On the heels of another four charter schools being approved this past Tuesday, and as a rebuttal to the trope the school board members constantly offer the public, I recorded this brief rant on the massive proliferation of for-profit charter operators in Hillsborough County Public Schools.
If you are a concerned citizen and taxpayer, please listen and share.
And you know that ribbon-cutting ceremony for SLAM that Susan Valdes attended and then later approved two new SLAM schools? The management company, Academica, and its CEO, each contributed $1,000 to her reelection campaign last year on that May 25th date I mention in the podcast.
Want to know who else is getting paid what by any of these for-profit charter operators? Visit here.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Have an awesome weekend!
P.S. – Pat Hall, if you ever happen to see/listen to this podcast, I’d love to interview you so we can have a more robust conversation about this situation!
In the event I do not receive the full five minutes to address the HCPS school board today, I’ve pasted my comments below.
I learned much as a Religious Studies major at USF, and I want to share an important lesson with all of you. Functionally speaking, all religions share four key attributes: belief in an ultimate power, sacred narratives, rites and rituals, and a community of believers. Today I want to focus on the power of story.
One of my favorite professors, Darrell J. Fasching, passed away suddenly this past spring. He was in relatively good health and it was unexpected. Dr. Fasching was an ethicist, primarily interested how the stories we tell provide us with meaning and shape the contours of our lives. In several of his books he states: “human beings are not only story tellers, we are story dwellers.” Therefore, we don’t simply tell stories, we inhabit them. I’d like everyone to think about the story our school district is telling, the story we’re living out at this moment in time.
If you ask me and many, many others, we currently find ourselves trapped in a distressing chapter, lost in a labyrinth, groping along walls, fumbling through darkness, trying to make our way back toward the light. The journey will not be easy, but I have faith in our ability to find a way forward.
The story that is being told by the district is one of successes: rising graduation rates, fewer failing schools, students earning concordant scores, industry certifications, passing numerous AP and IB exams for college credit. While these are all admirable feats, this story is lost in the clamor of concern over the school board strife and lack of proper financial oversight.
Fundamentally, I think the school board and district administration don’t appreciate or understand human nature. Humans have an evolutionarily predisposition to gravitate toward the negative aspects of life; it has helped our species not only survive—but thrive—over the last two hundred thousand years. Psychological studies have demonstrated that if people have a positive experience, they will tell three people; if those same people have a negative experience, however, they will tell eleven people. Human nature, then, is not on your side. Though you may have a communications team working round the clock to tell the story of the good things that are happening—and there are indeed many—they are being swallowed up by the black hole of negativity hanging over Hillsborough county.
The district administration tells one story, but I can tell you with great certainty that the employees are living in a vastly different narrative. While the district touts itself on Twitter, dismayed employees of all stripes are told that the district will not honor its contracts, will not honor its pay scales, will not honor its word. Thousands of people who work with our students each and every day in the school houses all across this county slog through the days. The morale is the lowest I’ve ever witnessed in my first 14 years of teaching, yet we put on a brave face for our students so as to shield them from the damage the financial cuts have been taking. Employees are constantly demanded to do more while receiving less, whether compensation or respect. And though we suffer the ramifications of your poor planning and choices, we must watch as the bureaucracy balloons, all while being told we have no money.
And if this story weren’t bad enough, there is a far more pernicious plotline developing, one about which most citizens and education stakeholders are completely unaware. Between the lines of our current story there is a subtext that tells a tale of coercion, collusion, and corruption. A narrative that peeks into the darkest corners of the district to witness pay to play politicians ensuring their campaign contributors get their slice of the public pie. For those who are closely following this storyline, they watch aghast as this very school board rubber stamps contracts worth tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions. We wonder where the money has gone when in reality it is being siphoned off right in front of our very eyes, taxpayers being bilked in the names of crony capitalism and corporate welfare. Even today, the vast proliferation of for-profit charter schools continue; some of you undoubtedly attended the ribbon cutting this morning for the newly opened SLAM charter in Citrus Park. And then you came back here to approve two new ones in Riverview. Does the public know that Mrs. Elia did everything in her power to stem the tide against these for-profit charter charlatans? Does the public realize that we were winning litigation that would have closed the doors on these companies forever, only to call off the suit a few years ago because we were “taking the district in a different direction”? Surely those tens of millions of FEFP dollars could have ensured the contractually owed movement on the pay scale or bought a few air conditioners.
But as you know, I am ever the optimistic idealist. I believe we can turn the page on this dark chapter and begin to read the next one, which I trust will be positive. It begins with finding the collective will to make good on the promises you made to the employees. As those who oversee the budget, you should have been planning first and foremost to properly pay those who work with our children day in and day out. And if we have any hope to restore public faith so we can pass a referendum to generate new revenue, this dark chapter must conclude by removing from power those who have abused it, which is why I am asking with all due respect, Mrs. Valdes, for the sake of our citizens, taxpayers, employees, and above all, our students, that you immediately resign from the school board.
