A J-Bill

A bill about Js? Don’t get excited; it’s not about cannabis.

What is a J-Bill? It is legislation being considered by the Florida legislature that will amend the city charter of Jacksonville without a referendum of Duval County voters.

According to the Office of General Counsel, ” Under the Jacksonville Consolidation Amendment in Article VIII, section 9 Florida Constitution (1885), as held over, the State Legislature retains jurisdiction to amend or extend the Charter without referendum.” (See slide 16 of the link.)

” The Legislature shall have power to establish, alter or abolish, a Municipal corporation to be known as the City of Jacksonville, extending territorially throughout the present limits of Duval County, in the place of any or all county, district, municipal and local governments, boards, bodies and officers, constitutional or statutory, legislative, executive, judicial, or administrative, and shall prescribe the jurisdiction, powers, duties and functions of such municipal corporation, its legislative, executive, judicial and administrative departments and its boards, bodies and officersbut so long as such Municipal corporation exists under this Section the Legislature may amend or extend the law authorizing the same without referendum to the qualified voters unless the Legislative act providing for such amendment or extension shall provide for such referendum.” (Source: Article VIII, Section 9 of the Florida State Constitution) (Bold emphasis is mine.)

That enables Jason Fischer, the member of the Florida House of Representatives–District 16 (Mandarin), who is attempting an end run around the latest incarnation of Jacksonville’s Charter Review Commission that meets every ten years, the means to introduce a bill that would change the school board from an elected body to one whose members are appointed by the mayor.

Chris Guerrieri, Jacksonville’s long-time local education blogger, has been reporting unfolding events in his posts and uncovered the fact that the source of the proposed legislative change is none other than the Office of General Counsel.

Events are moving so fast in this story that it’s hard to know what to think from one day to the next.

Therefore, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not going to try. Rather, he is taking a long view based upon Florida/Southern history.

As Reconstruction ended in 1876, the period was marked by a resumption of power by the wealthy planter class, who if deprived of their slaves, was establishing a new means of exploiting the labor and maintaining the poverty of poor black citizens. As they had in the antebellum days, blacks continued their activism in pushing for their rights and the rights of others with whom they felt an affinity, especially the struggle in Cuba for freedom and independence from Spain.

Other events of the times involved the organization of labor that included the cooperation of working class whites and blacks in the struggle against the power of corporate interests. As they achieved some success in cities like Jacksonville and Pensacola, the planter class, now evolving into the corporate class of business owners, struck back.

Beyond the establishment of domestic terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and voter suppression that were diminishing the political power and rights of black citizens, they would work to eliminate unions in the interest of maintaining subsistence wages.

“In 1889, Florida state legislators revoked the city charter of Jacksonville, an act that empowered the governor to replace pro-labor elected officials with a white regime that was controlled by the state.” (Source: An African-American and Latinx History of the United States, Paul Ortiz, Beacon Press, 2018, page 90.)

At the same time, the state legislature revoked the city charters of Key West, where a free society of blacks, Cubans, whites, and others intermingled in all ways, including marriage and sharing of governmental power, and Pensacola, where a pro-labor local government also presented a threat.

Business is better than farming, but I did make my money in wholesaling groceries.

130 years later, and it’s the same story, the Never-Ending Story. (Apologies to the movie.) Wealth brings power and they don’t intend to share either.

Instead of ex-plantation owners, Jacksonville has its Civic Council, not to be confused with the City Council. The City Council is the elected body of local legislators for the city. The Civic Council is not elected, it is a private group of wealthy business owners and politicians, along with a group of carefully-selected executives from city non-profit agencies.

Perhaps the mayor doesn’t trust the stacked Charter Review Commission, the one where education privatizers were selected. Maybe he thought the J-bill option would be faster. The Florida legislature will reconvene in January. Maybe he thought the CRC would choose an option other than mayor-appointed.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Lenny Curry, his slogan “One City, One Jacksonville” really means a silencing of dissent. It really means One Mayor Decides Everything.

