Are Sore Losers Making a Mockery of the FLCRC?
Please NOTE: In this post we refer to Sarasota School Board member, Eric Robinson, as serving in a significant role in the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, because he is the 2018 Fiscal Best Practices Task Force Chairman. We want to clarify that he does not now, nor has he ever, served on the FCSBM Board of Directors. (added in response to Mr. Robinson’s 12/4/2017 comment that we were spreading untruths)
Why have rules if you aren’t going to follow them?
“Once every twenty years, Florida’s Constitution provides for the creation of a thirty-seven member revision commission for the purpose of reviewing Florida’s Constitution and proposing changes for voter consideration. The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) meets for approximately one year, traveling the State of Florida, identifying issues, performing research and possibly recommending changes to the Constitution. Any amendments proposed by the CRC would be placed on the 2018 General Election ballot. For additional information, visit flcrc.gov.”
This year, the CRC is stacked with those who would like to privatize public education, self-described “Ed Reformers,” such as Patricia Levesque (CEO of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, FEE, and Executive Director of his Foundation for Florida’s Future, FFF), State Representative and School Choice Advocate Chris Sprowls and Erika Donalds, Collier County School Board member and founding member of the pro-school choice advocacy group, Florida Coalition of School Board Members. These members sit on the Education committee, along with reform supporters Commissioner of Education, Pam Stewart, and two of Governor Scott’s appointees to the State Board of Education, Chair Marva Johnson and Tom Grady.
Yesterday, the CRC Education Committee heard presentations on the use of public funds for private religious schools (an obvious attempt to clear the way for voucher expansion), the twice voter-approved Class Size Amendment, Civic Literacy and proposals to require all districts to appoint, rather than elect, their superintendent (Proposal 33); impose term limits on local school board members (Proposal 43) and eliminate the salaries of locally elected school boards (Proposal 32). All three proposals were presented by Commissioner Donalds. Despite significant public comment against them, the first two proposals (33 and 43) passed. Things got more interesting with Proposal 32 (you can watch here at 1:36:15).
Ms. Donalds presented the proposal, stating it was a public proposal by Sarasota County School Board member, Eric Robinson. Should she have disclosed that both she and Mr. Robinson serve in significant roles in the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM)? (By the way, she also failed to identify that so-called public Proposal 43, was also submitted by Indian River School Board member, Shawn Frost, her co-founder of the FCSBM.) Commissioner Donalds suggested that paying school board members would cause them to be “loyal” to their school district and eliminating the salary would remove this “conflict of interest” and “encourage loyalty to the public that the school board members are elected to serve.” Of course, in this era of assaults on public education by privatizers, supporters of public education likely see “loyalty to the school district” as a positive quality in a school board member where only those intent on dismantling our traditional school districts would see this as a conflict.
Of the seven citizens who presented during public comment, only Erika’s friend and FCSBM co-founder, Shawn Frost, supported the proposal. He spoke as a parent and his comments were brief encouraging the CRC to “redirect these 2o million dollars per year back into the classroom where they would do the most good.”
Public school parent and Legislative Director for the Florida AFL-CIO, Rich Templin stated that the elimination of salaries would “shut down these boards as avenues for the working class to serve their communities” suggesting the proposal was unintentionally “elitist.” Chris Doolin suggested that the proposal would restrict the number of people who would be willing to serve on school boards, especially in smaller counties. Andrea Messina, from the Florida School Boards Association, spoke in opposition to the proposal stating it would limit the pool of highly qualified candidates for school board. She also noted that the proposal equated boards of political appointees (like the State Board of Education) with independent local governments, insisting the two should not be confused. Travis Christensen, from Clay County, suggested the legislature already had the ability to set salaries for elected positions making it unnecessary to place this in the Constitution. Marie-Claire Leman, Leon County parent and (full disclosure) one of our partners in Common Ground, suggested that all three of Ms. Donalds’ proposals attack local control in the districts and putting them all together could create “a perfect storm.”
Common Ground questions why this salary decision couldn’t be made at the local level: “If a school board member wants to propose to their local board that their or their colleague’s salaries should be used for teacher salary instead, then perhaps they could debate that at the local level.” (Ms. Donalds appeared to find such a suggestion amusing, turning to smirk at her FCSBM co-founder, Mr. Frost.)
