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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Times Union doubles down on excluding parents and teachers from the superintendent search

On Tuesday the Times Union's editorial board supported the Civic Council, aka Gary Chartrand and his friends at the country club's proposal that the current board does not hire the next superintendent. They supported the Civic Council's idea to,

The Civic Council recommends a working group of business, nonprofit, philanthropic and higher education volunteers to develop criteria for the new superintendent.

Not once in the editorial do they advocate for teachers and parents participating in the superintendent search though they do make several dubious claims.

It gets old writing the same thing over and over.

How many times can I sound the alarms about privatization, explain how ridiculous Teach for America is, point out Gary Chartrand's associations, or how often the Times Union's editorial board is wrong. I feel like I am stuck in Groundhog's Day.


Here I go again.

The editorial implies Vitti saved us, not true. It also implied he knew what he was doing, which is also not true, his leadership style was to throw spaghetti against a wall to see what stuck.

The editorial implies the philanthropic community has only been involved the last few years, not true, though recently they started telling the district how to use the money.

The editorial says TFA is a good thing, not true.

The editorial says we must listen to the civic council, only they can save us, both not true and dangerous.

If only we had an editorial board that was interested in what the district's teachers and the parent's of out students thought rather than the so called city's elites, maybe then we would see some real progress.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Darryl Willie's wife donates one dollar to his campaign

Talk about standing by her man right?

I can't imagine things being that tough for the Willie family what with the six figure salary he takes in from Teach for America, and the QEA has given TFA Jax millions of dollars too though I have no ideas to do what other than pay huge salaries.

I kid the Willie family some after she gave him what she found in the couch cushions, because it exemplifies how ridiculous the Willie campaign really is. You see Erica Willie joined 31 other people who gave ten dollars or less. Now Willie can say, look at all our small donors, and most people won't know the vast majority gave a dollar or two and came from his wife and either current or former Teach for America members, in short it's a gimmick and those seems to be all that Willie has.

Darryl Willie made his bones working for Teach for America which takes non education college graduates and puts them through a six week access course and then in our neediest classrooms where they are supposed to serve for just two years. It's a gimmick too and a gimmick that DCPS has grown weary of as it has sought to separate itself from this expensive program which does the exact opposite of what we know our neediest students need most and that is an experienced teacher who is going to be around for more than a cup of coffee.

You see Willie thinks gimmicks like two dollar donations, putting hobbyists in our classrooms when they need professionals and last time around when he ran he used misleading flyers to denigrate his opponents Paula Wright, will work. He is not the type of person we need on our board and instead we need serious people with serious ideas.

Don't feel to bad for Willie as he raised a lot of money this reporting period and sadly I think he is just getting started.  Gary Chartrand, the anti teacher and pro privatization grocer, had quite a few of his friends donate to him and unlike Willie's wife they could afford more than a dollar. Here is a hint though, if you see people like the Clements, Halverson or Stein supporting somebody running for school board you should support their opponent. They just believe in gimmicks too.

The election is a long way off but Willie has already proved he is not worthy of being on the board.

To see who has given Willie money, click the link:


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gary Chartrand and The Civic Council don't think parents and teachers are worthy of the super search

Democracy will die with a whimper not a bang.

The Civic Council, a who's who of people who would control or schools told the school board today they wanted them to hold off hiring the next superintendent until next November, when arguably our two strongest board members, and the ones they also arguably like the least Paula Wright and Becki Couch will be termed out and I am sure they hope their hand picked replacements will be on the board. Note, last time around in their rush to hire Vitti, they didn't want the board to wait until new board members were sat but back then they had more influence over the board. 

From the Florida Times Union,

As Duval School Board members on Tuesday discussed how they are hiring a superintendent search firm, a prominent group of Jacksonville philanthropists and business owners sent a letter asking the Board to wait to hire a new education leader until November 2018.
The Jacksonville Civic Council said it wants the Board’s newly elected members to have a say in who is the next superintendent. At least two sitting Board members of the seven-member board face term limits, so there will at least be two new faces on the Board by then, the letter notes.
“We’re not asking you to sit idle during this time,” the letter states. “Rather we recommend that you partner with the community work group …. to develop a robust profile of the next superintendent.”
The civic group said this working group should include business, philanthropic, nonprofit, and higher education volunteers to advise the Board during the superintendent selection process.
Notice they didn't say teachers or parents and friends I can't make this stuff up.
The civic council doesn't seem to think parents and teachers are worthy of being part of the superintendent search, our incomes and minds to small. They seem to want to lord over us and why not, because under Vitti they practically were.
Why wait till November to pick the new super? Because if past is prologue I am sure they hope to replace Couch and Wright with new members who will bend to their will because they want the control to hasten their privatization agenda. 
The board should tell the civic council to stick their letter, well, I think you know where I am going.  
We need to be vigilant and support whoever they don't, our schools, children and teachers will depend on it.
To see who is part of the Civic Council and if you guess Gary Chartrand was front and center, you are correct, click the link.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

In a sense, this is what teachers do.

Just who the beep is Bob?

A couple weeks ago I reported on some behind the scene machinations from a group looking to thwart freshmen board member Lori Hershey from becoming vice chair. They had sent letters to the other board members questioning her fitness, you can read the piece  Dirty Tricks should you want to.

I was told that Mrs. Hershey was the recipient of several vindictive freedom of information requests so I asked the district for a list of all the freedom of information requests over the last three months and sure enough there were two of them from Ken Kniepmann entitled opposition research who asked for: 

Information regarding the sessions attended by Board Member Lori Hershey at the Florida School Boards Association Summer Conference, held June 14, 15, 16, 2017 in Tampa Florida. A document listing the sessions is attached for your convenience. If used, acknowledge attendance at sessions by checking the appropriate box. Not all sessions will apply. If not used, please provide a list all sessions that were attended

An electronic copy of any and all communications by Board Member Lori Hershey since 6/1/2017, limited to the following: (1) All text messages from any private or personal cell number(s) being used for public business or public communications, including communications with board members, school district employees, constituents, and local, county or state officials. (2) Emails from any private or personal email addresses, including but not limited to and, being used for public business or public communications, including communications with board members, school district employees, constituents, and local, county or state officials.

