I'll fight for a teacher-friendly district; businessman Berryman will keep fiddling

The Learning Policy Institute has just published a major study on America's teacher shortage. It's titled: "A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S."

My only criticism is that the crisis isn't coming. It's here. The study makes that clear, especially in Florida. It also confirms empirically something I've said often on the campaign trail. Florida is probably America's most hostile state for teachers.

In interviews with teachers, Florida ranks next-to-worst (49th) in teacher classroom autonomy, next-to-worst (49th) in job insecurity due to testing, and 44th in teachers looking to leave the profession because it sucks for them. (We're also near the bottom of graduation rates -- far behind states like Alabama. So killing the teaching experience since since 1998 has achieved nothing. Thanks DoE.)

Polk despises its teachers more than any other American district

Those rankings are all based on 2012 data. It's gotten worse in Florida. And it certainly got worse in Polk. Extrapolate that data to Polk County in the LeRoy-Berryman era, which began in 2012. Again, it's important to remember that since the advent of school grades in 1998, no school district in Florida has more loyally pursued DoE's model: Choose. Test. Punish. Stigmatize. Segregate. Turnover. Repeat.

Beyond the basic model, under current Polk School Board oversight, we have:

-- Tried to cheat teachers out of masters degree pay -- and then endlessly filed losing legal appeals over multiple years, squandering $3.5 million.

-- Completely surrendered to the madness imposed by DoE at the Stigmatized 5 schools.

-- Reneged on incentive bonuses at the Stigmatized 5 schools.

-- Accused our teachers of stealing what's called LEAD money (for school supplies). Polk Director of Finance Jason Pitts wrote on August 31: "It is probable that many items bought with these funds never showed up in your classrooms in the past." He wrote that in a general letter to principals without any hint of evidence or data. If I casually accused the people who work for me of stealing from my company in an open letter, I wouldn't last the day.

-- Sicced labor lawyers on the teachers brave and decent enough to remain and low-balled them with a punitive 0 percent pay raise offer. And much higher health care costs.

This is just in the last couple of months. And just off the top of my head.

So I feel very comfortable in saying that our Polk School Board has proudly created America's most teacher-hating school district. And that's a very odd thing to be if you want good teachers at a time of great competition for their services.

What kind of business model is this?

Indeed, Mr. Berryman fancies himself a businessman supported by (mostly retired) businessmen. So let me put this to you, oh wise business leaders:

My company doesn't pay well. And among its competitors, it ranks essentially worst in employee autonomy, worst in job insecurity, and near worst in people desperate to leave. Is this a winning business model?

Mr. Berryman thinks so. Do you think so, retired business leaders? I don't think it's a winning business model. But what do I know?

The people like Mr. Berryman running this business model have one great advantage in keeping their racket going. Their employees are, by far, their moral betters. The moral commitment of most people who teach is the ONLY thing keeping public education alive in Polk County -- and to a somewhat lesser extent in Florida. Not surprisingly, their leaders exploit this moral commitment, this missionary instinct, endlessly.

Even more than that, these missionaries are the only people Hunt Berryman cares about punishing. Because they are the only people DoE and our Legislature cares about punishing. Tony Bellamy and Wes Bridges and Jason Pitts continue to collect checks from and for the Polk taxpayers, as surely as Hunt Berryman does. None of them have been publicly reprimanded for their incompetent performance, except by me.

The sound of silence

I cannot attend this morning's School Board work session. But I won't miss anything. The underlying purpose of every work session and meeting should be, "How do we support our teachers in the important moral work they do? How do our actions affect the willingness of teachers to work in our district at a time when a teacher shortage and teacher dissatisfaction is by far the most pressing educational issue in Polk County, Florida, and America."

But that will not be the purpose of this work session, just as it is never the purpose of our work sessions. The Hunt Berryman-board will continue to fiddle while Polk burns. And pat each other on the back for it.

If I'm lucky enough to win, that conversation will change radically. We'll see where that goes. We may burn with Rome, but the malicious fiddling will end.