School Board Latest News From The September 5, 2021 Edition

 

The next meeting will be September 9, 2021.

 

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School Board Latest News From The August 22, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING AUGUST 17, 2021:

 

One of the board’s quieter members, Anthony Anderson, gave a big speech that I am afraid is being misconstrued by the very people he was speaking to.

 

Tony often goes the long way around to make his points…and those points sometimes are then lost on his listeners. That afternoon he was forceful and correct in what he said. I have at times disagreed with him on school matters. Yet when he is expressing things, I believe are right, I want to make sure that I say so.

Anderson opened with how wonderful a place Martin County is. How proud he is having been born here. He touched on the war over desegregation when he was child of 9 or 10. I am several years older than Anderson, and I remember being a 10-year-old visiting my grandparents who lived in Lake City at the time, and how crazy it seemed to me that there were separate facilities and entrances for black and white. It was a theme he returned to a few times in his remarks.

 

He had been receiving calls and emails regarding masks. One of my issues with Anderson is at times he seems to be thinking as a union member and not as a school board member. I believe it might have been old friends from his teaching days that were asking why he wouldn’t champion their causes.

 

Then of course he mentioned the anti-masking side. He described how their emails and incivility when speaking is disturbing. He brought up the desegregation of the school system in the late 1960s in Martin County. His father bringing him to school board meetings where both sides spoke. What he does not remember was the level of disrespect and animosity on the part of the people at the meetings that he sees today.

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Having listened to the speakers, I agree with Anderson. It is not the fact that parents or anti-mask supporters are expressing their opinions, but it is the virulence with which they do. Anderson agrees that people have rights in their homes, but a schoolhouse is a public house and individual rights need to be balanced.

 

Anderson also mentioned several times that there is more behind this than masks and vaccines. For a small number of very vocal people, it is political and about race. He said that George Floyd was a tipping point for Black folks. BLM was an outgrowth of not an anti-police sentiment but rather a perception by a few in law enforcement that their actions did not have the same consequences for blacks as whites in situations. To him, all lives matter.

 

He wanted to remind everyone that white folk were key and instrumental in ending segregation. They came to be part of the struggle. At times, they died to end segregation.

 

The call for defunding the police was also a reaction to what was happening. He was raised to have respect for authority. While he may disagree with the governor on things, he respects the governor’s authority to prohibit mask and vaccine mandates. School Board Member Anderson will follow direction from Tallahassee.

 

He was a civics and history teacher at Anderson Middle for years. Anderson gave a little history and civics lesson regarding John Locke and the social contract. On what limited government is and that it does not mean no government. It is too bad that more people did not take Anderson’s civic lessons to heart.

 

He also mentioned demographics and the changing racial landscape. To him, America has always been a melting pot. The loss of demographic numbers to groups should not mean those groups flip out.

 

Anderson and the other school board members are not going to challenge DeSantis’ authority regardless of their own personal beliefs. They are going to follow Tallahassee’s lead. Martin is not Broward or Dade…there will be no defying of the Department of Education rules here.

 

To me, the main point is that certain elements of both sides are politicizing the schools and using the kids to make political points. This is counter to the purpose and mission of the schools. Public education was supposed to be a unifying influence. That is clearly no longer true.

 

Anderson also mentioned that Critical Race Theory is not taught in Martin County Schools. It has never been taught in the schools and never will be taught in the schools. As a point of reference, CRT has never been part of any Florida curriculum. It has been around since the 1960s but is a theory that a few law schools would touch upon and surely not Stuart Middle.

 

But in the hyper-partisan and unread world we live in, a speaker mentioned that it was being taught at Hidden Oaks Middle School during public comment. When Superintendent Millay was asked about it later in the meeting, he gave an explanation that one of the library lesson modules that students can access was about race relations. This was added to the modules without the district being made aware as was a module on COVID. Race relations and CRT are two different topics.