They are bad enough but there was also a a third suspicious request from Bob, yes just Bob who requested:

(1) An electronic copy of any and all documents received since November 1, 2017, by the Duval County School Board, or Member Lori Hershey alleging ethics violations on the part of Board Member Hershey. (2) An electronic copy of the statement read by Board Member Lori Hershey at the meeting on Tuesday, November 14, 2017, in response to apparent allegations of ethics violations. (3) An electronic copy of any and all communications, including but not limited to, business or personal phones(text messages) or emails, between School Board member Lori Hershey and Becki Couch, and/or Paula Wright and/or Karen Chastain, including any staff members of the General Counsel in regards to the matter referenced above, since November 1, 2017. This request includes, but is not limited to, any document drafts, new or amended ethics compliance documents, and/or opinions offered by the General Counsel to Board Member Hershey

All that for Bob.

I asked the district if they had maybe omitted his last name, and they said no, that the request had  come from Bob, just Bob.

I sometimes get some grief from people when I talk about Gary Chartrand and his cabal of friends who I believe are seeking to control our public schools. I have been looked at like I was Mel Gibson in the late 90' movie Conspiracy Theory by more than a few people.

But here we have somebody named Bob and another man Ken Kneipmann digging for dirt about a school board member, and a very good one at that. Why? 

There are forces some working behind the scenes while others like in Tallahassee working squarely in the light who are looking to do our public schools harm. One of them is Bob.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Republicans gave tax breaks to the rich to starve our public schools.

I wonder if this is what my republican friends voted for, another tax break for the rich so they can send their kids to private schools while they starve the public ones.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

To read more click the link:

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Does Scott Shine want our schools to fail?

It sure seems so in a piece by Action news Jax.

When Scott Shine's friends (who he called gutless and ignorant for doing so) passed house bill 7069 the state ratcheted up time tables for schools to better their state grades and if they didn't they could be closed, turned into charters or management companies would be brought in to run them.

The district chose the last option fr our so called struggling schools and hired former principal James Young's consulting group turnaround solutions for 480k.

Now I am not happy that the state has forced the district to hire an outside consulting agency but if we had to hire somebody we could hardly do better than James Young.

From Action News Jax

Turnaround Solutions is run by James Young, the former Jean Ribault High School principal who turned it around from an F-school to an A-school in three years.

As principal, Young also turned Pine Estates Elementary from an F-school to a C-school in three years.
He also turned Rufus Payne Elementary from an F-school to a B-school in his three years as principal.
I know several teachers who worked for him who said he was a teacher's principal and empowered and supported his staff.
All this success however wasn't good enough for Shine who hasn't met a charter school contract he didn't like and who is a proponent of Teach for America both of which drain funds from the budget.
Also from Action News Jax
But Shine said he has new concerns after voting in favor of the contract.
Shine told Action News Jax he has questions about the other former school district employees that Young plans to bring on board.
“I was unaware of the personal relationships some of these folks had with people in the district,” Shine said.
Sonita Young, assistant superintendent of human resources, who I am reasonably sure Shine will forward this to as he complains about it, is James Young's wife, perhaps that is the relationship he is speaking about.
It's befuddling to me his reaction, especially since this is a bill he supported (at least partly because he believes and wants union teachers will lose their jobs). He has the chutzpah to complain when the district hires perhaps the best option possible.  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dirty tricks and politics on the School Board

A source at the district told me about the intrigue surrounding the recent elections for chair and vice chair of the school board both of which were nearly unprecedented.

It seems someone engaged in a smear campaign against board member Hershey sending letters to other board members leading up to the election. Where I haven't seen the letters first hand I am told they mentioned a business lean against the Hershey's in 2007 and some vague assertions that Mrs. Hershey was profiting from her position on the board and relationship with Superintendent Willis.

This smacks of the campaign literature allies of Darryl Willie used when he ran against board member Wright in 2012. Then, one of his campaign flyers alleged she to was profiting from her position on the board and referred to her exorbitant board travel expenses which turned out to be one seventh of the amount the board spent on travel, though I guess just about anything can sound ominous when phrased in a certain way. 

Who were Willie's supporters in 2014? Why Gary Chartrand and his friends of course this is the same Chartrand who has already donated to Scott Shine who has to be disappointed in the recent board leadership elections.

He can't be happy that a first year board member was elevated to vice chair, a position he sought last year and obviously coveted.

As somebody who has faced his threats and attempts at intimidation first hand and who has witnessed his supporters underhanded tactics a smear campaign against board member Hershey who in my opinion has been both a fierce advocate for public education and a very able and competent board member doesn't sound completely out of the picture.

Whether Shine or his supporters had anything to do with it, all I have is suspicions, is actually irrelevant because there is a much bigger problem with Jacksonville's education landscape and it is that people like Shine, Chartrand and the folks at the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, also financed by Chartrand present them as serious players but the truth is they are not. 

JPEF and Shine are often ignorant about what our schools need as they push Chatrand's privatization agenda. They aren't serious about fixing the problems in our schools but are instead worried about carving out their little niches as they chip around the edges of public education in the hopes that it will one day crumble.

Any person or group trying to smear Lori Hershey in the eyes of the community or board members was bound to fail as her passion and love for public education and her fierce advocacy, excuse my choice of wording, shine through. The board obviously saw these attempts for what they were and elected her anyway but its just shameful that somebody thought to try.

Sadly this isn't the last time I think we will hear about dirty tricks like above and it's because those who seek to tear public education down don't have any good ideas so they rely on what they think will work and that's tearing down good people.