Or maybe Lenny Curry is not in control; he is beholden to the corporate class, the wealthy elite that remains in control after all these years. It really doesn’t matter because the struggle is real and the latest J-bill is only one of a long series of attempts to consolidate power into the hands of an oligarchy.

An elected school board, one that responds to the voters and citizens who put them into office, offends the corporate class. They turn to their power in the legislature to stamp democratic resistance out of existence as they have done before.

FB picks up the last image in the post. So I’ll finish with this one. But the dragons in our story are not cuddly and they are not on our side, at least, if you believe in public schools.

Dear Sam

Nice ‘Stache.

You got me. It’s one of the hazards of being a blogger, a working citizen, that I don’t have the time to go to all the meetings, chase down every fact (Google has its limitations and I can’t afford a LexisNexis account), and get behind the reports. Like other bloggers, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) reads a tremendous amount of news from a variety of sources, but is limited by what is reported.

So when I last thought about your proposal, I said it’s odious but maybe that’s what the School Board would have to do. Hire your muscle to get the sales tax referendum through the City Council.

That’s before your real proposal was known. No wonder the school board chair pulled back her like of my post. She knew something the rest of us did not, but now do.

For 15 Gs a month, you would have sold, not the school board’s proposal, but your own ideas–on their behalf–that included $150,000,000 off the top for building new charter schools in the city.

You were willing to collect a nice fee for being a consultant, but consulting is not what you had in mind. You were going to tell your prospective client what they have to do.

Nice retirement gig. Easy-peasy in a city that calls itself bold but its politicians are too timid to stand up to the strong-arm mayor. Who would with a guy like you around to provide the muscle?

This is where GOT and you part company. It’s not that you weren’t really offering to be a consultant. You were running down the sideline like Marcedes Lewis getting ready to drop a pass from Blake Bortles. Remember them? Yeah, no one else does either.

But who called the play? And you were willing to run the route as long as you were well paid for it.

Retirement will be sweet. Let GOT share his plans with you as the day is not far off. He will immediately volunteer to return to the school system as a math interventionist. Volunteer work! For the good of the community. Because his retirement is secure and there is no more need to scrabble for income.

Why could you not do that, Sam? You know our schools are in desperate need of the sales tax to repair and replace facilities. You know that charters don’t have the same needs. You know the inequity that has never been truly addressed in our city.

Or maybe you aren’t the consummate insider you pretend to be.

Pro Bono, Sam. Ask Jason Gabriels what that means if you don’t know. Oh, wait, this is the guy who said ‘shall’ means ‘may,’ and didn’t have the cajones to back it up; offering instead the weak excuse that it was only an internal memorandum by a junior staffer.

Now that the facts are known, the people of Jacksonville see your proposal for what it is. Not an offer to help, not a proposal for representation, but a protection racket.

GOT recalls his previous recommendation that the school board may not like it, but hiring you may be the way to go.

GOT was wrong. With superior knowledge, board members knew what they were dealing with. They are right to reject your offer.

In closing, GOT can’t help but be a teacher. Here’s your homework assignment. It’s a reflection of one word: RICO.

Think about that before Lenny sends you out for the next shake-down.

We the People

With separation of powers and checks & balances.

The underlying political philosophy used to create the U.S. Constitution, including the separation of powers among three independent branches of government and ‘checks and balances,’ in which each independent branch would have a means of stopping other branches from the exercise of unlimited power.

This basic framework was used by each of the 50 states to create their own constitutions and the idea is replicated innumerable times in local county and city charters.

It is a philosophy and framework that has worked well for over 225 years even as it derived from the founders’ abhorence of the concentration of all government powers in one person, namely a king.

Even the courts do not have unlimited power even as they go through activist periods where it seems to some that they are legislating through their power of judicial review. Congress, although they have never used this check, may deny jurisdiction over any issue to the courts.

Historically, the states are sovereign. The federal government derives its powers from the states who delegated them because joint action in many areas would benefit all; in the beginning, foreign policy (relations with other nations) and defense seemed to be two areas for cooperation and coordination.

