Lenny Weighs In

He’s reviewing the situation.

The situation: Addressing the deteriorating condition of the oldest school buildings in Florida, the Duval County School Board under the auspices of its superintendent, Diana L. Greene, hired a consulting company to examine every school building and develop a plan to renovate or replace the buildings.

Given that the average age of the schools is 54 years plus, it is not surprising that at least half the buildings need to be replaced and that the price tag is a whopping $1.9 billion dollars.

The School Board, in an attempt to be fiscally responsible, took the trouble to examine how the plan could be paid for. The short answer is that, given the defunding of public schools being carried out by the Florida legislature over the last 20 years, the Board has reached capacity in its ability to issue new bonds.

Thus, the School Board wants to ask the voters, that is, the citizens and parents of Duval County, if they would pay an extra half-cent in sales tax to fund the renovation and replacement of obsolete, deteriorating, and in some cases, unsafe school buildings.

And that was when the proverbial <ahem> met the whirling blades of a cooling device used mainly by people like Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) who live without air conditioning.

GOT has heard that expression all his life. It’s summer, school is out, he has time on his hands, and he lives in a rural area where he knows many people who still raise cattle in a farming operation. Hmmm, what does happen when it hits the fan? Maybe an experiment is in order, although GOT is smart enough not to stand downwind when it takes place.

Perhaps that explains Mayor Curry’s reluctance (obstinacy?) to back the sales tax referendum. He knows his citizenry back the public schools, he knows a poll by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (known for their charter-friendly stance) shows that 78.5% of voters would approve a half-cent sales tax, and yet, something known as the Jacksonville Civic Council, a group made up of wealthy business people, is firmly against the new tax, arguing that plan is overpriced because public schools need not be built to sturdy standards as encapsulated in state law. The Civic Council is fine with public schools built along the lines of a pole barn.

Ah, the air conditioning. It’s one thing to throw a house open to the elements with the movement of air. It’s livable. But in these days of school safety, usually referred to in a shorthand way, “Parkland,” throwing a school building wide open is the last thing we want to do. Indeed, GOT has seen some proposals to harden school buildings to the point where there is only one way to get in or out, which sounds good until one thinks about the need to evacuate a crowded building quickly in the event of a fire or bomb threat.

Keeping children safe takes a sensible plan and architectural experts. The School Board is doing its job through its hiring of an expert firm to make good recommendations.

Jacksonville needs schools built to the proper standards despite what the cheapskates on the Civic Council say. Wasn’t Trump’s tax cut enough for them? Apparently not.

It’s a sales tax. Sales taxes are regressive in nature, which means the poorest people will pay the greatest burden. Yet the wealthiest object … exactly why? Because they are most able to afford it, but they are driven loony by the prospect? They don’t really explain themselves nor do they hold public meetings to take questions. We’ll never really know why a new, small tax sends them over the edge.

But that is Lenny’s dilemma. He knows the public schools are popular and people want them supported, helped, and fixed. Yet the wealthy elite of the city are opposed. (I won’t dignify them by calling them the ‘donor class.’ They donate to nothing that does not further their agenda.)

Thus, Lenny weighs in. He has more questions.

First, he wanted to see a finalized plan. Now that a plan is in place, he has more questions. What are the priorities? The plan doesn’t specify. If the School Board, with a tax in hand, is able to issue new bonds to hurry up the work, what is the repayment plan?

That is the tactic of a delaying politician, one who doesn’t want to be for the plan before he has to be against it.

Image result for pie in the sky
I hope it’s pecan. Never turn down a piece of pecan pie.

GOT may surprise you by saying that Curry is asking legitimate questions as are other City Councilpeople. Even if we suspect their motives, the voters need answers in order to embrace the sales tax. Pie in the sky proposals will only hurt Duval’s schools in the end.

As Lewis Carroll observed, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The thing is, the School Board and Superintendent have been answering these questions. And maybe, as news media personnel have noted, maybe the mayor isn’t paying attention because he spent his time during the latest City Council hearing tweeting out Jay-Z lyrics.

Then there are those who suspect Curry’s real plan is to gain control over the School Board by changing it from an elected body to a mayor-appointed body. But that’s a post for another day.

Another post for another day is the failure of the Los Angeles referendum to increase taxes to fund all the demands teachers made during their earlier strike that Los Angeles agreed to. It was a special, one-issue election with low turnout.

Something for the School Board to consider.

The ‘November is too early’ crowd may be correct, even though that means the referendum must wait for the general election in November 2020.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But then, we throw broken clocks into the trash. The School Board gets one shot at this, only one, and it is imperative that it is done right.

GOT will vote for the tax, but continues to maintain that the vote must wait until the School Board has built overwhelming support in the city.

