The above video contains my complete comments on the lack of taxation. Please watch for context for what is detailed below.

It is no secret that school districts all across the Sunshine State have been forced to squeeze blood from a stone by the Florida Legislature for over two decades, and especially since the Great Recession. As noted in the first “Numbers Don’t Lie” piece, Florida went from 27th in per-pupil spending in 1998 to 44th in 2018. Had we kept pace with inflation alone from 20 years ago, Florida would need to spend $9,913 per student. Instead, we currently spend $7,408.

But it’s far worse than simply not keeping pace with inflation. When Ernest Hooper and I were interviewing candidates at the Tampa Hob Nob a few weeks ago, HD64 Rep. Jamie Grant–by his own admission–stated that the three areas of the economy that have actually outpaced inflation were health care, higher education and K-12 education. This effectively compounds the problem, because not only has the Florida Legislature refused to make a meaningful investment in public education, their decision to be parsimonious has made the reduced spending power of those scant dollars that much more signficant (assuming his statement is true).

Hillsborough County is not the only county seeking tax referenda. It’s happening all over the state, which John Romano wrote about recently in the Tampa Bay Times. Going back to this past March, citizens of various counties are 12 for 12 in voting for some type of tax referendum to support their schools. Clearly voters are starting to understand that Tallahassee has gotten us all into these messes because of its ideological zeal for reducing taxes.

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The Great Taxation Paradox: No one wants to pay, yet we need the services they provide.

People who stand against the tax referenda do so for two principal reasons: 1) they claim “we’re taxed too much already”; 2) they believe Hillsborough County Public Schools has mismanaged its funds. Let’s examine these claims in detail:

“We’re Taxed Too Much Already”

Regarding the first claim, this is typical response from just about anyone when the subject of raising taxes is mentioned. The facts, however, do not support this claim. If anything, we are taxed too little in a state that is experiencing such rapid population growth. The lack of taxation is directly linked to: the unwillingness to investment in public education by the Florida Legislature, resulting in students and staff sweating in schools; the traffic congestion we get caught up in on a daily basis; why Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has one of the lowest deputy-to-citizen ratios in the state, etc. Simply put, there’s not enough money to go around.

Mitch Perry’s excellent piece in The Florida Phoenix last month detailed why so many counties are seeking various school and transportation referenda and, most notably, linked this report that highlights two key facts that were addressed during my comments to the school board:

1. Florida ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to “tax burden” (i.e. per-capita tax revenue generation).

2. Hillsborough County ranks 52nd out of 67 counties in Florida, which means we have the 15th lowest tax burden in the second lowest state in the U.S.

To say that “we are taxed too much already” is a preposterous statement that clearly ignores these facts and traffics in hyperbole when one considers the actual numbers.

HCPS Mismanages Its Funds

When it comes to the second claim about HCPS mismanaging its funds, it must be addressed in two parts. First, there are the optics of some of the board’s more questionable spending decisions over the last three years. Many critics often cite spending nearly a million dollars on the Gibson Report, nearly a million dollars for new school board offices/relocation of Human Resources from its original location to the Instructional Services Center, remodeling/refreshing the audio-visual equipment in the board room, etc. All told these items add up to perhaps $3 million across the last three years, which amounts to approximately 0.00033% of its total annual budget per year.

This is clearly a case of picking out a few trees while missing the entire forest.

Fiscal Stewardship
It took many painful cuts to get to this point, but Hillsborough citizens should be reassured that HCPS is doing its best with what little funding it receives from both state and local sources.

In truth, however, Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great job of reigning in its deficit spending during the same period. This fact is all the more amazing when one considers the significance of this in light of continually declining purchasing power when dollars are adjusted for inflation. Many citizens of the county, for instance, may not realize that there has been a sharp reduction in “PECO” funding (Public Education Capital Outlay, the source that pays for installation and maintenance of HVAC systems, building and repairing schools, upgrading technology, etc) for several reasons:

1. At the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, the Florida Legislature–the governing body that effectively caps the tax rates that can be applied by school boards–reduced the millage rate from 2.0 to 1.5. Despite the economy recovering and now thriving, Tallahassee has never raised the millage rate back to pre-recession levels.

