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What Every Florida Legislator Should Feel For Letting It Get This Bad…

Dear Fellow Floridian:

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Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

*Correction* – in 2014 there were three A-rated districts (not four); the 800% increase has resulted in 24 “A-rated” districts currently in 2019.

P.S. – Don’t forger to download, display and share your #InfographicOfShame!4544F7E3-3701-41B7-A509-9F2CD4445295

We The People

A famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He may have a point, because democracy can be messy. But it’s also hopeful in that we are constantly reminded that our government is by the people and for the people, which is precisely where the hope rests. We can always change our institutions for the better when we all believe and work together toward a common end.

Sometimes we get it wrong, though. Sometimes we elect people to represent us and our values, and those elected officials let us down. They may claim to be doing the people’s work, but actions always speak louder than words and reveal the true character of these “leaders.” And when those whom we believed would best represent us continually let us down, we the people have recourse to remove them from public office.

While the process works differently in each state, here in Florida there are specific guidelines listed in statute 100.361. Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, if we were to hypothetically conduct a recall, this is how the process would work:

  1. The elected official must have served at least one quarter of his or her term in office. Therefore, if the office holder were sworn in on 11/22/16, we would have to wait an additional four months from today to begin the proceedings.
  2. In the initial “recall petition,” a 200 word statement listing the reasons why the official should be recalled must be turned in along with 5% of the electorate’s signatures. All paperwork must be received by the Elections Office no later than 30 days from the initial signature date. For example, if signature collection began on Black Friday when thousands of people will be out and about in public, the complete recall petition must be submitted no later than Christmas Eve.
  3. Once the signatures are verified at a cost of 10 cents each, the elected official would have five days to return a defensive statement. After this has been received, the Elections Office prepares rosters called “Recall Petition and Defense” that has room for 30% of the electorate’s signatures, yet only 15% must be collected and verified; the time frame allotted is 60 days.
  4. After the requisite signatures and paperwork have been submitted, the clerk notifies the elected official who can then resign; if no resignation is tendered within 5 days, a judge selects a date that is 30 to 60 days out, and the people vote to remove or keep the office holder in the position.
  5. If the recall is successful / after the election results have been certified, the judge will then establish another date 30 to 60 days from then to hold a special election so that the seat may be filled for the remainder of the term.

As for the removed official? He or she cannot run for public office for the next two years.

It may require many dedicated volunteers to successfully perform a recall, but I believe our democracy works best when others stand together and are willing to find common ground, forge ahead, and overcome adversity.

 

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This is roughly what most states spend on education. Here in Florida, it’s a lot less.

If you’ve ever wondered why we have so many financial problems here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and the majority of school districts across the state of Florida, look no further than Tallahassee.

Though it has been dropping a bit in recent years, the national average of per pupil spending across the United States is roughly $10,700. Here in Florida? $7,221, which is barely more than $100 per pupil from a decade ago.

Florida Ed Spending Last Decade

Even Governor Scott, the same man who slashed education funding by over 1 billion during his first year in office, wanted to increase per pupil spending by more than $200 in his recommended budget. He didn’t get his way, obviously.

But what’s truly mysterious, however, is that Speaker Corcoran, the mastermind of HB7069, touted this nominal spending increase on Twitter as if it were a godsend to children all across the Sunshine State.

It’s not.

The truth of the matter is most districts such as ours here in Hillsborough were actually looking at a net decrease in funding based on the education budget that was initially proposed. While the House continually claims this as a victory for education, the additional $100 allotted per pupil through FEFP actually is only a net $43 increase in our school district, and probably similar elsewhere.

What politicians like Speaker Corcoran, Representatives Diaz, Bileca, et al constantly forget to mention when they are extolling their supposed virtuous economic benevolence is that over the last decade costs have continued to rise. It may be true that inflation hasn’t been strong since emerging from the Great Recession, but when you use the federal government’s inflation calculator the $7,126 figure from 2007-2008 would need to be $8,358 in today’s dollars, meaning the purchasing power of our current funding from the capitol is over $1,000 LESS than what it was a decade ago.