Our schools deserve serious leaders like Willis, Wright and Hershey, not self serving ones like Chartrand, Shine and JPEF.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

'Education reform' needs to be redefined

'Education reform' needs to be redefined
By John Louis Meeks, Jr.

“War is peace.  Freedom is slavery.  Ignorance is strength.” (George Orwell)
“We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher.” (Governor Rick Scott)
While George Orwell was adept at instilling terror in the hearts and minds of his readers, his fictional dystopia pales in comparison to the real-life dystopia that public education has become.
The common thread between both worlds is the doublespeak that is designed to convince the public that down is up and up is down.
In 2011, Governor Scott signed the ‘Student Success Act’ into law.  It’s not the first time that lawmakers, federal or state, dressed up bad laws under the clever guise of platitudes.  And it’s not the first time that education reformers messed up public education with legislation that sounded charming enough; ‘No Child Left Behind’ still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of liberals and conservatives alike.
Alas, this is the magic of legislating by dogma and propaganda.  For nearly two decades, Florida politics have been dominated by conservatives whose agenda has included a never-ending war with public schools and their ability to define the terms of their battles through controlling the message.
It began with Jeb Bush.  While I heard snickering over ‘low energy’ Bush being shellacked in primaries by our current president, I knew that the man asking an audience – out loud – to applaud was a shadow of his former self.  In a previous life, John Ellis Bush was the man who replaced Claude Kirk as public enemy number one in the eyes of public education advocates.  He openly declared war on teachers unions and molded an entire state’s education policy to fit his flawed vision.
In the beginning of the Bush years, it was about ‘accountability.’  It was a popular concept to have a way to quantify the quality of public schools.  Standardized testing and school grades, however, created harmful situations for schools that were deemed ‘failing.’  The new accountability regime under Bush was more eager to punish schools than they were to address any of the factors behind those test scores and school grades. 
It was also during the Bush years that ‘choice’ became a central theme of public education policy.  The state’s focus (and funding) shifted away from its traditional public schools toward what Bush believed to be more capable providers of quality education – private, parochial, and charter schools. 
Bush cannot be completely to blame over the current situation in which we find ourselves.  The political scene shifted significantly since Bush’s second term ended.  The Republicans consolidated power in the legislature along with keeping the governor’s mansion in their hands with Charlie Crist. 
An unholy alliance soon formed.  Not all bad education ideas were from Republicans.  President Barrack Obama’s bad education idea began with his choice for Secretary of Education.  Arne Duncan was a reformer whose ‘Race to the Top Grant’ created a mad dash among states for federal education funds under the condition they adopt education reformers’ ideas such as linking student performance to teacher evaluations, placing a heavy emphasis on student scores.  And, included as part of the grant, greater involvement for charter schools. 
With such a broad coalition of support, Florida put on its running shoes to grab this federal money.  It was radical, permanent change that was being funded by a one-time grant.  Bear in mind that the state will not expand Medicaid because they say that it is not self-sustaining in the long term).  The absurdity of the federal government’s education policy made many public education advocates wonder if they had any friends in power.  And it’s no wonder that many ‘undecided’ voters say that they cannot tell a dime’s worth of difference between the two major political parties.  The Republicans, when in power, know to defer to the education industrial complex (testing companies, charter schools) and the Democrats, when in power, seem to find ways to alienate their base (teachers unions) to reach out to the ‘middle’. 
The education reformers continued to win every debate, though, because they were able to frame the dialogue as them versus the teachers unions who don’t want children to succeed.  And every succeeding legislative session included a laundry list of new reforms meant to improve public education, but were open efforts to settle scores with teachers unions.
The Student Success Act of 2011 required all school districts to put their teachers on a new merit pay system.  Teacher pay would be determined in part by their student test scores.  Teachers who were rated ‘highly effective’ would receive a larger pay raise than those who were rated ‘effective.’  It would replace the traditional seniority-based pay ladder.
I knew, however, that something was rotten in the state of Florida.  Since the Bush years, much of education reform was tossing cooked pasta on the wall.  Each legislative session was rife with new laws and mandates for public schools that came with little to no funding.  Tallahassee got to have their cake and eat it, as well.  They were able to say that they were transforming education while passing the buck to the school districts to pocket the expense.  For example, state-mandated exams to measure student performance and teacher pay are unfunded by the state, forcing the districts to foot the bill.
I still was not sure how the latest round of legislative action would help student success, but I decided to play along because I was ‘grandfathered’ in and remained on the traditional pay schedule and because I was a bit envious of the annual raise that new teachers would get should they be highly effective.  Some districts agreed to make their highly effective raise as much as $2,000 a year.
Unfortunately, we are learning that one should not govern by rhetoric.  The Orwellian mantra of ‘Student success’ may have gotten votes; it was the execution that is a betrayal of one of its key talking points -recruiting and retaining new teachers.
As of now, there is a teaching shortage in Florida.  The shrinking pre-intern pool at local colleges of education is one indicator, as is the number of ‘permanent substitutes’ who are filling vacancies in schools across the state.  And, with student success in mind, think of the resignations that are being submitted during the school year. 
And it should be no surprise that the workforce in Florida is becoming less stable.  Teachers who are rated ‘highly effective’ or ‘effective’ have to wait until the spring of the following school year to receive the raise that they earned the previous school year.  As of the end of November, these teachers have not received the merit pay – along with educators from around the state.  As accountability is central to public education, when will the state’s elected and appointed leaders be held accountable for this situation?
Instead of throwing a life preserver to school districts that are struggling to pay the performance pay that was mandated by Tallahassee, the legislature threw an anchor at school districts.  Funding (e.g. Title I) that could traditionally support pay increases has been diverted to charter schools thanks to recently passed House Bill 7069.  I detect a pattern here.  The state’s education policy now consists of passing reform after reform but not stopping to make sure that they are actually working.  It seems the only law that is working with regard to public education in Florida is the law of unintended consequences.
Please don’t just take the word of this fifteen-year veteran educator.  It’s a once in a blue moon event to see parent organizations, teachers unions, school boards, and superintendents joining in a common cause against HB 7069.  There is damage being done in the name of ‘reform’ and it is becoming too real for our children, our educators, and our education staff professionals.
While much of my disappointment is aimed at our state’s leadership, I have to ask that school districts (including Duval County) ratify new contracts.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  Because the state failed in its obligation to properly fund our public schools does not mean that we get to back away from our obligation to properly compensate educators and education staff professionals. 
Going forward, this is our chance to ensure that ‘education reform’ is not just words.  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Is Willis the superintendent we need?

