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Thursday, January 28, 2016

I am going to go ahead and say it, it is time for Vitti to go (very rough draft)

This is what the chair of the Alachua county school board Eileen Roy said this week in a letter to the editor about the movement out of Tallahassee to privatization Florida’s public schools, and make no mistake that when Tallahassee says school choice what they really mean is privatization.

The Sun editorial (1/21/16) got it exactly right. The FL Legislature increasingly diverts funding away from public schools. The Corporate Tax Voucher Scholarship allows corporations a tax deductions if they donate an equal amount to private school scholarship vouchers. The state does not collect the tax revenue, reducing the amount of taxpayer money used to fund public schools.  As public schools lose state funding, they are weakened—insidiously and inexorably.

These private schools are completely unregulated—no teacher evaluations, no state tests, no proscribed curriculum, no certified teachers, no mandates—all of which are required of public schools.  Eighty-three percent of these private schools are religious.  Should taxpayer money be used to fund private schools or religious education?  If state testing is so important, why is it only required in public schools?

Here’s the scary part:  the Corporate Tax Voucher funding increases each year by 25%. This is exponential growth.  Initially capped at $50 million statewide, tax revenue diverted to vouchers has risen year by year to $558 million for school year 2016-17. By 2019-20 it will be over $1 billion– a billion dollars of taxpayer money diverted from public to private schools.

Initially, these scholarships were promoted for children in poverty, but the annual income level to participate has risen to $63,000 for a family of 4—allowing middle class families to enroll.
For- profit charter schools add to the draining of funding from public schools.  Florida has lost $70 million over the last 15 years due to charters closing and taking public investment in their facilities with them.  Seven schools in Alachua County have closed, costing taxpayers more than $1.2 million. This money, spent for rent, lease, or mortgage payments, cannot be recouped by the district after charters close.

The conclusion is inescapable. Florida legislators are steadily moving toward their ultimate goal–to privatize public education. The Southern Legal Council, a local non-profit law firm, is suing the state, challenging this injustice.  Please consider coming to a meeting to hear about this lawsuit.  The dates of several one-hour presentations at regional high schools are listed on the School Board’s website. Our public schools are in extreme danger.   

 As local parent and public school advocate Khanh-Lien Banko put it at the Jan. 19 School Board meeting, “We are in a dogfight for the soul of public education.”

This is what Superintendent Vitti said to First Coast News when asked about some school choice bills quickly moving through the Florida Legislature. "Would there be a detrimental effect on our budget? Likely. But I don't support or oppose legislation only on fiscal matters," said Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti.

Currently some districts have school choice for specific programs. There are two bills in the state House and Senate that would knock down county zone barriers, making it possible for parents to place their children in any school that has vacancies. Dr. Vitti supports the proposal. 

"Philosophically, I am supportive of it because I think parents should not be stuck in their neighborhood school. I think when we talk about certain parents who are stuck, we are usually talking about issues of class and social-economic status," said Vitti.

I submit the parents at the 313 failed charter schools wish they would have stuck with their neighborhood schools and in fact most parents would love their neighborhood schools if they were done correctly.

Also did you notice the difference? The chair of the Alachua County school board said, no more we must fight for our public schools and Superintendent Vitti said, I am all for the continued dismantling of them.

Since superintendent Vitti arrived a little over three years ago, he has embraced the corporate reform movement. He has partnered with the New Teacher project whose over arching philosophy is you can fire teachers to improvement. He has expanded Teach for America which takes non education majors puts them through a  six week boot camp and then in our neediest schools where the vast majority serve two years assuring constant churn and burn and Charter Schools have increased over three hundred percent from a little over ten to nearly forty.

It is no surprise Vitti loves charter schools either as the man responsible for bringing him to town, Gary Chartrand is also responsible for bringing the KIPP charter school to town, the same school, we gave 1.5 million dollars through a grant this past fall. Vitti often refers to it as a model charter school. Well according to the state its grades have been an F, lowest grade in northeast Florida, a miraculous B, a grade protected C (should have been a D but schools at te time could only drop one letter grade), another B and they are projected to make another D this year. This for a school that requires parents to be involved, has a longer school day and spends about a third more per child. Chartrand by the way has given thousands of dollars to most of the school board members too.  

Then has our district improved because of all of Vitti’s reforms? Some people say yes and point to our graduation rates which have gone up but do you know where else graduation rates have gone up? EVERYWHERE is where.

Teacher morale is rock bottom and they almost universally hate the curriculum, discipline is worse than ever, and if you want statistics, the state says we are a C district, we were a B before he arrived and the amount of failing and D schools have nearly doubled since he got here.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a leader which said our public schools are the best thing going in town and data says they are. Wouldn’t it be nice if Vitti was committed to doing things the right way by having supported teachers and disciplined schools?

Nope we get a guy that says, bring on privatization.

It’s shameful and its time the city said enough was enough.


  1. Yes he needs to go.I have no problem with vouchers if those who accept them have to take same test as the public schools and get graded on same scale.They also need to lose funding if they cannot pass the test or make the grade.I don't think many schools who take vouchers with these rules would stay open.

  2. This infuriates me. Neighborhood schools should be the heart and soul of the community. He should be working to make sure that every student has a quality school in their neighborhood that they can be proud of and that families can invest their time and talents in strengthening, not abandoning their community.

  3. We all know, he must go! I am a 23 year teacher with almost equal experience in St Johns County and Duval County. In all those years I have never experienced a leader like Dr. Vitti. I am deeply concerned for my future grandchildren. Privatization is on the near horizon. Parents, teachers and children beware!

  4. I have mixed feelings about calling for replacing Vitti. While he has made decisions that I disagree with and he lacks respect for teachers (the few times I have personally been in the room with him, it's nothing personal for us teachers but he has no time for anyone he considers beneath him), he has also done things for the district that no one had yet been able to do. He brought clout to the District with the state, although I am wondering if he is squandering it. In his first year, he was able to get the state to waive penalties that EPD would never have been able to do. Not a quality difference between the two, but Vitti had clout and EPD did not.

    What he has done is to act according to a strategic decision he made: if you can't beat 'em (charter schools and vouchers), join 'em. Rather than trying to stop the proliferation of charters, he is trying to outdo them in offering school themes and programs. Whether this is our salvation or demise, only time will tell.

    He also realized he would not survive in this job if he didn't move and shake with the movers and shakers: Weaver, Chartrand, JPEF et al. Would any of us done different?