It may be a threadbare cliché at this point, but nothing more aptly describes what the Florida Legislature has continually done in my 14 years as a teacher: squeeze blood from a stone.

But, wait, there’s more!

As if that’s not bad enough, our state-level elected officials in their infinite wisdom have continued to further financially hamstring our education system by both restricting the ability of local agencies to levy their own millage rates AND continually kicking the can down to the local level where governing bodies have little to no power to raise additional revenue. This chart from an article by Emma Brown of the Washington Post demonstrates the combined effects of these decisions by the Florida Legislature:

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Read it and weep, people. Between state and local funding, Florida is the worst in the nation at funding education since the advent of the Great Recession.

So what’s the answer to the $8,358 question? We all need to take a stand. We need to be very vocal in demanding our state legislators finally fund education properly. No more gimmicks and games.

Time to invest in our kids and our future.

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Hillsborough County Public School Board Members and Superintendent Jeff Eakins

For those of you who are local to the Tampa area and following the issues in my home county/school district of Hillsborough, you may be aware of me discussing the issues affecting education at the school board meetings. Today’s meeting will be no exception, and I hope to receive the full five minutes of speaking time for which I registered. In the event that I do not receive this time, I recorded my comments for those of you who would like to listen to them.

If you prefer to read what I wrote rather than listen, I’ve also pasted the comments below (they are longer than 500 words, however):

On the afternoon of Monday, February 29th 2016, Mrs. Griffin encouraged about two dozen new teacher mentors to speak truth to power in dark times, which is why I am here today.

As we began the most recent round of bargaining three weeks ago, Chief Negotiator Mark West’s opening statement included a two word phrase that I have been turning over in my mind since that day—good faith.

To have faith is to place a deep and abiding trust in another. Parents have faith in our district’s employees as they entrust the tutelage, well-being, and safety of their children to all employees who directly interact with them on a daily basis during the school year, for instance. We employees in turn have placed our faith in the highest echelon of district administration and the publicly elected officials who sit before us all today.

Since January of 2015, however, our faith has been waning, and there are a litany of reasons. For example, the union negotiated the new salary schedule in “good faith” at the end of 2014 and the vast majority of teachers converted to this pay scale on the oft-repeated promise by Deputy Superintendent Dan Valdez and others that the new pay plan was—and, as an aside, still is—sustainable. The new pay scale offered simplicity and transparency: rather than vague “steps,” it was years of service. Time served was time earned, or at least it should be.

We also had good faith in district leadership last year when we negotiated a specific Performance Pay allocation of $12.4 million to supplement the salaries of instructional personnel who earned a highly effective rating, only to have that faith further eroded by the discovery of duplicitous decision-making that paid 192 administrators nearly $300,000 of the fund, as well as removing over $1.5 million to pay for fringe benefits, something that the district has never done and has always been the responsibility of the employer. While we completely comprehend the district’s purported fiscal constraints, to effectively rob money from the district’s hardest working teachers to pay its bills due to a proper lack of planning and foresight is both outrageous and shameful.

But perhaps most outrageous and shameful of all is the incessant application of double standards from the dais. 26,000 employees cannot constantly be told that there is no money to pay for what is contractually owed when there are clearly enough funds to pay lawyers’ fees that total over two million dollars in the last year, spend nearly one million dollars on the Gibson report, build new school board offices, renovate the ISC to relocate the entire HR department, spend over one third of a million dollars to upgrade the board room, give twenty thousand dollar raises to area superintendents and effectively have two people paid to do the same job, hire over five dozen district-level administrators all earning over one hundred thousand dollars, attend lavish retreats that cost tens of thousands of dollars each, continue to spend exorbitant amounts on travel, pay a public relations firm tens of thousands of dollars because we cannot keep a communications director – all at the expense of the taxpayers’ dollars and employees’ morale.