We have to get this right. The School Board may have everything done by November. However, the story from L.A. shows that low turn-out special elections can be a crap shoot.

School Board, you have work to do. Take nothing for granted.

So You Wanna See That FSA*?

*Florida Standards Assessment.

As you may know, HB 7069, passed under the leadership of then Speaker Richard Corcoran, included among its many provisions a requirement that the Department of Education begin releasing copies of actual exams beginning in 2019.

Image result for FSA exam
Did you really think I was going to find a bootleg image via Google? They watch for that and I do have my certification to protect.

Recently, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) requested an update from the Florida Department of Education as to when we, the public, could expect to obtain those released copies of the actual FSAs administered to students.

Here is their reply:

Thank you for contacting Commissioner Richard Corcoran in the Florida Department of Education regarding released FSA exams. The Commissioner has received your message, and I have been asked to respond on his behalf.

Florida State Statute 1008.22(8) was recently amended to require the release of operational tests beginning with the next, new assessment contract. We, therefore, expect to begin releasing tests on a triennial basis (e.g., Grade 3 ELA Reading will be released once every three years) beginning with the spring 2021 administration.

When we get the next, new, bright and shiny test, whoever the vendor may be, the actual tests will be released once every three years beginning with 2021, which means we may see an actual test sometime in 2024, about 17 years after the practice ended with the first version of FCAT exams.

Until then, carry on and remember Understanding by Design, in which teachers plan lessons by first deciding what each standard requires, then determining how they will assess for student mastery, and only then planning lessons to deliver the content.

Oh, wait, something went wrong. If no one knows how the standards are being tested, then nobody really knows what they mean, and how can lessons ever target the desired understanding?

Maybe we should call it Misunderstanding by Design.

JPEF and the Civic Council

You don’t need the six degrees of Kevin Bacon to trace the connection between the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, the Jacksonville Civic Council, the Florida State Board of Education, and for that matter, the KIPP charter schools in the city.

That would be Gary Chartrand, the businessman who owns and operates Acosta, Inc. although the annual report only lists him as a director.

Mr. Chartand also chairs the Education Task Force for the Jacksonville Civic Council (JCC). Scroll down the webpage to see the listing.

Mr. Chartrand is also a former member of the State Board of Education, of which he was chair for a few years (2012 – 2015, to the best ability of GOT to piece together information from internet searches.)

Mr. Chartrand is also a founding member of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, whose purpose is to support and promote public education in Jacksonville, a category in which they include charter schools.

JPEF is also listed as a partner of the JCC. Again, you may need to scroll to see the listing.

A long preamble, but necessary. Let us turn to the half-cent sales tax proposed by the Duval County Public Schools to fund renovation, reconstruction, and consolidation of the public schools they operate.

After the consulting firm delivered the master plan to the school board, they began a series of community meetings to share it and floated the idea of an additional half-cent sales tax to fund it. Currently, the school board has a website to explain the plan and answer questions about it.

Push back began immediately. Jacksonville’s mayor, Lenny Curry, and his General Counsel’s office, who under the city charter adopted during the county-city consolidation years ago, is able to issue opinions by fiat that bind all city officers and agencies, including the school board, put up roadblocks.

Mayor Curry questioned the cost of a special election, a theme picked up by many councilman, including an influential councilman, Matt Schellenberg.

Then the JCC weighed in. They sent a letter to the school board, under the signature of the task force chair, that disputed the need for an additional tax. They criticized the school district’s plan to construct new schools to high building standards. They expressed the belief that schools should only be built to a lower standard, that of charter schools.

But those standards would be substandard and would not be suitable for schools to serve as emergency storm shelters. Pshaw, says the JCC to brush off the argument.

And everyone’s an atheist until they find themselves in a foxhole with bombs exploding around them.

JCC does not want an election and they do not want the additional half-cent sales tax.

Might this be the reason? That their partner, THE JACKSONVILLE PUBLIC EDCUATION FUND, found via its annual survey of the public, that 78.5% of the public would support a small tax increase to fund school facilities!

Oh yes, if a tax ever gets on the ballot, it will be overwhelmingly passed–something Jacksonville’s movers and shakers, the wealthy and elite, and those deriving power from them, cannot have.

Why, with decent facilities, public schools might deliver an outstanding experience so superior to the charters that the charters would tuck tail and get out of the city–something the elite is determined to prevent.

Bringing Voices Together: Tele-Town Hall

May 18, a hot Florida Saturday in the middle of the hottest May on record, saw more than 1,000 educators, parents, and advocates for public education (not as Ron DeSantis would define it) gather in Orlando for a day-long meeting known as Bringing Voices Together.