2. In addition to the millage rate never being restored, outgoing Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran, famously quipped “Hell, no” in 2017 when asked if the Legislature would leave tax rates alone and allow rising property values to raise additional funds for education. Despite the Senate being okay with such a sensible compromise, the Grover Norquist anti-tax zealots in the House held firm and rolled back the rates even more.

3. Much of the revenue generated for PECO comes in the form of utilities taxes, including landline telephones, which hardly exist outside of businesses any longer. Therefore, a lot less money is going into those particular coffers at the state level.

Put this all together and what we get is a perfect fiscal storm that looks like this chart.

Capital Funding History
And people wonder why there is no money to fix A/C or otherwise repair our schools

While no one ever likes paying taxes, I would argue that there is a cost of paying too little. Having lived in Florida for just over 20 years now, I have watched our schools deteriorate and our roads fall apart while simutaneously becoming more clogged thanks to two decades of rampant, unchecked sprawl that has had little oversight and even less funding devoted to overcoming these challenges. I would highly encourage anyone who is reading this and lives in Hillsborough County to share this information with friends/family and vote for both of these referenda so that our citizens no longer have to live with the disastrous decisions being made by the Florida Legislature.

Furthermore, especially when it comes to the school district referendum in particular, please bear the following in mind: 1) the referendum can only be used for capital expenses; 2) there will be an oversight committee comprised of six citizens who have no connection to the district and will oversee how the money is spent on projects; 3) for the average Hillsborough citizen, the additional tax will mean about 17 cents per day. Undoubtedly, there will be naysayers who still want to vote no for their own personal reasons regardless of these facts. To them I paraphrase Voltaire by saying we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Our students, our schools, and our future depend on it.

Referendum Details
For more details, click here.

 

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About a week ago, ABC Action News caught up with the Florida Department of Education’s Commissioner, Pam Stewart. The reporter in the video had been trying to get an official comment regarding the on-going saga of teachers who are losing their jobs due to not being able to pass one of Florida’s teacher certification exams.

Bear in mind, however, that many of these teachers have already demonstrated their skills in the field, had been rated “Effective” or better, had developed a rapport with the students they serve…yet were let go nonetheless.

This truly is “must see television”:

To provide some context, ABC Action News has been investigating this issue for about a year and a half, starting in March 2017. They had updates to this story in July of that same year, May 2018, again this past July, and culminating in this report from last week.

The shortest version possible of what has happened is this: in 2015 Pearson debuted new tests and pass rates quickly plummeted. Many teachers discuss their struggles with the mathematics portion of the General Knowledge Test, despite the majority of these teachers not even teaching math. Ever.

The one year I worked as a new teacher mentor coincided with the new, more challenging tests, and it was almost always the General Knowledge Test that was holding back first and second year teachers. One of my mentees, for instance, couldn’t pass the essay portion of the GK. She hailed from Puerto Rico, taught Spanish, was adored by her students, yet had to pass a meaningless portion of a test that had no real bearing on her ability to teach Spanish.

Compounding this problem is the statewide (national, really) teacher shortage. More and more “new” teachers are people who are making the transition to a new career, not a young person entering the profession from college. If someone hasn’t used their math skills in 10 or more years, they will have eroded significantly.

And, again, if a person is hired to be an art (or any subject not related to math) teacher, should she need to be able to do the following?

Test Questions
Sample Questions from the GK test, courtesy of Jeff Solochek and the Tampa Bay Times

In the midst of a teacher shortage crisis, one would hope that the state would offer some temporary reprieve on some of the testing requirements, especially the General Knowledge Test that seems to be the biggest barrier to staying in the profession. What’s more curious is that Florida does this to no other profession. No one who is going to take the bar exam to be a lawyer has to also take this test. It seems logical that if a person can earn an undergraduate degree such as a B.A. or B.S., s/he has the basic skills necessary to work in any professional domain.

Eliminating the GK test would not necessarily mean it is easier to become a teacher. A person still would have to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examination and a Subject Area exam, and rightly so. A candidate should be able to know and understand the laws that govern the profession, the ethical obligations they hold as teachers, and demonstrate mastery in the content the educator will teach to students.