 

I looked at the screen shots that were included in the email to board members that were supposedly about CRT and the Covid module. Quite frankly it is the usual dribble that now passes for lessons in our public schools. It is far from the dreaded CRT and intellectually imbecilic. If I were a parent, I would be more worried about the dumbing down of the curriculum than some supposed attempt to brainwash kids. 

 

You can find the district’s entire explanation  here

 

Ms. Defenthaler wanted to have the health department and Cleveland Clinic report on Covid. It was immediately brushed aside by her fellow board members. A few mentioned the district dashboard that has the up-to-date numbers.

She continued in this vein. The others simply did not want to have the presentations. This board is already inundated with people commenting on everything but education.

 

I understand her desire to have the compelling presentations made but to what end. Under current circumstances, this board has no authority to require masks or vaccines. It would only invite more public comment that has nothing to do with the business of the district.

 

Defenthaler is tone deaf to her fellow board members. She needs to stop trying to please those she once worked with and concentrate on policies Tallahassee allows her to make. It was obvious to me that this was going nowhere, and it should have been to her.

 

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School Board Latest News From The August 8, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD BUDGET MEETING JULY 27, 2021:

 

There is always some politicking going on from every dais. It is inevitable that it occurs because they are politicians. The School Board has the least of that going on.

 

That is not to say that their actions are not political at times. The political has more to do with their different philosophical approaches than with currying favor with the crowd. Maybe they are sometimes worried about their next election but most of what they do is because they have no choice but to follow the law.

 

At this meeting, which was setting the maximum millage rate, the board voted not to increase any of the rates that they control. However, not every rate is controlled by the local board. The state levies what is known as the “Local Required Effort.” Tallahassee lowered the rate from 3.6990 to 3.5750, a decrease of .1240.

You would think that by lowering the millage rate taxpayer’s pay less. In the convoluted world of Florida real estate tax law, sometimes when you lower the rate, taxpayers end up paying more. There is something called the “Roll Back” Rate which could mean the amount people pay goes up even with the rate going down. That is what happened here.

 

Each year, the 67 school districts must charge the state rate that Tallahassee sets. The taxes collected under this “local required effort” is then sent to Tallahassee for funding education throughout the state. Tallahassee then sends money back to the districts with each student receiving the same amount of funding. The state cut the rate for the entire state that resulted in Martin County of having a tax increase due to the roll back rate.

 

The board didn’t say a word. They knew that it wouldn’t matter. They followed the law and did what they were supposed to do.

 

You cannot make this stuff up!

 

The entire budget next year is nearly $487 million. This year and last is a transition year for changing budget classifications. Certain budget lines have not been expressing the true amount of spending.

That is why even though it appears that capital items had a large increase, it did not in terms of actual dollars. Prior to Assistant Superintendent of Finance Morrison’s tenure, they did not track Roll Forward funding. “Roll Forward means a ledger account’s ending balance that becomes its starting balance in the subsequent period. They are often part of so called “roll forward reports,” which include a breakdown of the current period starting balance and all debit and credit activity — the sum of which is the roll forward value (a/k/a ending balance).”*

 

The capital project’s increase was not $84 million but $17 million over last year.

 

As the district introduces better accounting concepts, these huge discrepancies should go away. To see the outlines of the budget you can go here

 

*From “Understand Financial Analysis” by Noah Glenn

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP AUGUST 3, 2021:

 

The board devoted most of this workshop to a presentation from the Gehring Group outlining the principles of self-insurance.

 

This is not the first time this board has looked at switching from a more traditional insured plan to one where the district is more at risk for losses. The district is the one that will pay the medical bills of those in the plan. Under traditional insurance the insurance company takes the responsibility to meet all the medical expenses.

 

Once the medical reserves are built up, the district and the employees can save money over time. I think it is a good idea to explore the possibilities that self-insurance can mean. At the same time there is probably a few years in the beginning where it will result in higher costs.

 

Presently Stuart, Martin County, and the Sheriff are all using self- insurance plans. They rely on a third-party provider to operate the clinic that provides primary care. The school board is a larger employer than the City of Stuart. It has worked well for those entities, and it is very feasible.

