As of today, I consider it mandatory that we honor previously established Level raises (sometimes known as steps) for all Polk School District employees. It will cost us about $4.3 million. We have the money to do it.
It's a simple choice between fulfilling our core function for our community or maintaining a "growing savings account" of dead money that Kelli Stargel and Tallahassee can raid at any time and divert toward fraud. I'll explain below.
I will vote for nothing out of the impasse process that does not include that. But I can go higher if anyone has the courage to join me. And I will openly use any failure to support level raises against other board members politically. I feel like I have no choice. And I want to be as clear about that now as I can be. I don't want to surprise anyone.
The survival of community government is stake
If community education -- even the idea of community-based government -- is going to beat back the assault from Kelli Stargel and our endlessly corrupt Florida Legislators, we have to unify our key community stakeholders. That extends across governments.
I was thrilled to see County Commissioner George Lindsey unload on our dreadful legislators. George and I are not normally seen as on the same ideological side. But I think this illustrates how meaningless ideology and party really are in this discussion. It's really a question of whether you're for or against fraud -- or "malfeasance," as George put it.
I know Mayor Gene Fultz in Lake Wales and Bartow City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer are great friends of community education, who are deeply aware of how it fits into community government. And how the state is harming both.
But it's going to be hard to unify our community governments to fight the Tallahassee fraud if the School District can't even unify our own internal stakeholders.
That's where the teacher impasse is so destructive -- and why the last year, culminating in this Legislative Session, is so clarifying.
Give Tallahassee everything; get nothing in return
It is obvious that the Polk School Board and district leadership, back in May or June of 2016, made a decision to take teachers to impasse. It's why they hired a Tallahassee-wired anti-labor lawyer. It's why they offered nothing and then said: "Counter." It's why we've gotten nowhere.
I believe, through close observation and inference, that the decisions made then were aimed at pleasing Tallahassee -- either lawmakers or DoE hacks or BoE hacks or all of the above. I believe, still, that our impasse is doing Tallahassee's work of destruction for it. I don't think anybody's evil for seeking Tally's approval. I just think they're disastrously wrong in imagining we have some sort good faith partner in our state government. We don't. We have Kelli Stargel and Joe Negron and Richard Corcoran and Rick Scott and Gary Chartrand and Pam Stewart. No good faith there at all.
They've shown we can't accommodate them -- no matter what we do. We have to fight them by mobilizing the public. However, it's hard for us to fight when our own teachers and key employees don't believe their School Board is in the fight with them. Our people are right to disbelieve. As of now, the Polk School Board, with the exception of me, has taken Kelli Stargel's side against our teachers and community. Period.
Doubt me? Consider the last year.
We made our teachers miserable; we gutted our middle schools with Stargel's fraudulent VAM that the Legislature is now running away from (more on that tragicomedy to come); and we even had Tim Harris serving as president of the Florida School Board Association, while praising the Florida education model from the School Board dais. It is fitting that the greatest Legislative attack on community education ever launched on Florida and Polk County happened on Tim's watch. I don't remember hearing even a drowsy public yawn about it from the FSBA's president? Do you? Whose side is he on?
And what did we get for it? Here's how our lobbyist Wendy Dodge summarized the budget:
The bottom line is that our schools will receive $8 less per student this year than last year and $174.60 less per student than ten years ago. We remain one of the lowest funded districts in the State, ranking 64th of 67 school districts in per student funding, and receiving $309.60 per student less than the state average and $2,312.25 less per student than the highest funded district in the State (Monroe).
This budget cuts the Base Student Allocation (BSA) by $27, the only flexible dollars districts receive to pay for turning on the lights and providing salaries for principals and teachers.
And that's before you get to Title 1 theft, Schools of Fraud and all the other horrible things Kelli Stargel helped pack into a 278-page K-12 budget bill that no one got to read or debate before its passage.
This is a hurricane
And what does Tim Harris think about that? Listen to his own words.
Watch this clip from our last meeting. Watch a board member whose time has passed him by.