And perhaps the most egregious form of double standard came only three weeks ago when teachers who came to stand before the dais and courageously share their concerns via their constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights were chided like children for cheering, yet a similar rebuke never came when for-profit charter school operators were allowed to applaud their contract approval. We were met with dismissiveness bordering on disdain, and when some of you deigned to make eye contact with the speaker at the podium, those teachers were met with grimaces. And all the while everyone was all smiles for the charters who continue to raid our precious coffers.

It makes zero sense to bemoan the vast proliferation of for-profit charters that has exploded exponentially under the current administration only to greet them with open arms and a smile every time another contract is ratified.

There is still hope, however. If I have been accused of anything for which I am proud it is being relentlessly optimistic. I am an idealist with a pragmatic bent, and I have a solution that would go a long way in restoring the faith that has been eroding over the last two and a half years. First and foremost would be to return to the bargaining table next Monday ready to agree to the terms outlined by our executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins at yesterday’s bargaining meeting; they are fair and affordable, as all of you who have had one on one conversations with her know. Next would be to return the over $1.8 million that rightfully belongs to the Highly Effective teachers who earned it last year. Last yet equally important would for all of you to be the exemplars of servant leadership you were elected and hired to be.

With the advent of HB7069, now more than ever we need to all stand together against Tallahassee. Though money may be tight, I would also suggest we join the lawsuit with Broward and St. Lucie counties. We can no longer afford to have these rifts between district leaders and employees; we need to be working harmoniously in good faith so that we are truly preparing our students for life. We all know what’s at stake—our children and our future. Thank you.

 

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Tampa Bay Times
Gradebook Blog Podcast

Rather than record a separate Friday Five for this week, I wanted to share the conversation that I recorded last week with Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times.

Gradebook Podcast – 7/14/17

Please listen when you have a few minutes. As I mention toward the end of our conversation, I would love to speak to any and all education stakeholders on the podcast, especially teachers from the state of Florida. Or, if you are not the talkative type, I’m also looking for writers who would like to contribute to the blog side of Teacher Voice by penning 500 word posts about timely issues affecting our children and our future.

Next week I’ll be recording my first full-length feature podcast with a special guest who is concerned about a critical issue facing our kids in the coming year.

Suit-Up

It would only be a matter of time before one of the school districts in Florida decided to file a lawsuit against HB7069, and Broward County was officially the first to do so last week.

Who’s next?

All districts across the state should join this suit for multiple reasons; here are just a few:

  • It violates the Florida Constitution, first and foremost. As noted during WEDU’s “Florida This Week” that aired last Friday (and certainly in numerous print publications over the last several weeks), bills that are passed by the Legislature should be a single subject bill. “Education” is far too broad, and each bill should deal with one aspect of policy only.
  • It undermines local control/usurps the autonomy of the school districts in a multitude of ways, the most brazen of which is the demand for traditional public schools to share their capital outlay revenues from the millage rates collected locally.
  • It interferes with Federal law regarding Title I spending by dictating those monies go directly to the Title I schools rather than the school district itself. In the past, the leaders of each district could decide how to distribute the Title I money for wraparound service programs, teacher salary-based incentives, etc; under the new law, the districts have been stripped of their administrative rights.
  • It is inequitable in its demands placed on traditional public schools. For instance, parents across the entire Sunshine State have been advocating for recess for the last several years and this bill mandates that all schools implement recess beginning next year…unless it’s a charter school.

The list could go on, but let’s not belabor the point: HB7069 is just one more way the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature dictates what happens in our communities at the local level.

And this has me perplexed for several reasons. Isn’t “local control is the best form of governance” the mantra of all card-carrying conservatives? Isn’t it considered anathema by conservatives to also “pick winners and losers”? By flushing charter schools with cash while offering nothing but unfunded mandates to traditional public schools, the Legislature has done just that. What about “corporate welfare” that the Republicans claim to despise? How does that square with the conservatism? It doesn’t. Frankly, none of the things this bill has wrought conforms to conservative ideals.