States, for the most part of the nation’s existence and their independence, followed a principle of decentralization: the closer to the people was their governance, the better. Powers were delegated to counties and cities to manage their affairs that were local in nature; among these was the education of youth. States set overarching policies and standards, but local school boards carried out the actual provision of education to the young.

Because democracy was seen as the highest value, in which the people are not subjects of the states, but were the source of the states’ sovereignty, elected office was the norm. More than governors and legislators were elected; state officials (including commissioners of education) and judges were also elected offices.

Time and practice has modified the number of offices and judges who are elected, but the principle has endured. We the People will choose those who will lead us and judge us.

Democracy is now under threat. It is beyond one blog post to describe the many and various ways constitutions are being twisted to concentrate power in the hands of a few individuals, but this one will focus on the coming effort to abolish an elected school board in Duval County, Florida.

I picked this one because the Landing is in the pic (lower left.) Oh, I am so bad.

Every 10 years, the city undergoes a process known as the Charter Revision Commission (similar to the every 20 year process for the state.) Last time around, the CRC proposed abolishing the elected school board in favor of one appointed by the mayor. It went nowhere once the recommendation reached the City Council.

But that was then and this is now. What has changed? Jacksonville has retrogressed towards the pre-consolidation days of city bosses and concentration of power into a few hands of the political-wealthy class.

A strong mayor? Or a strong-arm mayor?!

As a starting point, it seems that the CRC wants to pick up where the last commission left off with its recommendations for changing the governance of the school system. In perhaps a point of irony, the 2009 CRC prioritized its recommendations (source: Florida Times-Union):

The 2010 report recommended several changes for the selection of the School Board, which currently has seven members. Ranked in order of preference, the recommendations were:

• Change the School Board so the mayor appoints all its members, subject to City Council confirmation. The board members would “serve at the pleasure of the mayor.”

• Make the School Board a mix of appointed and elected members. The mayor would appoint a majority of the board.

• Keep the School Board as an elected body but have all members elected to at-large seats in countywide votes, rather than having single-member districts. Currently, the county is divided into seven districts and voters in each district elect a School Board member.

• Establish charter schools “or an appropriate charter school district” under the sponsorship and governance of the city.

Each of these recommendations strikes at the heart of the principle of democratic control by We the People. Each would remove those who run our schools from our direct control and removal. Each would concentrate power into the hands of one person, the mayor, although each option as one moves down the list does so less effectively.

Do not doubt this. Even if we go to option 3, seven board seats each of which is elected county-wide, the advantage would go to the wealthy who alone have the ability to fund the campaigns of persons friendly to their agenda.

Democracy loses. A mayor, any mayor, not only the current one, who owes the position to the backing and financing of the elite, would be the point man to control such a school board, even as the current denizen of the office appears to be able to control 19 elected persons to the City Council.

If not all 19, enough to overcome the checks and balances in the city charter.

As for option 4, is this why the mayor and his controlled City Council are delaying the referendum? Because in the end, they will (under the sponsorship of the Civic Council) set up a competing school system?

“It’s easier here.” That’s the marketing slogan of the city.

Not if you believe in democracy.

Week 8: Full Steam Ahead!

It stirs the blood, the loud horn that sounds the departure into new adventures.

This post is week 8 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Moving Forward

What will you keep from the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge moving forward?

Not a Big Hairy Audacious Goal; as I recall, I don’t have one. Not a self-appointed change agent who will save the world despite all obstacles; as I recall, I hung up my superman’s cape in a museum. Not the respite from blogging and protesting the existential threat to public education in Florida; as I recall, that has been going on all summer and I must return to the fight (I already have.)

Grumpy Old Teacher will remain grumpy to maintain a spirit of parody and humor in the face of dark times. He will continue the continuous learning journey that never really ends as the needs of children are always changing from one year to the next. He adapt, grow, and change so that if he was facing the same prompts next summer, the responses would not be the same.

A real working vessel heading out to her work.

