The Actual Language

Grumpy Old Teacher wants to gather his thoughts before opining, but one of his concerns has been to look at the actual language of the proposed sales tax referendum to fund the master capital plan that the Duval County School Board has developed.

First, the actual language proposed for the ballot:


School District of Duval County, Florida

Special Election – November 5, 2019

School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax to Improve
Safety and the Learning Environment

To upgrade aging schools through repairs and modernization, to keep schools safe and to continue to promote a conducive learning environment, to improve technology, and to replace existing or build new schools, shall the Duval County School Board be authorized to levy a 15-year half-cent sales surtax, with expenditures based upon the Surtax Capital Outlay Plan, and monitored by an independent citizens committee?

                     _____ For the Half-Cent Tax

                     _____ Against the Half-Cent Tax

Now, the full ordinance as currently proposed:

  • Introduced by the Council President at the request of the Duval County School Board:
  • ORDINANCE 2019-380
  •      WHEREAS, the Duval County School Board (“School Board”) has requested that the City Council call a referendum for approving the School Board’s levy of a half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax; and 
  •      WHEREAS, Section 212.055(6), Florida Statutes, authorizes the school board of a county to levy a half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax for the purposes set forth in that section to take effect only upon approval of a majority of the electors of the county voting in a referendum; and
  •      WHEREAS, the School Board has complied with all requirements set forth in Section 212.055(6), Florida Statutes, including adopting the resolution, attached hereto as Exhibit 1; and
  •      WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 212.055(6), Florida Statutes, only the City Council has the authority to place the referendum on the ballot; now therefore
  •      BE IT ORDAINED by the Council of the City of Jacksonville:
  •      Section 1.      Findings. The Council finds as follows:
  •      The above recitals are true and correct and incorporated herein by reference.
  •      In particular, the Council finds that the School Board, pursuant to its authority under Section 212.055(6), Florida Statutes, has adopted a resolution levying a half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax, subject to approval by the voters in a referendum.  The School Board resolution is attached hereto as Exhibit 1 and incorporated by this reference.
  •      Section 2.      Adoption of School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax.
  • (a) Upon approval by a majority vote of the electors of Duval County and the satisfaction of all applicable state laws, the School Board’s half-cent surtax is levied at the rate of 0.5 percent per dollar on all transactions within Duval County subject to the State sales and use tax imposed by Chapter 212, Florida Statutes.
  • (b)  The School Board’s half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall take effect on January 1 of the year immediately following the referendum.
  • (c) The School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall be collected and administered as set forth in Section 212.054, Florida Statutes.
  • (d) The proceeds of the School Board’s half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall be remitted to the School Board pursuant to Section 212.055(6), Florida Statutes, and shall be implemented in accordance with the requirements of Sections 212.055(6) and 212.054, Florida Statutes, as directed by the Duval County School Board, as required by state law.
  • Section 3.      Referendum.
  • (a) At the request of the Duval County School Board, a special election of the qualified electors residing in Duval County, Florida is hereby called to be held on November 5, 2019, in order to hold a referendum to determine whether or not to approve the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax as described herein.
  • (b)  The referendum election shall be held and conducted in the manner prescribed by law for holding referenda elections.
  • (c)  All qualified electors in Duval County shall be entitled and permitted to vote in the referendum election. 
  •      (d)  The Supervisor of Elections is authorized and directed, when printing the mail-in ballots and ballot strips for use in the voting machines for the referendum called for in this Section 3, to print the referendum question set forth in Section 5 hereof on said mail-in ballots and ballot strips at the appropriate place therefor.
  • Section 4.      Notice of Referendum. Notice of the referendum shall be given according to law in substantially the form set forth in Exhibit A to the attached Exhibit 1 and in the manner provided in Section 100.342, Florida Statutes. 
  • Section 5.      Referendum Question.  The form of the title and question for the School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax referendum shall be substantially as follows:
  • School District of Duval County, Florida
  • Special Election – November 5, 2019
  • School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax to Improve
    Safety and the Learning Environment
  • To upgrade aging schools through repairs and modernization, to keep schools safe and to continue to promote a conducive learning environment, to improve technology, and to replace existing or build new schools, shall the Duval County School Board be authorized to levy a 15-year half-cent sales surtax, with expenditures based upon the Surtax Capital Outlay Plan, and monitored by an independent citizens committee?
  •                      _____ For the Half-Cent Tax
  •                      _____ Against the Half-Cent Tax
  • Section 6.      Referendum Results. If a majority of the votes cast in the referendum shall be for the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax, the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall be adopted and shall take effect as provided in the School Board’s resolution attached hereto as Exhibit 1. If less than a majority of the votes cast at the referendum shall be for the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax, the half–cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall be defeated and shall not take effect.
  •      Section 7.      Notices to State. The Council Secretary or her authorized representative shall provide, on behalf of the Council, the notices to the Florida Department of Revenue required in Section 212.054(7)(a) and (b), Florida Statutes.   
  •      Section 8.      Separate Board Action. If a majority of the votes cast in the referendum shall be for the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax, the Duval County School Board, by separate action, shall, consistent with law and the plan adopted as part of School Board Resolution attached as Exhibit 1, implement and specify how the proceeds of the half-cent School Capital Outlay Sales Surtax shall be used.
  •      Section 9.      Effective Date.  This Ordinance shall become effective upon signature by the Mayor or upon becoming effective without his signature.
  • Form Approved:
  •   /s/ Stephen Durden
  • Office of General Counsel
  • Legislation Prepared By: Stephen Durden
  • GC-#1284147-v1-School_Capital_Outlay_Sales_Surtax