 

As with any self-insured program, what could be problematic is the demographics of the employees. The older and less healthy could bring up the amount of money needed to pay out claims. Insurance, whether a traditional plan or a self-insured plan, is a market. It operates as such. The more you use…the more you pay.

 

The other factor is whether the employees buy in. Change is always hard to sell. Carter Morrison was concerned that they would need more people on his staff. It also seemed that the Risk Management & Safety Department should probably be transferred to under finance if this occurs.

 

The board has asked for more information. You can see the presentation here

here

 

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School Board Latest News From The July 25, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP JULY 13, 2021:

 

There were presentations outlining procedures for the new school year.

A couple of speakers continued to harp about not requiring masks. This prompted Chair Powers to reiterate that masks are not mandatory either for the present summer programs or the new school year. Those that come and speak as if the board is mandating masks look foolish and ill-informed. A quick peak at the district website would tell anybody that fact.

 

A few other facts were mentioned. There is no more Martin County school-based remote learning. Students enrolled in the district must attend classes in person. For those wanting to have classes virtually, parents must sign up their child at Florida Virtual or Mosaic.

 

If a student is unable to attend school because of being in quarantine or sick, instructional materials and coursework may be accessed online by signing into ClassLink and then accessing either Schoology, a learning management system, or Google Classroom depending on the course.

There will be assigned seats on busses. Children must swipe their ID cards when they board and as they depart. There are assigned seats in the classrooms. The district may require assigned seating in other settings such as cafeterias. At this time, they have not done so.

 

There is no vaccine mandate for students. If a vaccinated student or school employee is considered a close contact of someone testing positive, then they do not have to quarantine unless they are showing symptoms. However, if a vaccinated student is awaiting Covid test results and is asymptomatic, he/she can return to school. Unvaccinated students or unvaccinated students in the same household must stay home.

 

The district will no longer transfer students to remote learning when self-isolating/quarantined as required by DOH. A student who tests positive or is

quarantined by DOH must remain home and access online assignments by signing into ClassLink.  For a non-COVID 19 illness, students may return to school once he or she is symptom-free including no fever of 100.4 or higher in the previous 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

 

Volunteers and visitors will be allowed back in the schools. They will be subject to the same protocols as employees and students. As before the pandemic, they must remain in the areas they are assigned and permitted.

 

Employees cannot telework. Every employee must be back physically at the district. The district will no longer be providing paid leave for Covid exposure and infection. Employees will use personal leave as they would for any other illness. (Every government should utilize this procedure for employees that have Covid.)

 

You can find the presentation here

 

There was a second presentation by Deputy Superintendent Featherstone entitled “Martin County School District Success Plan 2021-2025.” According to the presentation, the vision is for “A dynamic system of educational excellence” and the mission is to “Educate all students for success.” It goes on to state things near and dear to a bureaucrat’s heart.

 

To those of you who are not government administrators, corporate vice-presidents for large companies, or army generals, it will seem like a foreign language. Like so much of government speak, it is unintelligible. For those of you who want to take a look, go here

 

INDIANTOWN BUSSES AND WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US

 

If you read the Indiantown section, I write about a request by the Indiantown Council to have busses parked at the schools in case of an emergency evacuation. I said that may be a good idea if the drivers are residents of the village or western Martin County. Like many things, when it comes to government, nothing is simple.

Apparently, Jensen Beach and Hobe Sound also want the same. Li Roberts brought up several scenarios. An active shooter event would not be listed here because they have their own evacuation scenarios. These evacuations would be for something like a gas leak.

 

Yet what good are busses without drivers? How much will it cost to have drivers at the ready. Another consideration was where to fuel the busses. Ms. Powers suggested a deal could be made with a local gas station to purchase fuel. Mr. DiTerlizzi, who is a station owner, said that the board is exempt from paying most taxes. Local station owners are not equipped to do everything necessary to rebate the tax amounts.