But having to prove you went to college 10 or 20 years after the fact by taking and passing the “General Knowledge” test? Absurd.

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(Sweet Incredible Hulk GIF that wouldn’t embed. You know you want to click the link.)

Other questions arise with this approach as well:

When these teachers who have already been deemed effective during their first few years lose their jobs, who replaces them? Who will connect with those students? A long-term substitute? Pam Stewart realizes that teachers aren’t growing on trees, right?

Why do only traditional public school teachers have to pass all these tests to earn their certification? Charters and private schools can hire people with no credentials, yet the FLDOE will kick good people to the curb because they have rusty math skills?

In the end, Commissioner Stewart’s horrible handling of this reporter is telling in three ways: 1) she’s hangry, and you wouldn’t like her when she’s hangry; 2) the FLDOE clearly does not want to discuss this issue, with her even going so far as to offer a deflective answer about turnaround schools; 3) she clearly has never, ever–not once–understood nor empathized with the plight of teachers and ESPs all across the Sunshine State who routinely sacrifice their lunch time for their students on an almost daily basis.

But, hey, like the Tampa Bay Times editorial board recently wrote, “No wonder there’s a teacher shortage in Florida

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In the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

If you are a voter who lives in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, you need to vote for Mike Alvarez. He is the clear choice who brings a unique perspective as a former U.S. Marine and current small business owner. If you haven’t already heard from the man himself, he was on the Teacher Voice podcast earlier this summer, which you can listen to here.

You may have received one of these political ads in the mail for Susan Valdes in the last few days, and I’d like to call every voter’s attention to the least suspect part of the mailer itself: who sent it.

It is a well known fact that Susan Valdes filled nearly half her war chest with campaign contributions from for-profit charter management companies in her most recent District 1 School Board election. What may be unknown to the general public, however, is that in order to earn the endorsement of outgoing HD62 and overwhelmingly revered representative, Janet Cruz, Valdes had to promise not to take any donations from these companies.

Valdes lied.

Susan Valdes has quite the track-record of being an unethical elected official. There are numerous reasons that have been previously covered here, but this mailer is a case-in-point for how she will dance around the promises she has made in order to gain a political advantage.

Back to who paid for these mailers…

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Shakespeare once asked “what’s in a name?” In this case…EVERYTHING.

Rather than accept donations directly from the giant for-profit management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc, Valdes is now having her mailers paid for by a PAC called “Florida Federation for Children”. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because of “American Federation for Children”, the organization started and promoted by none other than Betsy DeVos.

In a Tampa Bay Times article from four years ago, Kathleen McGrory discussed what a massive influence this political action committee was having on local and state elections across Florida. Two years ago, Sue Woltanski of Accountabaloney wrote two pieces about the Florida Federation for Children. One of the most salient quotes in the first of the two articles says the following:

Accountabaloney Quote
This is who is supporting Susan Valdes. Do voters in HD62 want to support this PAC?

And if any voter wants to see how heavily funded this group is by Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children PAC or numerous for-profit charter management companies, all he or she has to do is look at the campaign contribution list. All told, between DeVos, Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, this adds up to over 2.3 MILLION DOLLARS.

That sure does buy a lot of influence, and the last thing any constituent needs is another legislator being led around by special interest lobbyists.

The choice is clear for any voter in House District 62: Mike Alvarez is the candidate voters want to serve the interests of the people of his district, Hillsborough County, and all of Florida. Susan Valdes, on the other hand, wants to help faceless corporate profiteers who are trying to privatize public education to pad their bottom lines with public tax dollars. She is a disgrace to public education advocates locally and across the Sunshine State, and the Tampa Bay Times erred greatly when they endorsed this charlatan (UPDATE! Janet Cruz has rescinded her endorsement of Valdes)

But it’s not too late. If you live in House District 62 and haven’t voted yet, vote for Mike Alvarez! And even if you don’t live in the district but know others who do, please share this important and critical information with them, their family members and friends.

P.S. – And if any voter needs one final reason as to why Susan Valdes does NOT deserve his/her vote, never forget Valdes’ “foolishness” when she openly mocked teachers and ESPs who poured their hearts out to the HCPS School Board. If she is so openly hostile to the people who work with our children every day, imagine how dismissive and disrespectful she will be to the constituents of HD62.