I am writing to all of you today with a small request that I feel will go a long way in restoring the community’s faith in your ability to oversee our school district. As anyone would surmise at this point, the growing cloud of consternation and rising chorus of concern about the state of negotiations between employees and top-level district administration will draw an inordinately large crowd to this coming Tuesday’s school board meeting. And rightly so. Many education stakeholders from across the county will be appearing at the lectern before the dais to address all of you, and we all need to have an opportunity to be heard.
It is for this reason that I am encouraging you to take a vote at the very beginning of the meeting to suspend your own rules regarding the time constraints for public and employee comment. It would be both unwelcoming and unwise to not listen to the constituents who have come to speak considering the current climate in our school district. While some of you might balk at such an idea, I hope you take into consideration the following:
1). When I went to speak on behalf of our school district’s needs for additional capital outlay funding in the form of impact fees at the Board of County Commission meetings this summer, both meetings were in the very grip of the Confederate statue controversy. The first time I spoke, there were 47 speakers who were signed up to about that single agenda item, and the BOCC suspended their own rules to allow our citizens to engage in their civic duty by addressing something important to them. Dr. White commended me for my patience because I was only one of three speakers who were there not addressing that issue, which meant I had to go after those speakers (I waited nearly two hours). The second time there were 106 speakers. Luckily, they let me speak first and I did not have to wait.
2). The HCPS School Board has already established this precedent themselves, most recently on February 7th, 2017, when board member Valdes made a motion to suspend the rules that was seconded by board member Griffin; the vote passed unanimously and the citizens who came to address the entire board spoke for over two hours. Moreover, speakers were still given their full time with 5 minutes for anyone addressing two or more agenda items or three minutes otherwise. Therefore, at this Tuesday’s meeting it is incumbent upon you to make a similar motion in the event that there are more people signed up for the standard 45 minute allotment (public comment) or 30 minute allotment (employee comment). Now more than ever, you need to listen.
And speaking of listening, this is my final request: please, on behalf of all Hillsborough county citizens and especially our employees, LISTEN. While a few of you always do genuinely listen to our concerns and address them with us privately or publicly, some of you clearly do not care about what we have to say and are downright inhospitable and rude: you look down or away, rifle through purses, play on smartphones or computers, anything other than engaging in eye contact with the person who is addressing the board. Or when you do look at us, you grimace, sneer, or make other facial expressions that clearly display your disdain, contempt, and utter lack of respect for the voters, taxpayers, and employees of this county. This dismissive attitude must stop so that we can all come together to face our challenges head on with perseverance and positivity.
I sincerely hope you consider this request. It is the right thing to do based on the current situation and climate in our school district. Our entire community is watching. It wants to be heard loud and clear on various issues. Please, let’s work collaboratively to restore its faith in our educational institution.
This week’s edition of Teacher Voice is a special salute to our service men and women who have dedicated their lives in uniform for our country. If you are a veteran and are reading this or listening to the podcast, thank you for your service. I, along with every other American, appreciates what you’ve done for us all.
Scott Hottenstein is a 24 year Navy veteran with 5 years worth of experience in the classroom. He has decided to run for the countywide District 6 seat in next year’s election. Please listen to the podcast to find out why, and share with others who may be interested in his platform.
Be sure to thank a veteran today if you personally know one!
This week’s special guest on the podcast is Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, the Executive Director and Chief Negotiator for the Hillsborough Classroom Teacher Association. We had an engaging discussion about the state of affairs for public education in Florida, our current situation regarding bargaining here in HCPS, as well as how parents and the community at large can step up to help advocate for those who serve our students on a daily basis.
As always, please listen and share with other education advocates. And, if you are a teacher or education support personnel, please consider joining HCTA so our collective voice will continue to grow louder and stronger! (click the link above)
Today I had the opportunity to address the entire Hillsborough Legislative Delegation (minus a few members). I am grateful for their patience and attentional stamina considering they sat there for six hours and listened to local elected officials and well over one hundred constituents covering numerous topics. I tried to stick to the big picture concerns about education here in Florida, and my comments to them are below.
Good afternoon, Honorable Legislative Delegates. My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am honored and blessed to serve as a public school teacher. I am the Theory of Knowledge instructor and Extended Essay Coordinator for the IB Programme at Strawberry Crest High School. I also feel privileged to have this opportunity because it is not often I would be able to address all of you at one time. I am a Social Studies teacher who firmly believes in being an exemplar of civic engagement, which is why I took personal time to be here today.
I should preface the rest of my statement by saying I am an independent voter and public education advocate who cares deeply about our children and their future. I believe it is the fundamental right of all students in the Sunshine State to receive a free, high-quality education wherever their parents choose, but I am gravely concerned about the level of funding being dedicated to this endeavor.