Then Ms. Roberts wanted to know how many evacuations there have been. What is the timing of them? How much would all this cost?

 

It seems to me we have spent an inordinate amount of funds to secure schools. They have turned into minimum security prisons. Armed officers are in the halls. Fences and locked doors are the rule. Now we are going to layer on one more thing to remind children of how dangerous their world is now. What is the psychological effect of all this on the kids?

 

The board has said that they do not have the funds to bus children that live less than 2 miles from schools. To conserve funds, that policy makes sense. We now are going to make busses and drivers available throughout the day for something that may or may not occur. It seems it is much more probable that a kid will be injured walking to school than being hurt by a gas leak.

 

Kathleen Watts, Director of Transportation, created two memos outlining why the bus depot was closed. It seems by doing so the district followed through on the board’s wishes to cut costs. Now it seems they may be looking to ramp that up again.

 

Watts points out all the reasons why staging busses at school is not a good idea. Another fact she mentions is that busses need to transport not only the students they usually do but the entire school in case of an evacuation. That would require more busses than what would be available at any one school. She writes in the memo that the school population needs to evacuate to a site off campus as soon as possible. Just like a fire drill the kids need to leave fast and in an orderly way.

 

You can find the two memos here

 

Most of this is political. It has nothing to do with safety. It is not a logical risk assessment but more a political calculation. That is what government has become even with schools.

 

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School Board Latest News From The July 11, 2021 Edition

 

Next meeting July 13, 2021.

 

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School Board Latest News From The June 27, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING JUNE 15, 2021:

 

The new CTE (Career & Technical Education) programs for aviation and marine industries were discussed.

 

It seems CTE are the new watch words in “education.” There is a definite place for technical learning so that kids who are not going to college have relevant skills for jobs in today’s world upon graduation. The district, numerous non-profits, and IRC are all offering or attempting to offer these types of courses. The question to be answered is whether they are really producing the needed education for these students to assume jobs and if so, are the groups duplicating programs?

 WELDERS (Archive.Org)

Ms. Roberts and other board members were asking the same questions. CTE, once known as vocational education and before that as manual education, has been around since the mid-19th century. Prior to that, the focus of school was to teach kids how to read and write.

 

It was with the birth of the modern comprehensive high school in the 1920s that children were expected to be in school through 12th grade. Classes in mechanics, home economics, metal and carpentry were introduced. By the time a student became a junior, he/she was either going to go onto college or would be getting a job upon graduation.

 

Coordination between entities who might be duplicating services is not highly prized in Martin County. Although CTE fell out of favor in public education, it is now back with a vengeance and many entities want a piece of the action.

 

Ms. Roberts and the board have a right to be concerned about duplication. More of us in Martin County should also. No matter who is providing the training, most of the money is coming from our tax dollars.

 

RUMORS…INUENDO…MONEY

 

During public comment, several members of the public made remarks regarding things that are untrue.

Apparently, there is a rumor going around that masks are still mandatory. They are not. Nor do I suspect they will be coming back anytime soon. The same goes for remote learning as an option. There are no plans for that in the next school year either.

 

Speakers also referred to “Critical Race Theory” and how it shouldn’t be taught. It has never been part of the curriculum in Florida schools and now Tallahassee has weighed in that it never will. One speaker said the principal had changed “Mr. & Mrs. Southfork” to “Alpha & Zeta Dog” to be more in line with gender neutrality. No school board member addressed that comment as to whether it is true or not and if the change was made it was for that purpose or for some other reason.

 

Chair Powers asked Dr. Miller, who oversees curriculum, to explain how approval of a syllabus and material are obtained. Miller explained that the district, through committees and the board, takes months and months to review what is going to be taught and what materials will be used. The district cannot teach anything that is against state guidelines.

 

The curriculum for every subject is on the school board’s website for anyone to see. It can be found here and then by following the tabs, you can see each grade level and subject matter.