(Formatting note: GOT added the bullet points to distinguish the proposed ordinance from surrounding text.)

Exhibit One for the proposed ordinance, which consists of the Board resolution calling for the special election, the description of the “Surtax Capital Outlay Plan,” the notice of election, and a certified copy of the Board meeting minutes adopting this.

Proposition EE*

*Where West meets East.

January 2019

Five short months ago, Los Angeles teachers went on strike. They had many demands and no, it wasn’t about higher wages. That was a concern, but the teachers also demanded that the school district fund nurses, librarians, lower class sizes, less testing, and more counselors.

LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District), after resisting for several days, agreed to teachers’ demands.

One problem: how to pay for it.

They went with a parcel tax. That may sound strange, but it’s a kind of property tax that is not based on the value of a property, but the amount of square footage. In L.A.’s case, they asked for sixteen cents per square foot.

Sounds reasonable, right? There was a special election scheduled and this was the only issue on the ballot. No races to decide, no amendments to constitutions or charters, only this: Authorize the school district to levy a new, somewhat small and reasonable tax, to fund schools.

The referendum failed. It needed a two-thirds approval; the vote wasn’t even close. It failed as more people voted against it than voted for it.

What went wrong? Five short months ago, the public overwhelmingly supported the teachers demands. The public stood behind teachers and said we want these things for our schools and our children: Nurses, counselors, librarians, smaller class sizes, less testing …

From Capital & Main, as reported by Bill Raden, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) lifts this quote:

On his Monday, June 10 broadcast of his KPFK radio show, Deadline L.A., L.A. Times education reporter Howard Blume dissected the debacle with former LAUSD school board member and education consultant David Tokofsky. Tokofsky’s take? With allies like L.A.’s neoliberal supe Beutner running the Yes on EE campaign, who needs enemies? Beutner’s biggest blunder, according to Tokofsky, came last year when he and his pro-charter allies on the board torpedoed the efforts by board members Dr. George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson to get the tax on the November, 2018 midterms ballot, when polling suggested that a larger, more liberal turnout would have made it a shoo-in.

Beutner  compounded that error by not only scheduling EE for June’s low-turnout, single-measure special election but by bungling a last-minute language change that effectively translated as millions of dollars worth of free publicity for the measure’s opponents — anti-taxers like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.”

One takeaway: the special election was a mistake. Putting Prop EE on a ballot with other races would ensure a better turnout and it would have been an overwhelming winner.

And now, we must close our eyes, get on an imaginary bus, and travel from the western terminus of I-10 to the east. Through dusty desert, the swampy bayous of the Gulf coast, and the live oaks of Panhandle Florida until we arrive in Jacksonville, Florida.

We have anti-taxers as well, our own Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Council, who are prepared and well-funded to mount a campaign against a special tax, in our case, a new half-cent sales tax.