As teachers head back to their work, GOT will take his commitment to excellence in learning, his dedication to the success of children, his unending journey of learning how to teach better, his collaboration with colleagues in mutual listening to one another and learning from one another, and his spirit of a servant’s heart into his classroom once again.

GOT will maintain his boundaries. He teaches students; he does not have babies. He fulfills his contract responsibilities; he is not on 24/7. He gets results when the students embrace their learning; for those who will not, he refuses to feel guilty. Children are not widgets to be programmed. As human beings, they have something to say about who and what they will become. That is why teaching will never be reduced to a script or a computer program. It takes a human.

Thanks for the blogging challenge, Hot Lunch Tray. GOT wishes you success on your own journey this year as you continue your work to help others implement educational technologies in the classroom.

Political Calculus

A surprise move was revealed when Jacksonville’s (FL) citizens learned that two of the most experienced and shrewd insiders had made a proposal to the School Board to spearhead its efforts to put the sales tax referendum on a ballot. (It requires City Council approval.)

Sam Mousa. This is the guy who greases the wheels for mayors and moves back and forth between City Hall and lobbying. He ‘retired’ from the Curry administration, but now pops up with his own lobbying firm. Everyone needs a plan for retirement and this must be his way of keeping a finger in the pie without the daily grind of an everyday job.

Tim Baker. This is Lenny Curry’s go-to guy for campaign expertise. He knows Jacksonville elections from the inside out. His clout can best be understood through the appointment of his wife to the City’s decennial charter revision commission.

The duo met with the school board chair, Lori Hershey, and proposed providing the following: “The group would create a prioritized list of projects that would be funded by the tax — critics of the plan have said the school’s existing list isn’t detailed enough — and present it to the City Council. The group would also provide “one-on-one advocacy” of the referendum with City Council members, civic groups and “other elected officials” in order to get it placed on the ballot.” (Source of Quote: Florida Times-Union, “Ex-Curry aide, mayor’s top strategist offer Duval Schools sales-tax help,” July 26, 2019.)

The cost? $12,500 per month for a total of 30 months; however, the contract would terminate upon placement of the referendum on the November 2020 ballot or if voters reject the amendment [GOT assumes that means a November 2019 ballot happens.]

Early social media reaction has been muted, but it seems education advocates recoil from the odious necessity of hiring political muscle.

On principle, they are exactly correct. Why should the School Board hire consultants to do the work they could do in-house? The offer seems to smell of pirates extorting safety from a coastal town or a crime syndicate requiring protection money from local businesses. In both cases, what is being purchased is protection from the the ones offering the protection.

Further, why shouldn’t the School Board now answer the Council questions and move forward in good faith? Why do they need hired guns?

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will answer that question: Because this isn’t a bare-knuckled political fight with councilmen who sold out to the charter privatizers in the city, such as Gary Chartrand, who is posting ads for charter schools on his Facebook page, it is a brass-knuckles on the bare digits political fight. Bones are going to be broken.

GOT would like to get on his high horse and denounce the Mousa/Baker proposal. He would like to endorse the calls that if the School Board needs consultants, they should put a contract out to bid. But no one, absolutely no one, for whatever price, can offer what the Mousa/Baker duo will bring: the political clout necessary to outmuscle all the players, even the mayor.

That’s the political calculus. Hiring the duo may be the best chance the School Board has. A.G. Gancarski (Florida politics) has earlier said that the School Board needs to understand how Jacksonville politics work and accept that they need political muscle. (Editorial note: GOT looked for a link, couldn’t find it, so if he is in error, please let him know and he will edit.)

Forget principle. If we want the half-cent sales tax referendum to reach the ballot, the School Board will have to hold their noses and hire them.

It’s a brass-knuckled fight.

Plus, if the alternative is to cave to the 20% demand for revenue off the top to charter schools, a demand that will result in at least 20%, probably more like 25 to 33% of the needs on the Master Facilities Plan going unfulfilled, the $450,000 contract price is a bargain.

Postscript: For conspiracy theorists who will say that the Mousa/Baker proposal is only an insidious tentacle reaching out from Boss Curry to gain control of the School Board to ultimately frustrate them, hmmm, GOT doesn’t believe it. But he will be entertained to read the speculations.

