In the Crosshairs: Diana Greene

“The School Board should have let us choose the new superintendent.” –The Civic Council

Jason Fischer led off by amending his J-bill to change the Duval County School Board from an elected body to a mayor-appointed one. Now he wants to make the Superintendent of Schools an elected position.

The Charter Review Commission has taken up the idea and they are brooking no opposition. In an astounding confusion over how a Jaguars game should end and how a public commission should end its meeting, the Chair, Lindsey Brock, gaveled an end to yesterday’s meeting at 12 Noon sharp, not only depriving attending citizens of their right to public comment, but also cutting off two commission members who were going to dissent.

The idea was first floated by Jacksonville’s mayor, whom Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) affectionately calls ‘Boss Curry.’

To understand all this, we have to go back to the Nikolai Vitti years, when the now-Detroit superintendent was running Jacksonville’s schools.

One of the puzzling aspects of Dr. Vitti’s leadership was that he didn’t seem to regard the elected School Board as the persons who hired him and to whom he was accountable. He seemed to act like the persons he really answered to were the unelected wealthy and political elite of the city, who (at the time) controlled the entity Jacksonville Public Education Fund and worked out their desires out of the scrutiny of the public through the private organization known as the Civic Council, whose point man on education is Gary Chartrand, the Ponte Vedra businessman who has pulled strings in Jacksonville for over a decade.

We learned this in a moment of candor when a former mayor, John Delaney, said, “For what it’s worth I’ve been warning Gary (Chartrand) and others for years that Vitti’s weaknesses need to be managed.”

After Nikolai Vitti resigned to take the superintendent job in Detroit, the School Board began the process of hiring a new leader for Jacksonville’s schools. It was at this time that the Civic Council intervened as they argued that a school board election was six months away and that the new board members should be the ones to hire the superintendent. In the meantime, they would do the city a favor by conducting a search for candidates themselves and selecting the person who should be hired.

To say it displeased Gary Chartrand and his Civic Council pals as well as others in the elite that the School Board ignored them, went ahead with a search, and hired Dr. Diana Greene would be an understatement.

It’s not personal, but she won’t answer to them. She works with the School Board, the constitutional, elected officers entrusted with oversight of the city’s school system. They cannot stand that and they are out to change it.

The first idea floated was to change the school board from elected to appointed. That would require approval by the city’s voters and the idea is deeply unpopular. If Boss Curry could appoint the school board, he could control it like he does JEA and other city boards and dictate his decisions to them.

But it is unlikely he could gain that control. So the solution is to take the superintendent away from the Board, thus rendering them impotent as far as policy-making goes.

A county-wide election would place the position into large fund-raising needs in order to gain name recognition among the electorate. That favors any candidate put forth by the wealthy elite.

Are you now getting it? Boss Curry, along with the concurrence of the elite, sees that control of the schools lies in being able to determine who the superintendent is.

And they don’t want Diana Greene.

They want to privatize the city’s schools. Greene would revive them, especially in the long-ignored places like the Northwest corridor.

Rebuild schools with a sales tax? They oppose that. They know that Greene’s success in Manatee County in having the voters approve a supplemental tax has resulted in rising enrollment numbers in Manatee’s traditional schools.

Diana Greene is a nightmare for those who claim that the only chance a child has in Jacksonville is in a charter school. (Looking at you, Rory Diamond, and your attempt to walk back on First Coast Connect last Monday didn’t work.)

Don’t believe them when they say that the voters desire to choose is what they want.

They want to get rid of Diana Greene.

They want a superintendent who will turn the city’s schools over to private operators.

It’s about money and control, not serving the needs of the city, its citizens, and its children.

The irony of all this is that the last time Jacksonville had an elected superintendent was during the pre-consolidation days. You remember that time when the schools lost their accreditation.

GOT is only expressing an opinion here, but it seems to him the Boss Curry, his minions, the City Council, and the Civic Council would be okay if that happened.

They could close all the schools and make Jacksonville 100% charter in one move.

The Weather Rebukes You!

48 hours ago, Jacksonville citizens watched a farce unfold in the chambers of the City Council. A few people were unruly; therefore, the chair (Scott Wilson) threw a temper tantrum by engaging in the unprecedented act of clearing the entire council room of all audience members.

The issue at hand was the school board’s request for a referendum on a half-cent sales tax to fund the replacement or renovation of school buildings that are literally falling apart.

Too many council representatives parroted the talking points they received from the Civic Council (a/k/a the business/wealthy elite in the city); among them, that the proposed rebuilding of schools to state standards for school buildings was unnecessary. Charter schools are not burdened by these requirements and they advocated for construction on the cheap.

Along came Dorian … roaring Dorian, slow-moving Dorian, Cat 4 Dorian …

“Gimme the deed to the ranch …” LOL, a bonus to the song that livens up the post. Isn’t that the position of the Civic Council, the City Council, and all others supporting privatization of our public schools?

Back to Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) point. Right after council member after council member questioned the school board’s desire for strong buildings, a hurricane took aim at Florida.

It’s coming, oh yes, it’s coming. Go beyond the official forecast and look at the model predictions. The two best ones are the red (European) and the yellow (U.S.)

Sorry, City Council, but the oncoming storm rebukes you. If you had bothered to pay attention to what the Duval County School Board had said, you would have learned that they said they would meet with the City to discuss what shelters are needed and those locations would be built to shelter standards. As for the rest, well, where do we want to be in a storm?

Even Richard Corcoran, Florida’s current Commissioner of Education, must be taken aback. After his sneers about building Taj Mahals, the question now must be asked:

Commissioner, where do you want to be in the storm? In a Taj Mahal or a under that tree where you said Plato could be taught?

Dorian rebukes you.

Remember that in the aftermath when you want to return to your talking points.

Not Again, Yet We Grieve

Grumpy Old Teacher works at a high school in Jacksonville, Florida. When we experienced the death of a student in a tragic auto accident three years ago, GOT penned this thought. It has happened again.

The Fates [in Greek mythology] were personified as three very old women who spin the threads of human destiny. Their names were Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Allotter), and Atropos (Inflexible). Clotho spun the “thread” of human fate, Lachesis dispensed it, and Atropos cut the thread (thus determining the individual’s moment of death). –from Wikipedia

And when Atropos dips her scissors into Clotho’s bag of flax, what then?

A life cut short, too short, a life that never reached its moment to fulfill all that we intended for it.

The thread had not been spun, not completely, but now it is no more.

All that is left is grief and tears and anger and fear and sorrow.

Regret for those of us who are old and would have willingly traded our life for the young one taken too soon.

Shock for those who are young and cannot fathom how their belief, born of their age and development, that they will last forever somehow turns out to be wrong.

Gone. Just gone.

There are no words when a young person dies. It is not the time to philosophize about free will and evil, the choices we make, and the consequences we suffer. It is not the time to rage in debate about God and his creation. It is not the time to fall into nihilism.

It is a time to grieve.

It is a time to love.

A time to remember and be strong for those who despair.

 In Meam Commemorationem (out of respect for the family, I do not list the name.)

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.