Many justify the School Board’s desire for a special election in November by citing the new Florida law that will not allow sales tax measures on any ballot except in a general election that takes effect at the end of the year.

There is overwhelming public support to rebuild our schools and polls say that people also support a small tax increase to pay for it. But will they turn out and vote for it in a special election?

Special elections are notorious for very low voter turnout.

Can the Board be certain that the measure will pass if the City Council authorizes the election?

They will have to promote an aggressive campaign for the tax. Are they prepared? The Civic Council is.

For the record, GOT is in favor of the tax and is in favor of renovating and replacing the decrepit school buildings in the city.

Aw, do I have to?

But the passage of the tax is not guaranteed. The School Board, to date, seems to be like the golfer facing a twelve-foot putt with the cup on the lip of a steep decline down the green, and says, “This is a gimme.”

They would like to pick up the ball and move to the next hole.

But the Civic Council is full of experienced golfers, who know that all they need say is, “No, I want you to putt it in.”

Golf rules specify that the golfer must comply.

It’s not a gimme. We need to repair and replace our schools. We need this tax if we are going to do so. But we need to understand that it will take work and time to convince people to vote for it.

It’s easy to say yes to a pollster. It’s much harder, with kids to get to school and a boss who does not accept excuses for being late, to get people to the polls.

Maybe the special election is not a good idea. Maybe the general election in 2020 is better timing.

GOT knows this: he is too old to think he has all the answers, but he also is old enough to ponder the questions.

Is L.A. a lesson for this Bold City of the South?

The Rise of the Adjunct Teacher*

*In other words, one who does not hold a Florida certificate qualifying them to teach.

Related image
Happy the teacher who doesn’t need to pass certification exams.

From the Florida Phoenix , tagline Quality Journalism for Critical Times, comes a report that a bill sits on the desk of Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, that would authorize districts to issue their own certificates to persons who have not passed the qualifying tests, such as the General Knowledge exam, as long as they hold knowledge in the content area.

This was supposed to be a screed against the idea of allowing districts to certify unqualified teachers because they needed to fill positions. When it comes to secondary school, content knowledge is essential, but a teacher with no training in pedagogy is a train wreck waiting to happen. All anyone can do is stand out of the way and watch.

Image result for train wreck
And there’s the admin calling district to explain it.

And let’s get the disclosure out of the way. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) went the alternate certification route. Teaching is a second career. And yet, GOT came to the classroom with advantages. As a seminary-trained graduate, he had studied Piaget et al. for child development. He took courses in education and studied the work of Vygotsky among others. Kohlberg and Erikson were familiar to him before he stepped into his first classroom.

Even with that advantage, a master’s degree and superior content knowledge, GOT has to admit he was not ready.

Fortunately, he had great administrators, Pamela Bradley-Pierce and Shilene Singleton, who believed in him and got him through the worst bumps in the first two years. Plus, he had the support of a retired principal from the grant program he had joined who visited his classroom and directed him through the first year of figuring out how to make it work.

Even now, sometimes a teacher who went through a traditional teaching program will mention something that makes GOT think he has missed out and is less than perfectly prepared.

GOT makes this disclosure so you, the reader, will realize that content knowledge is not enough.

Too bad no Florida legislator will ever read this post.

So let me shout it out: CONTENT KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ENOUGH!

Image result for hydra
Hercules found the way.

But it seems no one is listening. Like a Hydra, the mythical Greek monster, TFA rears its ugly head every time you think it’s done. Lop one off and two more grow back.

Thus we get notice of this: TFA is back and wanting $14,000 per teacher, (unqualified, cough, cough,) it will supply. Thanks to Chris Guerriri, who is tireless in his efforts to be a watchdog on the district.

But the district no longer needs TFA to qualify unqualified people. Let’s cut out the middleman. The district can recruit directly from colleges and hand them certification.

The adjunct teacher. Just don’t talk to an adjunct professor at a college who has no job security, no pension, no healthcare, no whatever that ordinary workers look for when they accept a job offer.

But if we have to do TFA, GOT has a counteroffer. They want $14,000? I will do it for $10,000 a teacher. I will find them and supply them.

What say you, Duval County?

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.