The last time we were looking for a superintendent, I didn't think we needed one to save us, just right the ship so to say. I thought we were a district with great promise and potential and we needed somebody to help draw that out.

The board and I guess the so called elites in the community, however thought we needed somebody to blow the system up. They wanted a change agent to stir the pot, and they certainly got one with Vitti.

Fast forward to now and we are looking for a new superintendent and there will be all sort of debates abut what type of leader we need but what I think we need most of all is a calming and steady influence, a leader to help us recover from the trauma of the last few years and I know when the board brought Willis in it was under the provision it would just be temporary but I think we may need to reconsider that.

I want a leader who was educator and went up through the ranks and one who knows Jacksonville would be invaluable as well. Vitti was barely a teacher and he moved around so much the only things he really knew were two men in a truck and hertz.

I want a leader who is going to listen to parents and teachers not millionaires from Ponte Vedra. I want a leader who is going to push back against corporate reforms like Charters and Teach for America.

I want somebody humble.

I think I am describing Pat Willis.

Now I don't think Mrs. Willis would be here for five years or even three but I could see her sticking around a year or two more and perhaps grooming her replacement and I think this would open up lots of options as well.

Lets face it, whoever the board hires is going to have very limited knowledge about how Jacksonville, which is very complicated works. Instead of just dropping somebody into the deep end if we could have somebody shepherd and mentor them for a year or two then they couldn't help but be more successful.

The board talks about making a decision for the long haul but the thing is every journey starts with a first step.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Everybody hates Teddy, everyone loves Paula, school board chair elections

Have you ever watched the TV show Rectified? If you haven't don't feel bad because you weren't the only one. It was once called the best show that nobody was watching. It was on the Sundance channel, you know one of the channels at the end of the box and it was about a man  named Danielwho spent twenty years on death row. He wasn't exonerated but eventually DNA evidence brought the verdict into question and he was released and went home to live with his family which included a step brother named Teddy and everybody hated Teddy.

I imagine a year ago Scott Shine thought things would be different this year, and that he not Paula Wright would be chair of the school board. Supported by Cheryl Grymes he made a bid to be vice chair of the school board and historically the vice chair has become chair after a year which makes Mrs. Wright's reelection all the more amazing.

I have been following the school board for nearly a decade now and I can't remember a two consecutive year board chair. Shine so unpopular on the board was rebuffed last year and Ashley Smith Juarez then the chair stepped back into the vice chair role only to be replaced this year by Lori Hershey a second year school board member which is something of a meteoric rise in itself.

Mrs. Wright bide ed her time and I am sure her tongue for six years as members with less seniority became chair several times over. It must feel good and validating that she has been chosen to lead the board for a second consecutive year especially when this year is arguably more monumental than others. The state continues to pound public education mercilessly, teachers aren't working with a contract and there is the superintendent search as well, any one of which would be a full plate by them self.   

A few years ago, Mrs. Wright was the school board member that asked tough questions and rubbed the majority of the board the wrong way, now she is running the board and will be doing so for a unprecedented second year in a row.

I haven't always agreed with Mrs. Wright. I felt for her first term like fellow board member Couch, she sat on her hands too much. I had great hope that they would both be champions of teachers and would hit the ground running. I also felt she and the board gave Vitti a lot of rope (with which he eventually hanged himself) and a rubber stamp for to long but all that is the past as I believe she has evolved into the fierce advocate and the leader that our schools need.

Finally I will say I feel a lot more comfortable this go around with the superintendent search and that's because I think we are in better hands. I have great confidence that Wright with the help of Couch and Hershey will find the super we need.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Scott Shine donates to anti ed legislator that he called gutless and clueless

My wife would prefer I use words like uninformed and calculating but at the end of the day aren't they the same thing?

A few months back when the board was discussing joining a law suit against House Bill 7069 a public education kneecapping bill that greatly favors charters that was supported by the republican members of the Duval delegation in Tallahassee, Mr. Shine said the delegation only voted for the bill because they didn't know what was in it (clueless) and because they were afraid (gutless) of speaker Corcoran who welds immense power.   

Well fast forward to the week when Mr. Shine gave a member of the delegation state representative Aaron Bean's reelection campaign the maximum amount of money he could.

Lets examine that. Shine knows the bill hurts public schools and thus his constituents. He said the members of the local delegation did so because they didn't know what was in it and they were afraid of the speaker and then he gave one of those members the maximum contribution,  allowable.

District 2, your school board representative is financially supporting state legislators that have voted to cripple your schools. Is this what you had in mind?

Why do republicans hate education? Is the constant attack on teachers and students what republicans voted for?

Florida's reckless and reprehensible treatment of public education and teachers is well documented.

Trump's appointment of Betsy Devos, who wouldn't be qualified to be a volunteer office aide is another glaring example of there contempt for education.

Then add in the tax reform bill and how it attacks education and there really can't be any doubt. 