Susan Mailer Edited
This is what the flyer should have said if she/it were being HONEST

Support Public Ed

When the Teacher Voice project began over a year ago, another name under consideration was “Teaching Matters”. It was alluring due to the double meaning, but in the end Teacher Voice won out when asking family and friends for feedback. That said, the original essay I wrote is below, and in an election year it is even more imperative that we work to elect legislators and school board members who will support our students, our profession, and will invite us to be part of the conversation for how to improve public education for all stakeholders involved in the process.

While riding up an escalator up to the next level at a mall nearly 30 years ago, my father turned to me and asked me a question: what do you want to do when you grow up? It took me by surprise when he said these words, and I didn’t have an answer at the ready. So I thought about it for a minute and said, “I think I want to be a teacher.” He frowned a bit and told me that I was too intelligent, would be wasting my time and talent, and concluded with “You should think about going into business.” His response left me more than a little perplexed, especially considering he was married to a teacher himself.

Many years later, I never intended to be a teacher. After finishing my B.A. and while working on my M.A., I was pondering whether to go to law school to earn a J.D. or to continue my graduate studies and earn a Ph.D. and become a university professor. But none of that ever happened because I stepped into a classroom as a substitute teacher and never looked back. It only took me a few weeks before an epiphany struck me in a way that all but solidified my career choice—teaching matters.

Teaching matters is a simple yet profound idea, and one upon which we can all agree despite the current political climate here in Florida and across the U.S. What person would disagree with this notion? Aren’t we all teachers in our own way? We teach our children lessons long before they ever set foot in school, and long after they graduate. We teach them by what we say and, far more critically, by how we act. Surely, then, we can all agree on the importance of teaching.

Teaching is so much more than a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge, though—it’s also about inspiring students to pursue their dreams, encouraging them to give their best effort at all times, providing emotional support when their lives are experiencing turmoil, instilling an insatiable inquisitiveness in their minds to ensure they will be lifelong learners, and caring deeply about each and every single one of them as individual human beings who are worthy of dignity simply for having been born—and none of these things that teachers do can ever be measured by a VAM score.

Teaching matters, ultimately, because we care about our kids, our future.

Teaching as a chosen profession, however, is on the decline, especially here in the Sunshine State. I don’t need to quote recent headlines about the national teacher shortage, or about how our legislators are flummoxed by how to address the challenge, or about how Tallahassee has been squeezing blood from a stone and leaving every school district in the state financially hamstrung due to the insufficient funding for education. And while I could offer numerous potential solutions to our legislators about drawing “the best and the brightest” minds into the profession and keeping them here—such as raising the salaries of teachers from the lowest quintile in the U.S. to at least the national average, which itself already lags behind the average of all college graduate salaries by 20 percent—I’ll offer only two that won’t even cost the legislature any money at all: 1) respect the profession; 2) let us help by sharing our expertise.

Many of our legislators are evidently fond of maligning teachers: we’re lazy, or evil, or whatever other negative, sweeping generalization they’d like to heap upon us on any given day. Would our legislators say such things about our police officers, firefighters, social workers, or other public servants who have dedicated their lives to a career that strives to help individuals and our society as a whole? If our representatives and senators want to solve the riddle, it begins first and foremost by acknowledging the that teaching matters and that the tens of thousands of educators who walk into classrooms are worthy of their respect for all that we do for our kids and our future.

Equally as important, legislators should be tapping into our expertise. Virtually all of them have never been in the classroom, yet they act is if they know what’s best for our students. The general consensus about what constitutes being an expert is having at least 10,000 hours of experience in any given field, which means approximately 11 years of teaching if we were to only count time spent in front of students. If we were to include all of the hours spent outside the classroom that are dedicated to developing lesson plans, grading assignments, maintaining records, attending faculty meetings, engaging in professional development, earning additional certifications and advanced degrees, the number would probably drop to 5 years. Thousands of us undoubtedly fit this criterion, and I’m confident many would be willing to lend a hand to provide insight into the challenges our educational system faces.