But you know who the real loser is in this legislation? Our students all across this state. The way we pit traditional public schools against charter schools gets us no where. It’s time for the Legislature do something useful such as closing the loophole that for-profit charter companies exploit year after year. It’s time for the Legislature to ensure that both traditional and charter schools are held to the same accountability standards. It’s time for there to be a substantial investment in education combined with an equitable distribution of funds to all schools.

But before the Legislature can get back to work, let’s have every school district band together to join this suit and send a message.

 

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Think you “know” things? Think again.

Socrates once famously quipped, “I know nothing.” It is for this self-effacing statement that the Oracle at Delphi pronounced him the wisest person in all of Athens.

And the older I get, the more I comprehend why he said such things.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a huge nerd and a voracious reader. While I don’t foresee myself writing book reviews of everything I read, I will occasionally pass along something that I think could benefit everyone. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach is one of those books.

My current teaching assignment, Theory of Knowledge, is the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, and I LOVE teaching the class. It is primarily driven by reflection and dialogue, and I get to work with bright and inquisitive young minds who share a love of learning. Though the curriculum delves into various Areas of Knowledge (e.g. Natural Sciences, Mathematics, History, Ethics, etc) and how they interact with Ways of Knowing (e.g. Sense Perception, Reason, Language, Emotion, etc), it is essentially a high-level critical thinking course that examines the nature of knowledge, what knowledge is as a human construct, and how knowledge has changed over time. Perhaps most importantly, it tasks the learner with a central question around which the entire course revolves: how do you know?

This excellent little book, then, is effectively a primer on the subject matter dealt with in a course such as Theory of Knowledge. In the opening pages, the authors ask a simple question: how does a toilet work? They use this as an example of how the vast majority of what we think we know actually exists outside of our own heads and that, ultimately, knowledge is communal in nature (hence the subtitle). Much of the rest of the book details how our brains were never really designed to “know” much, and how that false sense of “knowing”–mostly predicated on an outmoded view of the brain that essentially sees it as a hard drive that stores information and carries out instructions–gets us into all sorts of trouble in our daily lives.

But why read it? Because it gives both pause and perspective. We unfortunately live in a highly polarized political climate, and if we all take a deep breath and realize that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, perhaps we can have honest conversations with one another. Perhaps we can ask better questions rather than simply make assertions based on scant evidence. Perhaps we’ll be actually willing to listen to the other person’s positions. Perhaps we’ll actually have opinions that can be augmented (GASP!) when new information is presented. Perhaps we’ll have less hubris and more humility, something that all our pundits and politicians could certainly use.

I’ll be 42 soon. I don’t plan on imbibing hemlock at any point in the foreseeable future. But with each passing day I understand Socrates’ pithy statement more and more…

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P.S. – You can read a more in-depth review here or you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

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Teacher Voice Needs Your Help!

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are an advocate for high-quality public education. I’m looking for anyone who wants to address the challenges facing education here in Florida. There are many of them, and they all seem to start in Tallahassee.

Over the last 19 years I’ve lived here and the last 14 I’ve taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools, I’ve been a mute witness to the constant assault that has been waged against public education by legislators in the capitol. While many of these elected officials have good intentions, the motives of the few who are driving the legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students is questionable to say the least.

If you are a teacher, administrator, parent, proud former student of the public education system here in this state, or any other stakeholder who has a vested interest in seeing all children in Florida receive a great education, please follow the blog or like the Facebook page to keep up with this project.

But I also need others to write and join me for a podcast. Though I try to be as non-partisan as possible when it comes to discussing these issues (as the previous post pointed out), my passion can get the better of me at times. By having others who are willing to write posts of up to 500 words, I hope that this project will become incredibly diverse and highly collaborative.

Does this sound like you? If so, please contact me. I can be reached via the Facebook page or you can find me on Twitter @1TeacherVoice, or you can send me an old-fashioned email at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

Looking forward to our future collaboration!

Ryan

P.S. – Feel free to pitch ideas for posts about any topic related to education–even something as simple as cool projects you’ve done or will do in your classroom with the kids!