From Mother Jones:

The plan would impose a 1.4 percent excise tax on college endowments at private universities….double the standard individual tax deduction, meaning much weaker incentives for charitable contributions to colleges….end student loan interest rate deductions….restructures the American Opportunity Tax Credit, eliminating tax benefits for students who take more than five years to graduate….repeals the Lifetime Learning Credit, which is used by grad students, workers who need retraining and part-time students and nontraditional undergrads who take more than four years to graduate. 

...The legislation would kill another provision that is deeply important to college faculty members and administrators personally: Section 117(d) of the tax code allows employees of nonprofit universities and colleges to exclude from taxable income qualified undergraduate tuition reductions they, or their dependents, receive….Yet another provision targeted by Republicans would end a tax break for employers who cover up to several thousand dollars in educational costs for their workers.

This is my favorite: The proposal would also eliminate a provision of the tax code used by many universities to waive the cost of tuition for graduate students filling positions like teaching assistantships. If the proposal were to go through, those institutions wouldn’t be able to waive tuition costs without imposing new taxable income on grad students, said Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education.

It is standard practice not to charge tuition to grad students. In fact, a pretty good rule of thumb is to avoid any grad program that actually does charge tuition. But if this passes, the waived tuition would count as a taxable benefit for grad students.

It is truly astounding how targeted this tax bill is. It favors rich investors, who mostly vote Republican. It punishes big, urban states that mostly vote Democratic. It hurts universities, which are also filled with Democrats. And it specifically harms students, who mostly wouldn’t be caught dead ever voting for a Republican. Has a big tax bill ever been this carefully constructed to reward and punish voters who support the right or wrong party?

But thats not even it as they are trying to close the very modest 250 dollar write off that teachers have had as well. 

From Time magazine: 

Educators who spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pocket to buy school supplies would no longer be eligible for a tax deduction under the GOP tax reform bill, and the proposal is drawing fierce criticism from teachers’ advocates. 

Under current law, teachers are eligible for a tax deduction of up to $250 for money spent on classroom supplies. 

“Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils, paper for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax returns under this plan?” Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene asked on Monday, at a markup hearing for the proposed GOP tax bill, which she described as “morally bankrupt.” 

Thomas Barthold, chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, confirmed that the tax plan would repeal the deduction for teacher expenses. The bill has drawn criticism from Democrats and teachers’ associations, who argue it will further burden teachers who already spend a significant amount of their own money on their classrooms.

Is the reason why people vote republican, so they can give millionaires and billionaires tax breaks at the expense of teachers and students. 


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

John Meeks: Tallahassee has reneged on its promises to teachers

A key element of education reform in Florida has failed to live up to its promise this year.  When the Student Success Act (Senate Bill 736) was passed in 2011, our state's leaders touted it as a way to attract quality educators to our state's schools.  Furthermore, the legislation upended the traditional pay scale in favor of a new merit pay system that was based in part on student performance.

"We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher," said Governor Rick Scott.  And, in the name of education reform teacher pay was no longer based on simple longevity but was tied to their performance and results.

Now that the teachers' performance and results have been rated, we are being told that the commensurate pay increases are not happening.  I think that it is highly irresponsible for our state's leaders to fail to properly fund the very reforms that they enacted.  I doubt that such sloppy policy implementation is what attracts quality teachers to our state.

This unfunded mandate is harmful because, in light of the state's lack of financial support and in light of recent budget shortfall, Duval County's highly effective teachers face a cut in their performance pay.

Going forward, I do hope that this serves as a lesson in how we can have great rhetoric such as 'education reform', but we need to remember that true education reform is a long term commitment and not just a catchy sounding slogan to get elected.

It is my hope that our school system finalize a contract with the teachers union in the short term and that Tallahassee fully fund its vision for the long term.

Daryl Willie,Teach for America alum runs for school board in district 4

I guess he is more than just an alum, he is the executive director of the local chapter, a chapter which despite getting millions of dollars from local philanthropists, money that will never see a classroom by the way, that is probably on the way out as DCPS has greatly scaled back their partnership with Teach for America.

I have met Mr. Willie several times and despite my fierce opposition of his last school board run, he has always been cordial to me, though his wife gives me "the Scott Shine" look. He seems like a pretty decent fellow and earnest people can disagree, even fiercely disagree. In another universe who knows maybe Mr. Willie and I could have been friends.   

This is the thing though, during Willie's last campaign, he took thousands of dollars from people who would gleeful dismantle public education and replace it with a string of charter schools where an ever revolving door of teachers made cameo appearances only to be quickly replaced. I am talking about Gary Chartrand and his friends who are no friends to public education. They financed Mr. Willie in 2014 and are likely to do so again.

Then in my opinion he debased himself by allowing false and misleading campaign  materials about his opponent Paula Wright to be distributed. He didn't try and win with better ideas, he tried to win by misleading and tricking people and tearing down a former teacher who has dedicated her life to our schools and children and sadly to many people like that have won races before.

I didn't support Willie in 14 and I couldn't imagine supporting him now. I just hope this go around he chooses to run a race based on ideas and he only accepts donations from people whose lives he wants to effect rather than from millionaires he would be beholden to.

The election is a year off but it not to early to be thinking about it because we know people who want to dismantle our schools already are. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How WJCT got it so wrong about Education

Have you met WJCT CEO Micheal Boylan? I have a couple times and he seems like an earnest and solid individual.

I also love NPR, I listen to it everyday. I think Melissa Ross is a city treasure and Lindsey Kilbride does a good job with her education coverage even though recently she seems to be pulled in a lot of different directions.

With all that being said, how did WJCT get it so wrong with their recent education event? Two words and they rhyme with merry carcans.

WJCT wanted to get a conversion about education going and I agree we should be talking about education as there are few local subjects that are more important or play more of a role in our lives. However to start the conversation they showed the first part of a documentary series called School Inc. A self serving, far right, blame the unions and public schools film, to do so. Unfortunately they chose this as their starting point.

Why would our local public station choose such an awful film, one that never mentions poverty by the way and strings together a bunch of self serving and out of context anecdotes?