An unprecedented gathering of teachers, parents, and public education advocates.

Last night, in a follow-up mass telephone call that put every old-fashioned party line to shame, Fed Ingram, the president of the Florida Educators Association, facilitated a discussion and shared the themes that emerged and recommendations of the attendees for moving forward.

What the attendees wanted: building relationships within our communities and tell people how they can help; directing funding to the schools that need it; ending toxic testing that is biased and overstresses students to the point of illness; providing the mental health resources and support not only to the students who need it, but also to the adults who work in the schools who need it; change.

Change in the false ‘failing public schools narrative,’ change in Florida’s elected officials who do not support public schools, change as listed above.

Many persons were able to speak during the phone call. All supported Florida’s public schools. From the Panhandle to the Keys, from the east coast to the west, from the conservative corners of the north to the liberal bastions of the south, all believed that Florida’s public schools were important in the development of the state and its people and that the schools would be essential in building the state’s future.

Among the recommendations were for future, regional events to bring voices together, which would train advocates in effective ways to bring these conversations to the community. Beyond one’s neighbors, participants want training in how to meet with legislators. It doesn’t take a trip to Tallahassee; in fact, relationship building with legislators in their local offices is far more effective.

Other thoughts were to find ways to share best practices for persuading the public, including providing bilingual materials to bring in Florida’s many immigrant communities.

It’s summertime. What are teachers to do over their long break?

Organize. Stay tuned for more gatherings and then actions.

Florida is shaking off its slumber.

#voices4ed

The Jacksonville Civic Council, A History

As we continue to understand who these self-appointed movers and shakers on the First Coast of Florida are, let us look at a brief history as captured by Wikipedia.

First a quote from the introductory paragraph: The entity is akin to a brain trust or think tank, but with influence and resources available.

Influence available: you don’t say … (Sarcasm warning.)

The precursor to this group was the Jacksonville Non-Group [sic], which formed in 1993 to support the Alliance for World-Class Education being pushed by the school district (Duval County Public Schools.)

From the beginning then, this informal coalition of the wealthy and politically-powerful elite was focused on the school system.

The actual Civic Council was formed in 2000 by then-mayor John Delaney, Pete Rummell, Lynn Pappas, Steve Halverson, and Hugh Greene, most of whom remain active in the Council today. It sat inactive until about ten years ago, when Chamber of Commerce members took a trip to Kansas City, saw what the KC Civic Council was doing, and thought, “We can do that in Jacksonville.”

The Jacksonville Non-Group decided to terminate so that its members could transition to the Jacksonville Civic Council (JCC) so that they could be a “more formal and public group.”

Let’s join them! No, they’re not having that. Membership requirements include three years of minimum attendance at meetings (how can anyone attend if they are not a member? Also, they don’t publicize their meetings and GOT doesn’t want to assume, but it’s a likely bet their meetings are not open to the public) and an invitation from one of the officers (like the Freemasons, to be one, ask one.)

Talk about an elite.

While it might be fun for GOT to solicit an invitation, the dues requirement stops that cold: a minimum of $1,000 up to $15,000, depending upon the size of one’s business.

Oops, so there’s another barrier to membership. You must be a business owner. GOT might offer up his side hustle, but then (sigh,) there’s a reason he has a day job. Grand Graffiti publishing is never, ever going to make their cut.

Before moving to the close, here’s another link that provides much of the fodder for the Wikipedia article.

From Wikipedia, one can learn that:

To determine what Jacksonville residents viewed as the most critical issues, the opinion research firm American Viewpoint was hired to design a poll and conduct a six-week study in March 2010. Five issues were identified:

  1. balanced budget/fiscal responsibility
  2. more jobs
  3. better public schools
  4. public safety/crime
  5. Jaguars staying in Jacksonville

The Jacksonville Civic Council. They talk a good game, but out of their many concerns, it seems they only really focus on item 3: Public Schools.

And many dispute that they want better schools as opposed to privatized schools. The two are not the same as they seem to believe.

People, Let Me Introduce You to My Best Friends*

*A/k/a the Jacksonville Civic Council.

They’re our besties, BFFs, homies. whatever, pick your favorite slang term.

They’re only trying to help, the Jacksonville Civic Council, which recently sent a letter to the Duval County School Board, to question and criticize the school district’s master plan to upgrade, rebuild, and consolidate schools that will require tax support in the form of an extra half-cent sales tax.

Who are these people, our best friends with only our best interests at heart, and what is their agenda?

From their website, they introduce themselves:

The Jacksonville Civic Council leverages the combined talents, experience and influence of a diverse group of business and civic leaders to accomplish goals that no individual or organization in our community can achieve alone. Established in 2010 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Civic Council brings together chief executives from the nonprofit, business and government sectors to make Jacksonville the best city it can be.