Adjusted for inflation, our current funding levels are $1,100 lower than funding a decade ago. Many school districts including our own are struggling to keep pace with rising costs, most especially due to rampant population growth in eastern and southern Hillsborough.
Though it was only meant to be a short-term measure to help us through the Great Recession, we have never moved the millage rate back to 2.0. Now with the mandatory capital outlay sharing provision in HB7069 that deems some of this funding go directly to charter schools, districts throughout the state will now be further financially hamstrung.
I realize that some of you might reject this proposal for partisan reasons alone, but I am a moderate in all things who always seeks compromise and common ground so that all can share in prosperity. I would encourage you to revisit Senator David Simmons’ proposal to lift the millage rate to 1.7, if only to defray the loss of funding earmarked for our charter schools.
As has been noted previously by other elected officials, our state budgets continue to exceed our revenues. We cannot continue to dip into trust funds or other savings just because of the overwhelming anti-tax sentiment that prevails in Tallahassee. Trust me, I am as fiscally conservative and frugal as they come. But I would gladly pay more in property tax or otherwise if it meant we could move Florida education funding to at least the national average, which we currently lag by nearly $4,000 per pupil.
I am a saver and investor. I understand the business world; my father was a business owner and manager, and he lamented my choice to become an educator. But businesses know that by reinvesting a portion of their profits it helps the entire community prosper. By making a badly needed investment in our education system we will attract more people and businesses to Florida, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of economic activity and ensuring a bright future for all of our children.
Thank you for your time, attention, and leadership in the capitol. May you, your family, and all Floridians be well.
Exactly one year ago today, for the first time ever, my wife and I addressed our local school board here in Hillsborough County. We took a stand. We spoke out. We said what we did for many reasons that day, but two were of the utmost importance then and are still relevant today:
1) we wanted to address the protracted negotiations between the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and the district—something that has unfortunately become routine in the last three years—and to ask that the administration return to the bargaining table in good faith;
2) to stand in solidarity with our fellow teachers and educational support personnel who came to speak truth to power.
One year later, we are back in the same position. But this year is different. There is a movement that is gaining traction. Teachers are beginning to rally around one another to discuss their options and strategies for how to handle the challenges facing us all. A rising tide of solidarity is growing and I deeply believe that the ensuing wave of momentum will help us all prevail. Because at the end of the day this is about standing up for our students, our profession, and public education.
Now is not the time for us to be divided. HCTA and HSEF must work toward a common end because we all have a hand in the education process. From the bus drivers who transport our kids, the student nutrition specialists who feed them, the custodians who keep our grounds and buildings clean for all, maintenance men and women who ensure schools function properly, guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers who nurture our children’s well-being, the educational support personnel who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help everyone, the administrators who are providing leadership, all the way to the teachers working in the classrooms to educate them all—we are all in this together. We all have a part to play in helping our kids have a bright future by becoming educated critical thinkers and citizens of good character.
And, parents, you have a hand in this too. You entrust us to be the stewards of your children and their learning. We owe you a debt of gratitude for sending your children to our schools throughout the district each and every day. We realize that you support us, and trust that you will continue to do so as we take a stand for what is right.
If you’re reading this, please consider taking a stand with us on November 14th at the next school board meeting. We have our own power when we stand together.
This episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is an interview with Amanda Page-Zwierko, the executive director of Frameworks of Tampa Bay, an organization focused on bringing SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and life skills to youth throughout the Tampa Bay region and beyond.
Please listen and share with others who are interested in learning more about SEL and how it is helping students here in our own local school districts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Thanks for listening and sharing, everyone. Have a great week!
Today’s Friday Five is a mini-rant about the absurd position proffered by Governor Rick Scott at a teacher round-table recently. In essence, he blamed “the system” on why teacher salaries are so low here in the Sunshine State. This is the same man who cut one billion (yes, with a B) from education his first year in office, only to later tout the record investment in education a few years after when he put it back and essentially brought us to previous levels. Adjusted for inflation, even what we spend now lags the spending from a decade ago.
And after you listen, here’s the article if you want to read it for yourself.
Negotiations between Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association have stalled. Yesterday, as many readers will know, concluded with the district stating that they “could not responsibly give raises to their employees.”
I hope that the district leadership realizes the economic ramifications that will ensue, especially in light of so many employees not receiving the raises that are contractually owed.
It was nearly one year ago that I wrote an open letter to Superintendent Eakins, his Chief of Staff, Alberto Vazquez-Matos, as well as Stephanie Woodford and Mark West. The only other people who saw that letter were Jean Clements and Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, President and Executive Director of HCTA, respectively. I am publishing it today for all to read, mainly because I feel the economic arguments contained within still hold much merit.
Teacher Voice is seeking guests to either write short posts (500 word limit) about current education issues or to discuss them in person for the biweekly podcast. Interested? Fill in the form on the Contact page or email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org