That takes us back to our rhyme and if you figured out I was talking about Gary Chartrand you hit it right on the nose.

You see its not us citizens who are in charge of education it is the ultra rich who drive education policy with their payouts donations.

I looked at the panel they assembled. Micheal Boylan was the moderator and his stations education coverage is financed by the Chartrand foundation, the station also routinely plays commercials about how the Chartrand foundation supports the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and Trey Csar the president of JPEF was on the panel as well but they weren't the only ones. With them was the executive director of KIPP Jacksonville (and folks KIPP is as shady as they come) Jennifer Brown and then there was school board member Becki Couch, though I would hazard to guess he thinks that was a poor investment now. 

At least three members of the panel had deep ties to Gary Chartrand who has some disturbing views, I would call it a loathing of public education.

Now do I think he called up Boylan and said Mike, this is what I want you to do. No, Chartrand doesn't operator that way, but I do think his close relationship to the station made this kind of show and these panel members acceptable. He is using his influence to mainstream the abhorrent.

We need to be having community conversations about education, we do, but WJCT shouldn't be lauded for trying to have one, and instead they should be chided for the direction they took, there was nothing fair nor balanced about the film they chose.

There are lots of problems in public education, I believe solvable ones but as long as people like Chartrand buy influence, things will get way worse before they get better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

All that is wrong with Teach for America as told by a Teach for America alumnus

The Times Union printed an op ed from a former Teach for America alumnus where he went on and on making some dubious and self serving point while completely ignoring many legitimate concerns about the program. Here is a snippet.

From the Times Union:
For clarity, Teach For America is an organization that places mostly recent, high achieving college graduates in a low-income school district under a two-year contract to teach.
I read that TFA takes teaching positions from more experienced teachers.
I read about the high turnover rate of the TFA teachers.
I read articles questioning the effectiveness of TFA teachers.
While I understand these criticisms and thought long and hard about whether I should accept the position in Jacksonville, I would contend now after my two-year experience that TFA is massively undervalued and has an unwarranted negative public image.
teach for america has an impact
The first criticism mentioned was that TFA takes teaching positions away from more experienced teachers.
In Duval County alone, the school district had over 200 vacancies as of February 2017. Those vacant rooms will likely be filled by a cast of rotating substitute teachers where learning is certain to be challenging, often through no fault of the specific substitute.
Every TFA teacher who enters a city for their first year undoubtedly gets hired because of the vast amount of shortages, particularly in the math and science departments.
At my placement school, Jefferson Davis Middle School, over 40 percent of the newly hired staff in the past five years have been TFA corps members.
Another criticism leveled at TFA is the high turnover rate for corps members. They may leave after their two-year commitment to attend graduate school or pursue other interests.
This criticism is not only unfair, but it is also wrong. Over 60 percent of TFA teachers continue as public school teachers beyond their two-year commitment, which is a lower turnover rate than for non-TFA teachers at the same schools.
The Duval County School Board has cut the Teach For America budget. The board cited the turnover rate as a contributing factor that led to the decision to cut TFA and focus on marketing to attract new teachers.
I came to Jacksonville in 2015 as one of 120 corps members. Sixty percent or about 72 of us are still teaching in these high poverty schools in Duval County. Of the remaining 48, many are still supporting education through policy, law, in administration or as Teach For America staff.
Regarding TFA teacher performance, a Columbia University study in Duval County shows that students with TFA teachers demonstrated additional growth in mathematics learning compared to the students of other novice teachers.
I could debate each and every one of those points and I have many times but what I think seals the deal is the following, also part of the op ed from the Times Union.
• Ben Kerns is a former Teach for America instructor in Duval County.
• He lives in Atlanta.
WTF!!!! This guy did his two years and left. If its such a great program and it does so much good, then why is this guy living in Atlanta now?
The chutzpah of this guy! And the ridiculousness of the Times Union printing a piece from a guy who quit and moved away after just two years. Both are mind boggling. 
Here is the bottom line, TFA is an expensive program that does the exact opposite of what we know our most vulnerable children need and any district that is serious about educating children should be striving to put professional educators or people that will spend more than two years while waiting for grad school to start, in our schools and classrooms. Thank goodness the district finally came to its senses and is finally phasing it out. 
One last thing, when anybody steps into the classroom I think they deserve respect. I like TFA members am not an education major, though unlike them I didn't get 10,000 dollars in loan forgiveness and have been in the classroom 17 years, it's this terrible and expensive program I am against.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

WJCT hosting anti-public school event, for shame

Why don't you reserve a seat and go.

WJCT is hosting a showing of School Inc a controversial series that asks why schools are not run like businesses, this Thursday, October 19th at their headquarters downtown. Then stay for the panel, made up mostly of charter school executives, discussion.

Created by the far right Cato Institute, and funded by the Koch brothers School Inc hits all the high notes of privatization while ignoring poverty.

The real question is why public television would show it and I believe you have to look no farther than their donors which locally include Gary Chartrand, and if you think that is sort of like putting the wolf in charge of hen house security then you are not the only one. Trey Csar of JPEF and Daryl Willie of TFA Jacksonville are also on WJCT's advisory board.

I plan to go and if allowed ask tough questions and to try and make sure public education is defended. If you have the time you should too.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Have you ever taught a murderer? (rough draft)

It was twelve years ago and I was new to Ed White and I had a run in with convicted murderer Randall Deviney then a freshmen or sophomore. He was lingering in the halls after the tardy bell had rung and I told him to move along. I was met with a tirade of threats and curse words. I stepped forward to do something when a coworker waved me over and said, Chris let it go, the main implication being this was a bad one, though I later learned even if I had done something, like gasp write him on a referral, nothing substantive or equal to his offence would be done, this was just a kid teachers would have to tolerate and hope would go away. Three years later he did go away but that was only after he murdered his 89 year old neighbor, somebody he described as his grandmother.