The Polk County community has $174.60 less per student for education than it did a decade ago. Your state government refuses to let us fund ourselves. But Tim Harris wants "a growing savings account" for a "rainy day." That's his entire legacy.
Even the destructive state government allows a fund balance as low as 3 percent. We're at about 5 percent. The two percentage points between those numbers represents millions and millions and millions of dollars. I think the numbers show we can honor the previously negotiated level increases -- which relate to years of service -- without going much, if any, below 5 percent. But I'm willing to go as low as 4 percent to provide significant one-time bonuses (or some better idea) on top of levels.
By contrast, Tim Harris is willing to go to a no-raise impasse over growing the percentage of the fund balance savings account -- when the Borg are coming to assimilate us, when the White Walkers are coming over the Wall. Rainy day? Hurricane Kelli has been laying waste to community education for years. And all Tim Harris has ever fought for is her approval.
It does no good to increase your household savings account if you don't feed and clothe your children. In fact, they'll put you in jail for that. But that's what Tim Harris proposes for our people. That's the reality. That's where we are.
This moment is everything. We need to preserve as much of the local education service as we can -- right now -- so the politics of Stargel's Schools of Fraud approach can play out in the next 18 months. Help is on the way. The Florida model -- and this new stuff -- is dreadfully unpopular across parties and ideologies.
Politics is finally organizing around education again. And no one is on Kelli Stargel's side but the Common Core lickspittles like Travis Pillow at Jeb's foundation -- and people like Joe Negron and Richard Corcoran. If I was wrong, Kelli Stargel would be out and about talking about how awesome her policies are. She's hiding while I pound away.
If we win this fight, we can rebuild with the state as an actual partner and start growing the savings account again. If we lose, we're doomed anyway. Either way, it makes no sense to hoard resources now.
There will be no plan or help from this state government
Lynn Wilson made a great point in the Title 1 theft story that Madison Fantozzi wrote for The Ledger.
[Wilson] added that if there is intent to move to a system that is majority charters, the process to fund districts left with students with the most challenges in traditional schools needs to start now.
That's totally true in a good faith world. But that's not our world. The "process to fund districts left with students with the most challenges" is not going to start. Ever. Everyone must come to terms with that. You want it to be one way; but it's the other.
As I've said before, our legislators want to destroy the traditional schools and replace them with nothing. Lynn has a hard time wrapping his head around that. But he shouldn't. He watched Kelli Stargel's VAM equation do it at our middle schools over the summer. Gut the teaching staff against principals' will and replace it with nothing. Literally. And then pay useless consultants because the state wanted us to. That's the closest thing to a comprehensive education plan your state government has.
Indeed, all we're doing with our "savings account" is hoarding cash so that Kelli Stargel and state government can find a way to divert it -- perhaps to the "Profitable Group" School of Fraud coming to South Lakeland. All we're doing is hoarding money for Rep. Jamie Grant of Hillsborough County, who is on the board of that morally fraudulent school. See the image below.
Instead, we need to get as many resources as we can into our people's hands. Now. If for no other reason than to prevent state-sanctioned looting.
Failure is always, always, always an option
My community voted for me overwhelmingly, I think, because I told them I would fight this fight for them. I meant it.
But fighting does not guarantee winning. Failure and loss are always options. I have taken dead aim at Kelli Stargel's career and reputation. Because she deserves it. But she could well beat us. Maybe I will lose in 2020. Maybe the public wants to destroy traditional public schools and replace them with nothing.
I see no real indication of that. But it's also true that party inertia in a red county is powerful. You can get away with almost anything at the state level if you have an R by your name in Polk County. (I'm an NPA, for what it's worth.) It is extremely difficult to personalize policy maker and outcome at the legislative level. But that's what I'm trying to do.
If we are going to win, we are going to have to relentlessly tie individual names and actions to the destruction of public schools. We are going to have to convince people to act and vote outside their comfortable party contours.
I am all-in on that process. I'm not afraid to lose, although I do fear the community consequences of losing. The consequences for not fighting are just as dire, though. We are in a war for the existence of community education against our own state government.
The first step in winning that war is not to fight it on behalf of our enemies. End the impasse. And pick a side. Now.