 

And to see what the Florida subject standards are you can go here

 

Does this mean that any individual teacher cannot try and inject an opinion into the course work? The answer is no. We all have our prejudices and biases. However, teachers can only use the course material that has been approved. If a student or parent believes that a teacher has overstepped, then Powers said that they should contact a member of the board or superintendent so that the allegation can be investigated.

 

No surprise that Florida ranks 46th out of 51 states and DC on per capita educational spending. The amount spent does not consider all that is budgeted for the district. However, it is a snapshot of what other states are spending using the same criteria. According to Powers, the district spends more than $20,000 per student.

 

You can see the report here here

 

ORG CHART

 

At the last workshop, Superintendent Millay presented a new district organizational chart.

The Board had asked him to cut overhead. He diligently has done so by changing around positions. One of those positions was a director of human resources. He has folded that function into a deputy superintendent position. Millay’s thinking was that when Ginger Featherstone retires next year, the person who takes her place must have HR experience.

 

The Board, led by Powers and Roberts, believes that immediately they should have someone who understands all aspects of human resources since it is so critical to the district. The only one who thought that Millay should be given some slack was Anderson so that he could learn for himself. I think Anderson is right, but if the board is telling Millay to hire someone, then of course he is going to do it.

 

The org chart will be updated to reflect that decision. The chart can be found here here

 

5th BUDGET WORKSHOP JUNE 22, 2021:

 

CFO Carter Morrison presented the 5th workshop on the road to budget adoption. He outlined what has been cut and what has been added. He explained how the millage rate is controlled by the state. Tallahassee also controls how much you can spend on different educational components. It has come to the point of why even local school boards exist.

 

Morrison is working on a budget book that will be on the website and will promote transparency. While there is a lot of content on government websites already, how many people read or have their questions answered there. So, the more that is on the website, the better for those like me, but most do not take advantage of the resources available.

 

You can see a sample of the “budget book” here

 

The bids for the two new schools have increased over a million dollars each. That is not a surprise given how prices for building materials and labor have gone up recently. However, given a drop in enrollment, does the district even need two new schools? With the popularity of the charter and the home-schooling movement, are we building for the moment or for the future?

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Martin County is ripe for growth in those areas. Several new public charters may be looking to open in the county in the next few years which would change the dynamic of the district. I am not always in agreement with Governor DeSantis, but I am on this. Parents should have choices about where and, to some extent, how their children are educated. The way we do things now in conventional school districts are more fitting for the society of a century ago than today’s.

 

You can see the entire presentation  here

 

Another item under discussion is the combining and outsourcing of legal services including labor negotiations. Under the old system of an elected superintendent, the district had a legal staff, and the board had an attorney. That system was set up for conflict. Now that the superintendent works for the board, the supposed conflict should cease. The question that the board and superintendent are trying to figure out is should all legal services be outsourced.

John Millay

I think there is agreement on that by all. It seems how to accomplish it is in question. Dr. Millay is pushing Sniffen and Spellman to be the firm. The board has indicated they want to do an RFP to see what is best. Whatever the outcome, the district will end up saving money and being more cohesive.

 

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School Board Latest News From The June 13, 2021 Edition

 

BUDGET MEETING MAY 27, 2021:

 

The school district is very lucky to have CFO Carter Morrison, a consummate professional, on board. I am not a staff or board member, so I do not know what it is like to work with him. If he is just blowing smoke, then he is the best smoke blower I have ever seen. However, the truth must be that he is the best at his job.

                         Pinterest

Morrison began his presentation outlining the past legislative session and how it will impact school districts. Presentation slide after slide demonstrated how the independence of local school districts is slipping away. This is nothing new only the increasing ferocity with which the Lords of Tallahassee exhibit their disregard for local voters’ control.

 

Instead of just doing away with local districts all at once, the state is slowly chipping away at their ability to choose curriculum or whether to promote a child or not. I believe that the concept of district public-guided education is anachronistic. All schools should be charters determining their own curriculums etc. with the state providing only the necessary licensing for teachers and facilities much as they do for doctors and hospitals now.