What's my point? How many kids have we turned on our backs on who went on to do what Deviney did, or met the fate of his neighbor because we as a district didn't want to tackle discipline, because we play lip service to it, because we don't take it seriously, and the reason is because it is hard.   

Deviney may have been to far gone once he got to high school and I was warned away, but was he to far gone in middle school or elementary? What would have happened had we as a district said no to his behavior, here is first a consequence for your behavior and then some help for you so it doesn't happen again. My bet is I wouldn't be writing this blog, heck I bet I wouldn't have written a lot of blogs like this either.

We could and should be doing better, if not society will continue to pay a steep price.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Will veteran teachers be allowed back on the grandfather pay scale?

Duval County has two pay scales for its teachers.

One for teachers hired after 2010, who are on annual contracts and veteran teachers who opted to join it that gives teachers raises of up to 2001 dollar if their evaluations are highly effective. The veteran teachers however had to give up their professional services contract, and go on annual contracts to join it.

The other for veteran teachers gives more modest step raises but they are allowed to keep their professional contracts, which they can renew every five years and can continue to do so as long as they are considered effective. This is called the grandfather pay scale.

I stayed on the grandfather pay scale (hey no jokes about my ever whitening hair) which means
while first and second year teachers were being given 1000 and 2000 dollar raises over the last few years while I received a 750 dollar step raise. The other difference is I am on a five year renewable contract while they are on a one year contract.

I voted against the new contract, I thought it was great for new teachers and veterans who switched to the new pay scale but a bad one for veterans who stayed on the grandfather scale. Scott Shine even chided me for saying I was against it.

As the old contract is coming to an end and a new contract where the district wants to greatly reduce raises, 2000, and one thousand dollar raises having proved unsustainable, I wonder how many people would have voted against the last contract knowing what we know now and if veteran teachers would have switched, giving u their professional contracts. 

Three years ago, the board with a few questions here and there from Couch and Wright was pretty much rubber stamping anything Vitti brought to them and Vitti made a lot of promises including about being committed to increasing teacher pay.  Now he may have been sincere because Florida has recovered nicely from the economic down turn and has more money for public education, unfortunately they have decided to give it to charter schools, vouchers or just not invest in education. When inflation is factored we are spending at a lower level than before the recession, but we could and should be doing more and maybe Vitti thought we would be. The thing is if you follow public ed in Florida you should have been able to see this coming as the legislature routinely does all it can to kneecap public ed.

This is what I think should happen. If veteran teachers switched from the grandfather pay scale to the optional pay scale because of the promises of higher step raises, if the district greatly reduces those raises which is the proposal now, they should be allowed to get their professional contracts back and yes I know the state won't go for that but the district should do what is right and make arrangements for them anyway.

I think most of us get it. The state sucks when it comes to public education, its run by a bunch of bastard coated bastards with bastard fillings, and sadly past administrations thought they had to follow suit. It doesn't however have to be that way.

I feel like we have a new board and new leadership, one that isn't just interested in hobnobbing with the city's so called elites and making splashy shows that rarely pan out, one that is more interested in doing the right thing. I wish we had more money as I am sure they do too, but as usual the state is letting them and all of us down and since that is the case I hope they settle for at least doing the right thing.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Representative Aaron Bean doesn't understand how things work. Why did people vote for him?

When Scott Shine said Representative Aaron beam was gutless and clueless when he supported HB 7069 a public school kneecapping bill, I didn't realize how right Shine was. 

When a parent asked his office about the class size amendment,

From Action News Jax: 

A Bean legislative aide emailed her back saying cutting class size has cost the state money because more classes means more teachers, classrooms and supplies.

Um yeah? Um, what? Did Beam think smaller classes was just going to magically happen? Of course it cost the state more money because more classes does mean more teachers, more classrooms and more supplies.

This guy represents people by the way.

Why do people vote for letters next to their names and not qualified people? I am a democrat, heck I am a liberal democrat, heck Bernie Sanders might tell me to slow my roll, but if there were a republican who supported public education and wanted to fund it properly, I would say, sign me up, and yes, I know there are more carrier pigeons than the type of republican I described. In 2012 so disillusioned with Obama's education policies I looked hard at his republican rivals, unfortunately all of their policies were worse, which if you look back is kind of hard to believe.

This is what I am saying, just because Beam is the son of a former legislator, it does not make him qualified, heck Scott Shine said he was gutless and ignorant, and this from a self proclaimed friend of Beams, who would know better?

Don't vote for the R, or even the D, vote for somebody who is gong to support public education, our children and our state deserve it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

DCPS says no to bully Gary Chartrand and Teach for America (rough draft)

Before Teach for America lovers lambaste me, just know once somebody is in the classroom, they have my respect, but that being said, I believe with every fiber of my being that TFA is a terrible program and we should strive to put professional teachers or teachers that have a chance of making it a career in our classrooms. Plus its ridiculously expensive to boot.

A quick primer, Teach for America takes non education majors, puts them through a six week teacher boot camp and then plops them down in our neediest schools where they are supposed to serve two years and then they go work for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. I kid you not check out their staff list, which is a large collection of individuals who love education but who don't want anything to do with being in the classroom.    

Pat Willis and the board did something they couldn't do while Vitti was here and that is stand up to a rich grocer, Gary Chartrand, who despite the fact he never taught a day in his life and sent his children to expensive and exclusive private schools wanted to control local education, and like a villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon, he almost got away with it.

Today however despite the fact he tried to black mail the board and sent his bought and paid for hatchet men, Fischer and Curry after them, the school board said no, well except for Scott Shine, but at this point he is little more than Chartrand's errand boy so that was to be expected. 