I don’t think that our legislators are going to suddenly respect us or ask us for our informed opinion any time soon, however, which is why this open letter serves as a clarion call to every teacher in our state and beyond. We need to do what we do best, which is teach. But not only must we teach our students, we must teach our legislators about the issues we’re all facing. We can do this by sending emails and letters while they are in session and, perhaps more importantly, starting to build relationships with the legislators representing our individual counties by requesting face-to-face meetings to have engaging discussions and exchanging ideas.

We all know that teaching matters. It’s time to work collaboratively to do what’s best for our kids and our future.

 

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Vote for Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein for District 6, Hillsborough County School Board

In the final weeks of July, the Tampa Bay Times released its list of endorsed candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board. While I do concur with the editorial board’s picks for District 1 (Bill Person), District 2 (Stacy Hahn), and District 4 (Melissa Snively) (click the links to learn more about these candidates or donate to their campaigns), I believe the board does not see the intangibles possessed by Scott Hottenstein that make him the best candidate for this role.

Although the Times called Scott Hottenstein a “teacher in the district” and “first time candidate,” that is not how we should view Scott at all. Having interviewed nearly all of the District 6 candidates for the Teacher Voice podcast, what stood out were Scott’s attributes from his previous employer: The United States Navy. We shouldn’t view Scott only as a teacher; instead, we should see him through the lens of a career Navy veteran with half a lifetime of leadership who also happens to have five years of classroom experience.

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“Mr. H” and family during his Navy career

Here’s why anyone who cares about Public Education here in Hillsborough County should vote for Scott Hottenstein:

  1. 24 year career as a Navy Officer, culminating as Lieutenant Commander and second in command of his entire base on Sicily when he retired. Quite simply, the man would not have advanced through the ranks without demonstrating tremendous leadership capacity.
  2. Successfully navigated and excelled in a large bureaucratic organization (U.S. Navy) Being a school board member for the 8th largest district in the United States, then, would be an easy transition in which Scott could use his intelligence and communication skills to the benefit of all stakeholders, especially our students.
  3. As second in command of his base, Scott also had experience managing budgets that numbered into the tens of millions, all of which filtered through multiple revenue streams, much like our own school district’s $3 billion behemoth budget that includes local, state, and federal funding. Surely his past skill set in this regard will scale up for his primary job of being a sound fiscal steward of our tax dollars.
  4. Scott is a public servant, plain and simple. After dedicating over half his life to serving his fellow citizens as a United States Naval Officer, Scott willfully chose to become a teacher and continue his public service by educating the next generation. Scott left his post in the Navy with numerous security clearances and easily could have commanded a six figure salary working with a private company that does contractual or consulting work for our nation’s military. Instead, Scott chose to spend his days teaching 7th grade Civics at Barrington Middle School, coaching track, initiating a chess club and a school government chapter, and even manning the school when it became a shelter during Hurricane Irma. Scott is the very living embodiment of servant leadership.

In summation, Scott “Mr. H” Hottenstein is an honorable man of integrity who has always sought to give back to his fellow citizens, first in the Navy, now in our schools. He has earned my vote for the above stated reasons as well as running his campaign on small donations, and a grassroots effort powered by student volunteers so they can gain first-hand, real world experience with civic engagement. But I am only one vote, and I would encourage all of residents of Hillsborough to vote for him as well. Scott dedicated the first half of his life to our country, let’s help him dedicate the next phase of his public service to Hillsborough’s students and their future.

If you’d like to hear from Scott Hottenstein himself, here is his interview on the Teacher Voice podcast; we discuss his Navy career, why he became a teacher, and why he wants to run for the Hillsborough County School Board. You can also learn more about his campaign platform and/or make a small donation at his website, Like or Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Please consider voting for Scott Hottenstein and sharing this post with other friends and family who live, work and vote here in Hillsborough County. #VoteVeteran #ElectATeacher

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Scott, his wife Laura, and their two sons, William (left) and Iain (right)

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Nick Guy
Nick Guy, District 1 Candidate for Sarasota School Board, along with Heather, Reese, and Riley.

In Nick’s own words, he’s about principles, not politics.

