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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The day Democracy died in Duval County (rough draft)

I have always thought that when talking about city politics, the school board goes largely unnoticed. Which is crazy if you think about it.

19 city council members to 7 school board members.
An elected mayor compared to an appointed superintendent
A 1.1 billion dollar budget for the city and a 1.7 billion dollar budget for the school system

More money, fewer people controlling it and less people paying attention, I think the school board wins, unfortunately I think the people of Jacksonville are losing.

Recently the Duval County School board has abdicated their duly elected responsibilities and begun rubber-stamping initiatives brought forward and admittedly paid for by a cabal of wealthy donors who call themselves the QEA board. They did so at the most recent school board meeting when they agreed to take 15 million dollars for teacher bonuses. An idea that was not floated in front of the people but behind closed doors because the QEA despite creating policy is not required to have any public over site.

From WJCT: Former School Board candidate Bradford Hall suggested the QEA advisory board hold open meetings. Those meetings are currently held out of the public eye.
“I understand that there is an effort to dispel the rumors that there are no conditions attached to certain funds, but I guess…it’s better to show us than to tell us, and transparency is definitely a solution to that,” he said.
Yes it is certainly better to show us but it gets even worse and more complicated. The members of the QEA board are also frequent donors to school board races. Wayne Weaver, Gary Chartrand and Cindy Edelman have all picked the same person to support in each school board race and this after helping Ashley Smith Juarez get elected in 2012. They are also on the board of the Jacksonville Public Education fund, which has had closer and closer ties to the district over the last few years. The QEA board members also have close ties to the corporate reform movement, namely charter schools, which have appointed boards rather than elected ones and of which most, are for profit.

The QEA board despite the fact they are the lion’s share of donors then contracted with the Community Foundation to manage the money, they in return are giving the money to
the JPEF (no word on the cuts the two organizations are taking but 3-6% is the usual amount) and then the JPEF is giving the money to the district. Um, why all these steps? Why not just go right to the district, well friends it has to be because they want to remain some shreds of control and I believe this is all about control, who will control our schools, the public or a small group of rich people, who by the way are not educators sadly if they have their hand picked candidates elected then they will have total control.

But lets get back to the school board. They were presumably elected to craft education policy, well by approving the QEA initiatives they have abdicated that responsibility. They in effect said show us the money and then where to sign. The QEA initiatives should have been vetted in public where the public could provide input not behind closed doors where we have no idea about quid pro quos, promises or the motivation’s behind the proposals. Am I asking too much there? Isn’t that a problem we have in politics, backdoor deals that benefit a few rich people or their companies?

Okay some of you might be saying you like the ideas, that they are needed to which I reply, it shouldn’t mater if you like the ideas or not. What‘s going to happen if their next round of ideas include giving public schools to charter companies and replacing hundreds of teachers with TFA hobbyists or hiring their friends or giving expensive contracts to their companies?  They have already set the precedent that doing things behind closed doors is acceptable. There is a right way to do things and a wrong way and this is the wrong way. Furthermore we only have to go back a few years to see what gifts can do.

At the height of the recession states and districts were desperate and the Federal Government swooped in with their Race to the Top Grants and said all we had to do was trade local control to get them. As a result we now have Common Core and VAM based teacher evaluations and many states and districts have buyer’s remorse. Common Core doesn’t address poverty (neither do the QEA initiatives) our real problem and siphons millions and millions out of classrooms to pay for new materials and testing and the VAM based evaluations, blame the teacher evaluations, were doubled down by the QEA who used VAM scores to determine transfers both voluntary and involuntary, this despite the face the department of education says they are inaccurate more than a third of the time. 

Hey at the time we needed the money though right? Unfortunately the cure was worse than the disease and now that we have abdicated democracy to the QEA board what’s going to come next?

Democracy can be messy but it’s the best system going. The QEA board has dismantled it in Jacksonville. It’s most likely all they wanted would have passed if they went through the board but they decided they didn’t have to and the board took thirty pieces of silver and went along and that should concern us all. 


  1. Again, I have to ask why isn't the Florida Times-Union reporting more about this lack of transparency?

  2. It would be beneficial if the school system were to have links on its web site:
    copies of all contracts, grants, etc.;
    copies of all letters signed by anyone (director, manager, supervisor, etc.) making more than (e. g.) $50,000/yr.;
    contact information of anyone making more than (e. g.) $50,000/yr.
    database of all emails to/from anyone (privacy and personnel exceptions)
    database of all phone numbers and caller I. D. used in their land-lines and cell phones.