The Never-Ending Questions

Teacher, I have a question. And I have a question. And I have a question. And they’re all the same question.

If you ever watched the movie Eragon, based on the popular novel, you remember there was a scene when Brom, the hidden dragon-rider of old, recognized that Eragon had hatched a dragon and was a new rider. He knew Eragon was his son and so muttered the question, “Is this tragedy or is it farce?”

Any classroom teacher can tell you one of the most frustrating moments is when the students ask the same, simple, repetitive question over and over:

Chantel: What page are we on?

Teacher: Page 56.

Billy: What page are we on?

Teacher: Page 56.

Quan: What page did you say?

Teacher: It’s written on the board. Page 56.

Indira: You mean in the book?

Teacher: Page 56 in the book. Weren’t you paying attention? I just answered the question literally three times before you asked.

Indira to another student: What’s wrong with her?

If there’s one good thing that can come out of the imbroglio between the City Council and the Duval County School Board regarding the half-cent sales tax referendum, it’s that teachers will know that board members will fully empathize with this recurring experience in the classroom.

The latest from the Times-Union: The frustration of school board members who have answered Council questions over and over; the same answers to the same questions and yet the Council members ask the question yet again.

These Council members say that is the fault of the school board.

Again, school board members and teachers can empathize together what they go through.

Teacher: Why are you coloring on your paper?

Consuela: You never told me what to do.

Teacher: I did over and over. Weren’t you listening?

Consuela: No, you’re boring.

We can excuse students to a degree as they are still children even if they are high school students. We know from our studies that adolescence ranges from the time of puberty to about the mid-20s.

It’s harder to fathom why Council members insist their questions have not been answered when the answers have been provided repeatedly and then claim that it’s not their fault. Blame the school board.

With adults, the posturing covers something else–a hidden agenda.

Or in the case of several City Council members of Jacksonville, Florida, a not-so-hidden agenda as they outright express their love of charter schools and their disgust of traditional schools.

The frustrated School Board now seeks to hire outside counsel to pursue their options to find a way out of the impasse. In teacher terms, they are writing a referral.

But GOT teacher has another suggestion to try first. Let’s call their parents. 😀

Because we may think this is a tragedy, but maybe it is only a farce.

And now, because you want a song, GOT will oblige. The legal memorandum said that the City Council makes the ultimate decision because sometimes ‘shall’ means ‘may’. The Councilpersons took it from there.

Jacksonville, FL: Timid Old City of the Past

Officially The Bold New City of the South

Fifty years ago, the people of Duval County, FL and the city of Jacksonville voted to consolidate the two governments into one. At the time, they were reeling from the the schools’ loss of accreditation and the corruption in city hall.

The reason Duval County Public Schools lost their accreditation?

“The inferior financial support of our local school system in comparison with those of other Florida counties and those of comparable size throughout the United States is not debatable.

“Our children must make their place in a world now directed by science and technology. Industry will follow good education. There is no alternative. This is the greatest community problem and it must be given prime consideration.” Source: Jaxdailyrecord.com

George Santayana said if we do not learn from history, we will repeat it.

What was that reason for the loss of accreditation? Let Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) put it in all caps: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF [THE] LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEM.

If you haven’t been keeping up, our new superintendent, Diana Greene, who took up leadership of the district July 1, 2018, commissioned an update of the Master Facilities Plan. It involved a review of every school building by professional, qualified engineers and concluded with a recommendation for consolidation of some schools, replacement of others, and renovation/repairs for the rest.

Unlike previous MFPs, the new superintendent realized a MFP will never take effect unless it can be funded. Due to numerous state changes in school funding, much capital construction money (a fancy accounting term that means build and repair schools) have gone to charter schools. Therefore, she recommended an additional half-penny sales tax for the next 15 years and requested that there be a November 2019 special election. When some objected to the cost of conducting a one-question ballot, the school board committed to paying the costs of the election.