 

Every parent will pick the school the child attends. Once enrolled, the state would send the voucher payment to the school. The curriculum would meet some broad state standards that were outlined in the facility’s license.

 

Being the pessimist that I am I could see Tallahassee meddling as to substance and form which would negate the parent choice of what the curriculum should contain. As an example, one bill just passed that mandates health education and in what grade it can be taught. Another bill allows parents to opt out of health education if they do not agree with what is being taught. That is the schizophrenic nature of Tallahassee.

               Florida Capitol

It is mandated that there be a “Moment of Silence” at the start of each day. It must be more than one minute but no more than 2 minutes. It is for contemplation. The state has decided that children need at least 60 seconds but not longer than 120 seconds of nothing. Zen for dummies at its finest.

 

What does all this have to do with a budget? If you are going to teach a health curriculum as dictated, then the money must come from somewhere. The state is not providing funds…only orders. They mandate how much to tax. What can be spent on transportation. Minimum salaries paid to teachers and so much more.

 

Governor DeSantis may be trying to make districts obsolete. Martin County enrollment is down and even with the development happening in Stuart, there does not seem to be a need to build more schools. There was even discussion about opening Jensen Beach High School to St Lucie County students to fill the seats.

 

All the numbers are in the presentation attached here

 

I believe we are on a decline in the number of pupils the traditional public schools will have in the coming years. If another charter school were opened, you would probably see another 500 kids leave. It is time we re-imagine what it means to be a public-school student.

 

BOARD MEETING MAY 27, 2021:

 

If there is one good thing in the past year that happened, it was that board meetings are now being televised via YouTube. For someone like me that must “attend” tons of meetings to write the newsletter, this one thing has been a godsend.

 

So, when a meeting is now not televised, I immediately think that there is something trying to be hidden from the public. This meeting was not televised. There were no backup materials in the agenda package (sadly, a too common occurrence with this board.) What am I to believe?

                John Millay

The sole purpose of the meeting was to go over the board’s first evaluations of Dr. Millay. Asking political boards to write evaluations is usually not helpful to ascertaining what each board member really thinks about the superintendent or manager. In this case, the evals were at best perfunctory.

 

At 6 months, the superintendent hasn’t been here long enough to warrant an accurate assessment. With COVID thrown in he has been dealing with too many fires that may have precluded his ability to undertake some initiatives that he had anticipated.

 

When I was on the advisory committee to pick the first appointed superintendent, Dr. Millay was not on my final list. He was also not on any of the final lists of any of the other 30 plus members of that committee. And it was also not a unanimous choice to hire him by the board either. The vote was 3-2.

 

Since there isn’t a meeting to watch or a recording to hear, there isn’t anything to help place these written evaluations in context to better understand what the board was thinking or wanted to convey when doing them. There is no subtlety of the spoken word to go by. And that is too bad for the public.

 

If I were rating Millay, I would give him an incomplete at this point. I think he has great promise, but it is too early to tell whether it will come to fruition. If anything, he may be too cautious in his approach. Too much a creature of the academic system to effectuate the change that some board members, school employees, and parents want.

 

I think a fair time to do a real evaluation would be this time next year. Millay has a steep learning curve when it comes to Florida and especially Martin County. He just needs more time.

 

All board members need to be completely honest with him. These checked-box evaluations are cursory when dealing with a position of such important leadership. A public, open and frank conversation needs to occur between employee and board. Seldom does that happen at the district level…or at the county or municipalities either, for that matter.

 

Finally, it is the board’s responsibility to make sure that these meetings are televised. The agenda items need to be on the website prior to the meetings for the public to view. Citizens shouldn’t have to go searching for things. The board that claims to want transparency needs to make sure it is provided.

 

The evaluations can be found here

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING JUNE 1, 2021:

 

A few days before the board met to evaluate Dr. Millay…perhaps they should have waited until after this meeting to turn in their evaluations.