During debate on the proposal, things went astray. After FEE CEO Patricia Levesque declared this to be “the most important” proposal being considered today, which in the Florida Legislature would be a signal for all good legislators to support the proposal, two commissioners (Washington and Jordan) announced their intention to vote No.
In her close, Ms. Donalds emphasized that the role of a school board member is governance, not management. She suggested the proper way school board members serve their constituents is by “passing those constituents off to the staff” and suggested that serving as a school board member was not a full time job and, therefore, did not deserve to be paid. She dismissed concerns that the proposal was unintentionally elitist by listing the number of different ways citizens volunteer to serve their community and suggesting that even those who are not financially independent might choose to serve on a volunteer school board. She repeated her concern that school board members might develop a loyalty to their school district, creating a conflict of interest for school board members that “citizens don’t want,” concluding “We want them to be serving the public and the people and not serving the source of their income.” Is Ms. Donalds saying that being a paid school board member of Collier County Public Schools has made her disloyal to the citizens of Collier County? If not, then why would that be true of any other school board member in Florida?
Chair Johnson called for a roll call vote. With Commissioner Grady absent, four commissioners (Kaiser, Washington, Jordan and Johnson) voted “no” effectively killing the proposal. (yes votes were received from Sprowls, Stewart and Levesque). Watch at 2:05:25, when the nonsense ensued. Commissioner Johnson announced “by your vote, P32 is reported unfavorable.” Under ordinary circumstances that would be it… the proposal was voted down. But then, Commissioner Sprowls asked for a do-over:
“I think we’re asking for some clarification on staff whether there could be a motion to retain that last proposal prior to adjournment, and I don’t know if we have that answer yet… In the legislative process we have a motion to retain that keeps the proposal in the jurisdiction of the committee… I don’t know if our rules allow it…”
Chair Johnson allowed a 5 minute recess to determine if the CRC rules allowed P32 to be “retained.” (Spoiler Alert: they do not: Rule 6.2 allows a motion “to postpone to a day certain” but does not mention the ability to “retain” or “temporarily postpone.”) When the committee returned, Chair Johnson asked for a “recall of the roll of the prior vote for Proposal 32” at which time Commissioner Donalds made a motion to temporarily postpone the proposal and the proposal was postponed. Watch at 2:06:40, several commissioners appear embarrassed to be involved in the shenanigans.
The CRC rules do not make mention of the ability to “recall” a roll call vote and they only allow the postponement to “a day certain.”
With most of the discussion regarding “retaining”, “recalling” and “postponing” occurring off camera, it is unclear what really happened but we suspect some sore-losing with a side of baloney might have been involved. According to The Tampa Bay Times, the proposal “was postponed on a technicality after staff forgot to ask Donalds for her vote.” Apparently, staff had failed to call for Ms. Donalds’ vote for ANY of the three proposals so when given the chance to vote on Proposal 32, knowing it would lose, she postponed it instead. It is unclear whether she will bring the proposal back.
The funny thing is, when I reviewed the CRC rules to determine whether they allowed a proposal to be “retained” I found this (page 3):
“If the vote is on a question which would inure to a Commissioner’s special private gain or loss… the Commissioner must file with the Secretary, prior to or at the time of the vote, a statement disclosing a conflict of interest which discloses the nature of his or her interest, and refrain from voting.”
Ms. Donalds, as an active Collier County School Board Member, would “inure” a private loss (that of her salary). Based on CRC rules, she was INELIGIBLE to vote on this proposal due to her potential loss of salary. CRC rules require her to file a statement disclosing her conflict of interest on this matter (and once she reads this she has 15 days to do so). I wonder if any other commissioners on that committee have relatives or business associates serving on local school boards? They, too, would be ineligible.
If members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission are going to attempt to privatize public education by amending our Constitution, the least they could do is play by their own rules. Proposal 32 was voted down fair and square. If it returns for another vote it will make a mockery of the entire process.
Ms. Donalds has 15 days to file her conflict of interest statement. She’d better start writing…