was held, but no agreement was reached.
  • On October 8, the District's move to dismiss the case was heard in court. Judge Hayes ruled against Bracci, agreeing with the District.
  • On October 12, Bracci filed a 22-page lawsuit to disqualify the judge because he "fears that he will not receive a fair trial or hearing ... because of the ... prejudice or bias of the presiding judge."
  • On October 14, Bracci's suit to to disqualify the judge was denied.

With this research, I understood what Roy Terry and Kathleen Curatolo were referring to when they said they were pleased that Bracci’s suit against Dr. Patton was thrown out and that his motion to disqualify Judge Hayes was denied.

As to the text message, Bracci's lawsuit to disqualify Judge Hayes contained a screenshot of the text to which the Board members referred. On page 12, Bracci described it as follows:

Here is a copy of a public record in the form of a text communication from School Board member Erika Donalds to some of her constituents, in which she describes the intimidation from certain “elite” members of our community who supported the Blue Zones Project.

Erika Donalds: Terry can’t withstand the pressure that the elites put on us over this thing. I saw that coming.
Lee Dixon: I knew it when he seconded the motion.
Lee Dixon: He has no spine.
Lee Dixon: Erika, can you give us an example of that pressure?
Erika Donalds: Weiss for one.
Erika Donalds: I was told I ‘don’t want to get in the way of the people that are behind this.’
Erika Donalds: Not by Weiss but someone connected in Naples.
Erika Donalds: Mayor Sorey emailed me.

Lee Dixon is a candidate for the School Board District 4 seat currently held by Julie Sprague. (See my post School Board elections less than a year away.) As a School Board candidate, his words are particularly revealing and concerning.

More troubling are the words of Erika Donalds. When viewed in the context of Bracci's suit to disqualify the judge, her use of the word “elites” to describe generous, dedicated, long-serving members of our community suggests an unappreciative, class-based, "us-vs.-them" mindset.

Bracci makes allegations and innuendos in his case about Roy Terry, NCH CEO Allen Weiss, Naples Mayor John Sorey, Rep. Dudley Goodlette, members of the Blue Zones Steering Committee, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the United Way, the Immokalee Foundation and the NAACP, as well as “certain government agencies and their representatives including a Collier County commissioner, a School Superintendent (Defendant Patton), the Mayor of Naples, the Collier County Sheriff, the Vice-Mayor of Bonita Springs, and a State Health Department representative.”

If Donalds, Dixon, and their supporters share Bracci’s opinion that a group of community leaders, including the “entire 20th Judicial Circuit,” is biased against them, there is serious cause for alarm.

I believe this group hopes to take over the School Board in next year’s election. Lee Dixon and John Brunner are its candidates. Stay tuned.



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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

On the agenda for tonight's School Board Meeting

Tuesday, November 10

The next regular monthly meeting of the Collier County School Board takes place tonight beginning at 5 PM (business meeting at 5:30 PM). See agenda here. It’s a relatively short agenda, with only two items of business.

School Board Policy 3211 Whistleblower Protection (Agenda Item C1)

This is the second or third time this policy revision has come back as a First Reading. A sticking point in past attempts has been how the policy addresses whistleblower complaints about the Superintendent or a School Board member. See marked changes to the existing policy here. If there are no substantive changes, the policy will go forward for a Second Reading at the December Board Meeting.

Risk Assessment (or, should the District have an Internal Audit function?) (Agenda Item C140)

This is a continuation of a discussion begun at the August 18 School Board meeting. From my post at that time:

Donalds, whose accounting credentials were cited by many who supported her candidacy, believes that without an Internal Audit function, the District may be at risk of financial loss or “inadvertent inefficiencies.” She also thinks compliance with Board policies and state laws should be reviewed, saying she wants to add “verify” to the “trust” the District has that staff appropriately do their jobs. She said an internal audit function is a best practice in business, and wants to bring that function to the District. As a first step, she wants to hire an outside firm to do a “risk assessment” so that the Board can then make an informed decision about if and how to proceed.

After a long discussion during which some Board members said they didn’t understand what Donalds was asking for of why it was needed, Donalds offered to get more information and the Board agreed to add discussion of a “risk assessment” to the agenda for its November business meeting.

At tonight’s meeting, the Board will discuss and decide if there is a need for assessment. An attachment to this agenda item includes, for discussion purposes, a Risk Assessment Definition, Scope, Cost and Time.

I appreciate this suggestion from the for-profit business world and look forward to hearing the Board discuss it further tonight.

Consent Agenda

There are some interesting items on the Consent Agenda as well:

School Improvement Plans (Agenda Item B16)

School Improvement Plans are required by State Statute and School Board Policy 2120. All plans must be approved by the Board prior to submission to the Florida Department of Education, Department of School Improvement. To view the School Improvement Plans, click here.

Letter to the Florida Department of Transportation regarding safety and capacity improvements to State Road 82 in Collier County (Agenda Item C100)

In the letter, Board Chair Curatolo says, “While it may be unusual for you to hear from a District School Board regarding a road project, we have a considerable number of students, teachers and administrative staff that travel this route daily and we are very concerned for their safety. As you may already be aware there have been an alarming number of fatal vehicle crashes on this road over the summer and unfortunately many more over the road’s history.”

CCPS 2014–15 Annual Financial Report (Agenda Item C170)

This Annual Report must be approved by the board before December 1, and filed with the State.

Next meeting

The Board will hold its annual Organizational Meeting next Tuesday, November 17, at 4 PM. At that time, it will choose the next Board Chair and Vice Chair, and assign other Board member responsibilities.

At 5:30 PM on November 17, the Board will hold a Work Session to discuss AdvancED and the accreditation process. In addition, it will review the Board’s updated self-evaluation and further discuss the Governance Model.



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