 

Millay has recently begun to look at his administrative staff in a different way than previous superintendents. He wants to eliminate some positions and reimagine several others to focus more on the classroom. He envisions eliminating the COO position which I never believed was well thought out in terms of its job functions within the district structure.

Dr. Millay’s vision also begins to eliminate the inhouse legal team and outsource to an outside legal firm that specializes in education. That makes far more sense than the way the district is organized now. Some current directors become assistant superintendents. Carter Morrison becomes assistant superintendent of finance while Dr. Tracy Miller becomes assistant superintendent of academics.

 

The superintendent will have more direct reports. He also has decided to have an executive cabinet. It is Millay’s vision to better integrate the administrative and school-based functions. It is probably something that should be tried. You can read and see the reorg charts and descriptions by going here

 

Unfortunately, the latter part of the meeting received the headlines. Two incongruous ideas followed…the district expects a 3% decline in student population next year and David L. Anderson Middle School could be the 4th high school in the district. It was just two weeks earlier that Board Member Roberts suggested that Jensen Beach High School should be opened to St. Lucie County for a year or two because the school has excess capacity.

 

Staff seemed to be saying that the 3% dip would be temporary. Because of the supposed development that will be occurring, more FTEs will be needed. This is all supposition, and the district should be contemplating a different academic world. The past will not be repeated. While Dr. Millay is rethinking non-school staff, there needs to be the same re-evaluation for schools.

 

While I do not think we should rush into Anderson’s transformation, if at some point a 4th high school is needed then I like the Anderson Middle idea. I would propose to make it a high school focusing on academics for those students looking to go to college. That would require much less time to change the facility from a middle school to a high school.

 

You can add more CTE classes to the existing high schools. By not having so many infrastructure changes, it is less expensive to convert Anderson. I like Mr. DiTerlizzi’s idea about having kids who want to be on sports teams playing at Martin County because that would also save money. Of course, all is predicated on whether Martin County becomes inundated with kids.

 

Many of our residents are familiar with this problem as they have come here from Long Island and other places that experienced exponential growth. Often, those families found that after graduation, their kids decided to move to other places. Schools became empty and needed to be sold and repurposed. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent by districts building schools that ended up vacant.

 

Like most other parts of government, schools need to be evaluated with a fresh eye. We should not rush into any decisions but take a wait and see approach. I do like that Millay is beginning to think outside the box.

 

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School Board Latest News From The May 23, 2021 Edition

 

BOARD MEETING MAY 12, 2021:

 

The meeting was all about policy…the present and future of how the Martin County School District will work going forward.

                        Pinterest

Superintendent Millay outlined his plan about how to move forward. With the upcoming school year, there will be a full return to traditional in-person learning. All students registered with the district will attend class every day. There is the option to home school and attend Florida Virtual School for those wanting that alternative.

 

The district will follow a voluntary mask policy as recommended by the Florida Department of Education in 2021/22 school year. This does not preclude a return to a stricter policy if circumstances change. They are encouraging all eligible students, teachers, and employees to become fully vaccinated. Those who are vaccinated will not be required to quarantine following contact with a positive case.

 

Presently, the board will continue mandating fully masked students, teachers, and personnel through the end of this school year. What many do not understand is there is an approved COVID plan in place for the remainder of this school year. To change it now would require permission from Tallahassee. For the less than two weeks remaining in this school year, it is not possible.

 

This year’s graduations will also have optional masks for seniors and guests since they will not be returning to the classroom. Beginning on June 1, summer session and other school activities and programs, whether to mask or not will be optional.

 

While the board may feel this is a sensible policy, there was a contingent of parents who spoke against masks. Some were very emotional. There were no new reasons offered as to why an immediate change in policy is warranted.

 

The board agreed with the policies and so the end of COVID restrictions for the schools are in sight.

 

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School Board Latest News From The May 9, 2021 Edition

 

BUDGET WORKSHOP & SPECIAL MEETING APRIL 27, 2021:

 

A presentation was made by Apptegy which is a company that specializes in school board apps that keep parents and students informed. It allows the district a marketing tool. There is a live feed available. They also would build and manage the website.

