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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…

10 Comments

  1. Travis Christensen

    This a a great breakdown. I was at the meeting and at the end I didn’t know what the hell happened. That Donald’s is a real piece of work. Never heard a publicly elected official belittle their own job to such a degree. I think the people of Collier County are being short changed.

    1. Sue Kingery Woltanski

      Thank you for your testimony.

    2. Anne Hartley

      You are absolutely right, Travis. Thanks for speaking at that that meeting. I’m a Collier parent who’s been watching Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter tear down the public schools since their 2014 election. They ran as parent advocates, then when voters took that bait, they switched to represent taxpayers/citizens/”the public” after their election. Commissioner Donalds and her husband, House Rep. Byron Donalds, co-founded a Hillsdale Barney charter school with School Board Member Kelly Lichter who still serves as President of its Board of Advisors. Ms. Lichter agitates on the Board for more money to be directed to charter schools. She believes her curriculum is superior. House Rep. Byron Donalds undermines public schools by sponsoring legislation that allows citizens to challenge textbooks (2017 HB989), and now another scholarship that redirects public funds to private schools (HB1). Commissioner Erika Donalds is working to reconfigure school boards so that people with means can serve. They’ve got all the bases covered: Erika Donalds and Kelly Lichter locally, Byron Donalds in state legislature, and Erika Donalds on the CRC. The CRC makes decisions that last 20 years, so the stakes are high. She may claim she hasn’t decided whether or not to run again, but if she has any intention to, she should refrain from voting.

      Circling back to your original point. I believe she only works a few days a month as a school board member. She has accomplished very little. In her last newsletter update in the Collier County Public Schools homepage, she wrote about HB 7069 and adding one more audit to a district has multiple internal and external audits. Her parent-attorney supporters wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on frivolous litigation. Giving these funds to instructional aides would have helped the district more, no question. In August 2018, I hope Collier voters will elect two new school board members who will support our whole community.

      1. SteveA

        The safest route will be to vote NO on all amendments.
        I’ve pretty much decided to do that with any that come out of Tallahassee as well.
        Our legislators routinely ignore amendmengs they don’t like, so why pass new ones? If the governor succeeds in packing the court on his last day in office, there will be no one watching out for us.

  2. Jim Doran

    Wow, what a devious and unethical attempt at destroying public education.

  3. Eric Robinson

    I do not hold any office wither now or in the past with FCSBM to state otherwise is simply not true.

    1. Sue Kingery Woltanski

      I clarified the post for you. We referred to you as serving a significant role because you chair a taskforce. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Eric Robinson

    I do not hold any office wither now or in the past with FCSBM to state otherwise is simply not true. I currently give away my salary that I receive as a school board member. To say that only rich people donate to make their community a better place is an elitist statement.

    For something to be a conflict it has to be specific and unique. Since it applies to all school board members it would not apply.

    It is also worth mentioning that a super majority of the school board members in America recieve no salary. 98% receive less than 20K in salary. As a school board member I receive over 40K , pension, medical, dental and other benefits. I give away the entire amount back to education activities in my county.

    We will not improve education by spending more money on politicians and not students.

    Eric Robinson
    School Board Member of Sarasota
    speaking on behalf of myself

    1. Sue Kingery Woltanski

      I do not believe we said “only rich people donate to make their community a better place”. Where do you see that? This post is about the school board salary proposal being voted down fair and square and, due to some sneaky technicality discussed off-camera and in private, getting a “do-over.” You will get another chance to argue the merits of the proposal if Ms. Donalds decides to defy the CRC rules and bring it back for another vote.

      We believe these should be local decisions and, as one speaker said, could be dealt with legislatively and not etched into the Constitution.

      Thank you for the generous donation of your school board salary.

  5. Jinia

    Thank you for the clarification. I think any reasonable definition of significant would be reached by a taskforce header. I appreciate Accountabaloney always airs on the side of ethics. It’s so refreshing against the backdrop dark money, bully, and backward behavior of those attacking public education in Florida. The contrast is stark. Again, thank you.

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