The former teacher turned IT analyst wants to help his former profession and all students throughout Sarasota county, mainly by fighting back against the march of privatization of public education that has been happening during the last decade. He is in a formidable race against an incumbent who is largely funded by “dark money” pouring in from PACs that have ties to voucher and for-profit charter proponents.

If you’d like to learn more about Nick Guy, you can check out his website, Like or Follow his Facebook page, or follow the conversation on Twitter.

Be sure to check out Nick’s cool commercial below, please share the podcast with other Sarasota voters / public education advocates, and have a great weekend, everyone!

Charlie Kennedy
Charlie Kennedy, former high school teacher, District 2 Manatee County Schools Board member

All over the United States this election season, numerous teachers are running for office on the heels of the wave of teacher walkouts that happened in states such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. Long before that, however, one of Charlie’s students challenged him to run for his local school board in 2014.

To his surprise, he won.

Charlie first appeared on the Teacher Voice podcast nearly one year ago, which provided listeners with his backstory and his advocacy for public education in Manatee County and beyond. Now Charlie is up for re-election, has an opponent, and we sat down recently to discuss his accomplishments during his first term as well as what he would like to achieve over the next four years.

If you’d like to learn more about Charlie, you can read his blog/website here, Like / Follow his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. And if you are a voter (or know one) who lives in Manatee County, please share the podcast with others.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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Waterset, the newest Charter Schools USA located in Apollo Beach, Hillsborough County

Two weeks ago today, on June 28th, I attended my first Charter Schools USA board meeting at Waterset, the newest CSUSA school that was built in the Waterset development on the south side of Big Bend Road in Hillsborough County. Nestled among a sprawling development that includes a clubhouse and homes for the upper-middle class residents of the area, Waterset is a handsome facility with state of the art technology and classrooms that are surely meant to lure in unsuspecting parents who only want the best for their children.

Before getting to the meeting itself, let me unequivocally state that I am not opposed to charter schools or school choice on principle. As an International Baccalaureate teacher at an A rated magnet school here in Hillsborough County, it would be dishonest of me to take a stand against school choice when I work at a choice school. And if the Florida Legislature adequately funded public education here in this state so that all choices could receive equal funding, I would probably have little to rail against.

But this is Florida, after all, and our elected officials clearly have a pet project of underfunding traditional public schools while shoveling money at charters and vouchers. So rail against this inequity I must.

 

When Al Shanker first proposed the idea of charter schools in 1988, they were meant to be a place that allowed teachers to take control and offer innovative approaches to students who struggled with traditional education. He wanted professionals who knew best to be unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape, allowed to propose and administer their own programs, and flourish alongside students who needed their help. It’s a noble idea, yet one that has been co-opted and corrupted by corporate interests.

For those who are unaware of the charter taxpayer scam being perpetuated by several privately held companies—the two largest of which are Academica and Charter Schools USA—the following is a brief primer (although you can listen to this excellent podcast with Pat Hall to gain a deeper understanding):

In 1996, Florida approved charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools. By law, these schools are considered non-profit just like their traditional counterparts and are funded with taxpayer dollars. Many of the early charter schools were small operations set up by parents or other community members who wanted to serve niche student populations who struggled in traditional settings, just as Shanker had first proposed (Pepin Academies and F.A.C.E. are good examples of charters that are genuinely non-profit here in HCPS).

Somewhere along the way, however, this model has been perverted due to a loophole in the legislation, which has allowed for-profit charter management companies to create an industry that is bilking Florida taxpayers to the tune of tens (if not hundreds at this point) of millions of dollars per year. In essence, this scam works with three key players: real estate, construction, and the for-profit charter management companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, Charter School Associates, etc. These companies have numerous subsidiaries that allow them to rig the game at the expense of us all. One LLC will purchase the land for cheap, another LLC will build the school, and, after the for-profit company has installed a technically “non-profit” board, this board effectively turns around and pays the for-profit management company for back office services, “management fees”, and exorbitant rental-lease agreements that are typically astronomical compared to what other buildings in the area receive on a per-square-foot basis. In the end, on average, these companies end up siphoning off nearly HALF of the public dollars meant for students and classrooms.