From the Times Union:

Scott said he did not agree with some of the cuts to this year’s budget, especially those affecting the Teach for America program and some initiatives backed by the Quality Education for All Fund.
Teach for America is a national nonprofit that recruits non-education majors to teach in high-need schools. The district has, for the first time in several years, declined to work with the organization to hire newly recruited teachers.
The Quality Education for All Fund is backed by a group of local philanthropists. They funded a variety of school initiatives, including teacher and principal training, and bonuses for high-performing teachers at certain low-performing schools.
This year, Duval reduced its funding for some of the QEA-backed programs.
The thing is we need the philanthropic community to help out, but what we don't need them to do is tell the district how to do things. Children are to important for them to experiment with ideas. Chartrand despite his money was finally told no and even if that costs the district a few dollars that's a good thing.

I haven't said this often, but I am proud of this board, well most of them anyways.

Ashley Smith Juarez calls out Scott Shine... again!!!!

Having checked get elected off of his bucket list, Mr. Shine continues to be a poor representative of his constituents and don't take my word for it take board member Smith-Juarez's.

From the Times Union:

Scott said he did not agree with some of the cuts to this year’s budget, especially those affecting the Teach for America program and some initiatives backed by the Quality Education for All Fund.
Teach for America is a national nonprofit that recruits non-education majors to teach in high-need schools. The district has, for the first time in several years, declined to work with the organization to hire newly recruited teachers.
he Quality Education for All Fund is backed by a group of local philanthropists. They funded a variety of school initiatives, including teacher and principal training, and bonuses for high-performing teachers at certain low-performing schools.
This year, Duval reduced its funding for some of the QEA-backed programs.
Scott said after the meeting he believes those cuts were not necessary, that there is money in this year’s budget to fund these efforts. For instance, he said, the district should look into cutting its “under-performing reading coaches and interventionists.”
He also noted district officials have promised to conduct an audit or “deeper dive” into the district’s spending last year after an over-expenditure of $21 million caused the district to borrow from its five percent reserve fund.
Board Chairwoman Paula Wright said the board’s auditor did issue a report, which she will discuss with the board at an upcoming workshop.
Ashley Smith Juarez, vice chairwoman of the board, asked Shine why he didn’t bring up alternate spending proposals before now, considering that a state deadline for the approving the district budget is just a few days away.
Shine said he didn’t believe he would have been successful before, but he wants to register his concerns.

Dammmnnn, I can take a stab at answering her question, and this is just my opinion from having watched him for the last three years so take it for what it is worth, and that is he had no idea the deadline was coming up and why would he. he treats the job like its his hobby and long ago stopped representing the people of district 7.   

Oy vey

Let me also review a couple of Shine's other recent hits.

Teachers are paid enough because of Florida's low cost of living, and a bill that would cause schools to be taken over by charters is a good one because union teachers will be fired. He also said the Duval delegation that supported the bill was both gutless and uninformed and here I actually happen to agree with Shine.

District 7, is this the person you want representing you? You have to do better. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Florida charter school and voucher legislature advocate sentenced to sixty days in jail

One of the biggest advocates of charter schools and vouchers former state Representative Eric Fresen was sentenced to sixty days in jail and a year of probation. Where he had no problem sending tax payer's money to for profit companies that run charters and private schools with barely any over site, he sadly had a problem with paying his own taxes. Welcome to Florida.

From the Miami Herald:

Even though he failed to file tax returns during his entire eight years in the Florida Legislature — a two-term tenure during which he headed a powerful budget committee and preached fiscal responsibility — former Miami state Rep. Erik Fresen still walked into the federal courthouse for his sentencing Friday expecting to get slapped only with probation.
He walked out with a jail sentence.
The Miami Republican will have to serve 60 days in jail — and a year of probation — after pleading guilty to the crime of failing to file a 2011 tax return on $270,136 in income.
He will begin his jail term on Nov. 17 and serve 15 days in jail per month for four months, an intermittent sentence intended to keep him earning some income to pay back his remaining tax penalties.
“I want him to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas in jail so that every holiday for the rest of his life he’ll think back to that,” U.S. District Judge Robert Scola said.
During his time in the legislature despite close ties to charter schools Fresen routinely pushed the sending of more tax payer money to them.
Also from the Miami Herald:
A familiar face is back at the center of a perennial tug-of-war in the Florida Legislature between privately-managed charter schools and district-run public schools over taxpayer money for construction projects:
Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who controls the purse for education funding in the Florida House. His connections to the charter school industry continue to raise questions about conflicts of interest.
He has fast-tracked a mid-session bill that would limit school district spending on capital needs. It would also force districts to share their construction tax money with charters.
Fresen is a $150,000-a-year land consultant for Civica, an architecture firm with a specialty in building charter schools. Many of those schools were built for Academica — which has been described as the largest charter school management company in Florida and which counts Fresen’s brother-in-law and sister as executives.
Fresen says he simply wants to hold districts accountable for the money they spend and ensure equitable funding for charter schools, which are classified as public schools.
“Nothing in this bill has anything to do with anything that I do for a living,” he said.
But Fresen, 39, is dogged by questions that his goal isn’t so well-intentioned. His ties to the charter school industry — well-documented during his eight years in the Legislature — have long rankled public school supporters and made him the subject of at least one ethics complaint since he was elected in 2008.
“Our Legislature should not be for sale. I think that seems to be what’s happening,” said Kayla Rynor, who helps lead the advocacy committee at Miami Beach Senior High’s PTSA. “The appearance of impropriety just doesn’t sit well and I’m not sure why it’s not a violation of state ethics laws.
I am not sure why writing legislation for charters while having close associations with them doesn't violate state ethics laws either but if it did, about a dozen other republican legislators would have or be violating them as well. 
Sadly in Florida our ethic laws are so porous you have to be caught with a live boy or a dead girl for anybody to take notice.
It's beyond ironic and insults the senses that he wanted to send our tax payer money to charter schools while thinking at the same time he didn't have to pay taxes.