Working transparently and with no agenda, for the good of our community, the Civic Council strategically identifies crucial issues, conducts research, and identifies — and advocates for — solutions that will result in positive change. Our members deploy their collective resources throughout the process, remaining focused on the goal of a Jacksonville that is vibrant, growing, sustainable and responsive to the needs of its people.

Even in their own words, we find a contradiction. How can they work with “no agenda” when the Council “advocates for–solutions that will result in positive change.” Change as they define it.

GOT has no problem with the Civic Council developing policy goals and working to implement those goals; the problem is their pretense of being disinterested, of having no agenda.

But they are our ‘best friends,’ who only want to talk to us as man-to-man or son-to-son, lyrics that imply an equality of rank, social status, or position that many question the sincerity of. For example, Nate Monroe, Florida Times-Union columnist covering Jacksonville’s local government:

The business and civic establishment have thrown their lot in with charter schools. Indeed, the Civic Council — a private group of downtown CEOs and civic leader types — seems interested in using this opportunity to lift charters at the expense of traditional public schools.

In a letter to the district, the Civic Council complained that some of the proposed new school buildings the sales tax would finance are too expensive. The group argued the district should stop using state building standards for public schools and adopt more relaxed, cheaper standards used by charters.

This is a tone-deaf recommendation, and an unfair one.

The Civic Council wants the public school system to take one of its strengths — that its facilities must meet high-quality minimum buildings standards — and diminish it so charters can compete. And which of these CEOs will send their children to a public school built with these cheaper standards?

The School Board should only consider the Civic Council recommendations if — and only if — each and every Civic Council member signs a public pledge committing their support and personal money to financing the half-cent sales tax campaign.

What are the critical areas in which the Civic Council focuses its efforts? Again, from their website, they have five: A Great and Healthy City, Great Schools (K-12 and beyond), A Growing Economy (with a varied base of growth industries), A Standard of Operational Excellence (at all levels of local government), A Fun and Energetic Community (with a strong downtown, arts, recreation, cultural, and sports environment.) [GOT note: the parentheses are their, not my, additions.]

While the website offers no elaboration on those “five pillars,” it does offer what the Civic Council considers as its values:

The Civic Council was established to provide leadership on issues critical to the community’s long-term success. Although the organization’s structure, priorities and approach to addressing issues may change over time, the following values consistently guide us.

COLLABORATION:

LEADERSHIP: Addressing critical needs and issues when no other organization has the capacity or the will to do so.

FOCUS: Creating an effective civic-leadership model that minimizes inefficiencies and focuses on a few critical priorities at one time in order to solve complex, long-term issues affecting Jacksonville’s quality of life and economic competitiveness.

BROAD CONSTITUENCY: Seeking solutions that will benefit residents and businesses at every level of our community.

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY: Supporting economic opportunity across race, gender, ethnic and other barriers that limit our potential as a world-class city.

HUMILITY: Sharing ownership of ideas and credit for accomplishments. As a founding member once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you are not worried about who gets the credit.”

TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY: Using knowledge and research-based decisions to reach measurable outcomes.

ADVOCACY: Achieving lasting policy change through education and advocacy with policy makers and stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels.

GOT takes note that the collaboration value is blank. The Jacksonville City Council has nothing to say, nothing that represents a core value, regarding collaboration or working with others, say an elected school board or the local citizenry that does the living, taxpaying, enrolling their children in local schools, and dying in the city.

Did they just tell on themselves? That they don’t really care about your opinion? Or is it some website glitch they need to fix?

Free lunch*

*Because kids are hungry in the summer, too.

Five kids sitting at a table eating lunch
https://www.summerbreakspot.org/

It’s been a two and a half week hiatus for Grumpy Old Teacher, an unintentional one, which GOT hopes to explain soon in a post titled “Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread.”

In the meantime, some publicity is in order for the program that fills in during summer recess when schools are not in session and the free/reduced lunch program is not available.

You can hear about the program here via WJCT (NPR Jacksonville, FL) and their First Coast Connect program. Or you can visit this website and look up all the sites where children 18 and under will receive lunch.

To find the nearest location where a child will receive a meal at no cost, visit the website, text “FoodFL” to 877-877, or dial 211. In Jacksonville, you may learn which libraries are providing meals (and reading/enrichment programs) by calling 630-BOOK.

This is not a Jacksonville, FL only program. The website is able to direct other persons wherever they live in the state to a location where the meals will be provided.

May no child go hungry this summer.

Update: Here’s a link to the USDA, which organizes the program. (Thanks to a BAT, Badass Teacher, who responded with the link when I posted in the Facebook group.)