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Ryan Construction works alongside Red Apple Development, the construction LLC of CSUSA

Worst of all, Tallahassee’s incestuous relationship with these for-profit charter management companies are a direct result of the legislation we have seen in the last two years under House Speaker Corcoran. Manny Diaz, for example, one of the principal architects behind HB7069 that ensured more money was devoted to charters, draws a six figure salary for Doral College, a for-profit institution affiliated with Academica, the largest of these profiteers in the Sunshine State. Hello conflict of interest! Florida ethics laws are clearly a joke to these elected officials.

***Back to the CSUSA Board Meeting***

When I walked into the meeting, I was greeted by Kerianne, a woman who works for CSUSA and travels the state to act as a board liaison on behalf of the company. Although technically a public meeting, it was held in a fairly small room that included a long table with chairs around it and only three empty chairs for onlookers. Clearly these meetings are not well attended, which I am sure they would prefer.

The meeting itself was fairly quick, and the people I met were all quite friendly. I have no doubt that the administrators and parent-facilitators at the table (as well as the teachers and staff who work at these schools) genuinely want the best for the students they serve. Ultimately I believe anyone who works directly with children on a daily basis are simply giving back to the next generation and their local communities. But there were a few highlights that are noteworthy:

  • The CSUSA board liaison, Kerianne, effectively ran the meeting. The board members are simply there to go through the motions and rubber stamp everything.
  • One of the items approved regarding SB7026 was described as “lots of boilerplate insert school here”, which contained information for how CSUSA would handle school safety initiatives. Some districts are allowing them to “piggy back” on their SRO or SSO initiatives, but other counties are resisting and telling the charters to pay for officers themselves (HCPS has told them that they are responsible for the cost). CSUSA plans to use their employees as guardians or contract with private security firms if the need arises.
  • Most notably, the SB7026 legislation also includes provisions for addressing mental health, but if CSUSA doesn’t receive enough funding from the state or districts for school psychologists or social workers, the schools are to kick the problem back to the parents for them to handle privately.
  • Rod Jurado, the board chair, noted that CSUSA has been speaking with Senator Bill Galvano (the Senate President in waiting) about “seeing what we can do to get into Manatee County.”
  • Board members apparently have term limits, yet were given extensions by a vote.
  • Noted that CSUSA will be opening (or recently opened) 9 new schools, serving 8500 students (sidenote: at $7408 per-student this means CSUSA will receive $63 million in new revenue, with approximately $28.3 million being added to their bottom lines—all at taxpayer and traditional public education expense).
  • A mention of growing concern about securing bonds for the new schools being built before the interest rates went up.
  • Review of school grades for the local CSUSA schools under the board’s purview; interestingly enough, they only discussed the three schools that received an A. Waterset barely earned a C with 337 points.

And, perhaps in an unintentionally ironic yet comical statement, Mr. Jurado explicitly made mention that the schools and board are non-profit, carrying on about how he nor any other board member receive a salary or stipend, and that they should all help correct this misconception when speaking to the public. I still wonder if he would have even said it had I not been in the room.

In the end, the board meeting is largely a ruse that is intended to look like an actual board meeting. Not once was there any discussion of any agenda items, and what discussion that did transpire was mostly explanations that were given to the board from the CSUSA liaison, Kerianne. Although other meetings typically revolve around “recruitment and retainment” of students to maximize profit, most of the money talk was confined to securing bonds for their new buildings, which are owned by the companies themselves and not the public that funded them. The entire enterprise is a racket, and all taxpayers in Florida should be aware and demand better from our elected officials. The Florida Legislature should legislatively close the loophole that allows these charlatans to legally steal from public education coffers that are filled with our tax dollars.

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The one page agenda, featuring a picture of a curiously homogeneous classroom

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Phil Hornback, Democratic Candidate for HD 58

This week’s episode of Teacher Voice podcast features Phil Hornback, a small business owner, former bricklayer, and former public school science teacher. Phil is a hard working guy who wants to bring a common sense approach to Tallahassee by standing for the constituents of the community rather than the special interests who dominate our state’s legislative sessions.

Although our conversation focuses mainly on public education, Phil also discusses his personal history, why he’s running, as well as the other important ideas for his campaign. Please listen and share this episode, especially with those who live in House District 58.