At that point, the city attorney got involved to tell the City Council that they were not required to schedule the requested ballot. From that point on, the City Council of Jacksonville, through its committees and scheduled meetings, has refused to move forward on the referendum.

The reason is simple: the mayor of Jacksonville, Lenny Curry a/k/a known as Boss Curry, did not want a referendum this year. Also in opposition was a group known as the Civic Council, previously described in this blog here and here and here.

Thus, the City Council has delayed using one tactic or another. They dare not oppose the mayor, which calls up the days of the past.

Bold New City of the South? Or Timid Old City of the Past?

The schools have an urgent need for repair. They need money. The City Council, following the prompting of the Mayor, refuse to allow it although impartial polls show that city voters are 3 to 1 in favor. See here and here.

Let’s mention again the reason Duval Schools lost accreditation: INFERIOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT.

It seems the people of Jacksonville learned the bitter lesson of 1964, but their politicians have not.

But that is not stopping them. The ridiculous retorts of councilpeople that public schools are bad, but charters will save us all. Clearly, they have not bothered to visit public schools or keep up with the news that our schools have achieved their highest ever rating from the state: the District was only four points shy of an A ranking.

This is not a bold, new city striding confidently into the future astride the energy of its people. This is a timid city, one echoing the past, bad days when the corruption in the city government was rank and expanding, when every elected official set up an official fiefdom for a department and insisted upon a cut.

No sales tax for you! Come back in one year!

But the Civic Council and their big gun, the Boss of the City, will call the shots. Like the old Seinfeld episode, we can hear the mayor’s voice shouting, “No soup for you!” Or in these social media, thumb-twaddling days, we read it in his tweets.

Before we move on, however, GOT would like to add another quote from long ago: INDUSTRY WILL FOLLOW GOOD EDUCATION. THERE IS NO OTHER ALTERNATIVE.

Perhaps this is only education. Perhaps the rest of the city runs well and looks after the best interests of its people. Perhaps the mayor and the city council do care about voters’ preferences aside from the schools.

Oops, just kidding! The fix was in all along and mayor’s hand-picked man to run the city-owned utility (Jacksonville Electrical Authority–JEA), Aaron Zahn, who was a surprise pick to run one of the nation’s largest utilities when he had no experience … oh, wait, he did have experience but that was investment experience. If GOT’s memory does not fail him, privatization is right up Zahn’s alley.

By a 3 to 1 margin, people do not want the utility sold. That must be why JEA’s Board decided to explore the option today. Months ago, the mayor declared that privatization would not happen. Does anyone doubt Zahn went ahead only because he knew it’s what Boss Curry wants?

A sale of the utility would be a one-off sale that would bring billions of dollars to city government? What would the city do with the money?

More importantly, would the City Council refuse to advance an ordinance, leaving it to die in committee, if the mayor wanted it?

Would they have 10,000 questions that they would insist upon being answered as they have done to the school board? Would they insist upon a detailed list of projects and expenditures with an accompanying financial analysis detailing line item by line item exactly how the money would be spent?

Would they want dates and priorities declared?

If you think yes, GOT would like you to know that the Powerball jackpot is up to $63,000,000 tonight; maybe you’ll win but your odds are 1 in 292, 201,338. The MegaMoney game is currently at $168,000,000, but the odds are even worse.

The city council approved the $18 million tab for the buy-out of the operator and existing leases, as well as the demolition of the Jacksonville Landing with never a question for the mayor like the ones they are hurling at the school board.

No one opposes Lenny. No one if they know what’s good for them. This post runs long; GOT does not have room to recall how the mayor sacked hard-working, good-hearted people from many city commissions–all volunteer work. He didn’t think they would push his agenda. He wanted people who would do as they were told.

GOT also does not have room in this post to tell the story of the every 10 year charter revision committee stacked with people who will push to change the school board from elected to mayor-appointed.

But keep an eye on the big picture and know that few bold people are in power. The school board may be the last refuge in their fight with the city.

Bold New City? Don’t make me laugh. What we’ve been watching and speaking out against is the Timid Old City of the Past.