If you’d like to learn more about Phil Hornback and his campaign, check out his website here, you can Like/Follow his Facebook page, or you can also follow him on Twitter.

Thanks for listening and have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

P.S. – This is Phil speaking at the HCPS school board meeting on June 5th about for-profit managed charter schools, a topic that we discuss during the podcast itself.

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Nearly six months to the day after calling for Susan Valdes’ resignation due to her “foolishness” comment, the District 1 member of the HCPS school board has officially resigned to run for the Florida Legislature in House District 62.

Better late than never.

The following is an open letter to the constituents of House District 62 as well as a political playbook for her primary campaign opponents.

As noted previously in podcasts and other posts, Susan Valdes’ commitment to the Hispanic community specifically (and all minorities generally) is both noteworthy and laudable. No one can deny she has advocated for these students during her time on the board.

But numerous problems remain and all voters should beware her motivations, especially in light of her alleged “three P’s” comment and other troubling revelations from the last two years since she won re-election in 2016.

Three Ps

If I were a campaign manager for Valdes’ opponents, here are several points I would address every time when speaking to the constituents of House District 62 so that every voter knows exactly who Susan Valdes is and what she stands for:

  1. Campaign Contributions from For-Profit Charter Management Companies

Public Education is a tried and true campaign platform for any and all Democrat candidates and, typically, this party is the only one that has cried foul against the taxpayer fraud being committed by these for-profit charter management companies (learn more here). In essence, these companies establish “non-profit” boards to comply with the law, and these boards turn around and hire the company for management, back office services, pay them rental/lease agreements above and beyond market value, etc. Nearly half of the money doesn’t even get to the kids in the classrooms; instead, it goes to pad the profit lines of companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates.

All three of these companies gave handsomely to Susan Valdes during the 2016 election cycle and should call into question her advocacy for public education. While most Democrats are trying to defend it, she is silently cheering on its demise by taking money from privatizing profiteers.

2. Ethics Investigations

It’s no secret that Member Valdes has abused her power while on the school board, which led to the state of Florida opening up separate ethics investigations against her. Her family received free day care even though she was never technically an employee; it would appear she helped her friend and campaign manager get a job in the county for which she had no qualifications; she interfered with the open bidding process during the “cone of silence” to ensure that a local company–whose CEO donated heavily to Valdes’ re-election bid–had a second chance to change their pricing, resulting in a contract that still cost taxpayers $50,000 more than it could have had the district gone with the original bid winner, Arey Jones.

Now that she has resigned, however, those ethics investigations cease. But that doesn’t change the fact that there was enough evidence to merit the investigations by the state in the first place, and any primary opponent would be wise to constantly mention these investigations and not let her off the hook for her past transgressions.

3. Taxpayers Footing the Bill for Valdes’ Excessive Travel

As the linked editorial above notes, this has been a chronic problem since Susan Valdes was elected in 2004. In her first term she spent over $50,000 and, despite her pledge to be more mindful of it in the future, she never quit. She infamously made news again in 2016 when she spent over $14,000 from May of 2015 to May of 2016, which was more than the remaining six board members combined. This also coincided with the first time I spoke at an HCPS school board meeting, mainly because I was so distraught over her reckless use of taxpayer dollars at a time when the district was trying to shore up its reserves by cutting spending.

4. Susan Valdes – Career Politician

For the last fourteen years, Susan Valdes has served as a school board member for Hillsborough County Public Schools. This year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass legislation to enforce term limits on school board members, an effort that ultimately never passed yet was bundled into Amendment 8 by the Constitution Revision Commission (please vote NO on 8!). This amendment, however, also includes a provision that will allow for-profit charters to circumvent local school boards altogether, so despite its attempt to limit school board members to two consecutive terms–something many people across the Sunshine State want–it comes at too steep a cost to public education.

Now she wants to jump ship and try to “serve the people” (i.e. herself and her campaign contributors) of House District 62. The voters of this district should fully repudiate her and end her career in politics now before she wreaks more havoc on Hillsborough County. If you are a resident of District 62, please vote for one of her primary opponents; if you know someone who lives in 62, please share this post / information with that person.

Please vote in this critical midterm primary election.

Just vote for anyone other than Susan Valdes.