 

This is about building your brand to compete with other options for parents such as charters and virtual. Interesting that the public schools would need to compete with those options. Perhaps one should look at what you are offering as compared to other options.

 

Most of what I learned in school was rote memorization in the lower grades. A student memorized the times tables, the periodic chart, a poem, or the capitals of each state. As we became older, we then were able to apply those facts to more abstract concepts. It doesn’t appear that is done as much anymore.

At a recent school event I attended elite high school students could not name the first 4 presidents of the United States. Knowing that fact in and of itself is only important because it then allows you to conceptualize why our nation evolved the way it did. The next question asked was which of those first four attended the Constitutional Convention. Only one of the students knew the answer.

 

Washington was the presiding officer and Madison became the “Father of the Constitution.” Our nation may have been quite different if Adam had been presiding officer and Jefferson the primary author. Both were in Europe serving as ambassadors at the time. Without those simple facts it is hard then to understand our constitutional evolution.

 

Some charters have students begin reading the Declaration and Constitution in the early grades…not textbooks about the documents but the documents themselves. They are learning fundamentals so that when older, there can be informed interpretation.

 

Perhaps that method is not appropriate for every student. That particular brand is not what the school district is selling. Yet for a charter, it is easy to sell that brand to enough parents to have a school or two. Other schools will sell other individualized educational brands. It is hard to sell the public-school brand in this stratified world. The district should try the app, but ultimately it will not make much difference to those parents searching out charters, virtual schools, and home schooling.

 

You can find the presentation here

 

During the budget portion, CFO Carter Morrison made almost the same presentation as in the last meeting because many of his state figures are not yet set. Now that the legislature has adjourned, he will know more about which revenue streams will supply what funds.

 

The key here is that there has been a steady erosion of students from regular district schools. The budget is worked out based on student numbers. There are now about 18,000 students which is less than in the recent past. Every student that goes to a charter or virtual costs the school district funds.

 

To take a peek at the budget so far you can go here

 

The district will offer the teachers a $1000 bonus to work in the summer. This deal has already been agreed to by the unions.

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP MAY 4, 2021:

 

The board held a workshop in essence to discuss the use of ESSER Funds. Those are the funds that are part of the CARES Act funding for educational stabilization due to Covid. It was a complicated discussion to follow without the spread sheet available.

 

I have asked an expert to come to the rescue. Board Member Roberts has agreed to do just that. Thank you, Ms. Roberts for writing this so quickly.

 

Dear Tom:

Thanks for reaching out for some clarity regarding yesterday’s workshop regarding ESSER II funding that was discussed.

 

There have been a variety of funding programs (like CARES, GEERS, ESSER, ESSER II) that K-12 public school districts have been able to utilize to address the unexpected costs and consequences of the global pandemic.  Each program has specific assurances that must be met, categories that expenses must fall into, and a calendar for when the expense was incurred.  

 

There has been some frustration when funding has been allocated and designated to cover a longer period (like two years) then subsequent reports did not show a huge spend down of those funds in the near term.  This was referred to several times by this year’s Florida legislature when legislators were dismayed to find large pots of money unclaimed by districts.  

 

From the other perspective, many districts were attempting to stretch the funds over the two-year period, so it wasn’t surprising that only 25% of funds had been expended when only 25% of the designated time (6 months of the two years) had passed.  Some of this money was gathered back for reallocation effectively punching holes in crafted plans.  Keep in mind, that prudently this money was handled on a reimbursement method whereby a district needed to incur the expense, pay the bill, then seek reimbursement.  For personnel expenses (additional instructional or support staff), employees must work first before payment, so those type expenses truly stretch over a scheduled time period. 

 

Our workshop last evening was to have a meaningful discussion regarding the ESSER II money that is currently being planned for.  There was a seventeen-page memo from Florida Department of Education Commissioner Corcoran dated March 16, 2021 with information regarding ESSER II that I have attached for additional detailed information. (You can see it here

 

In that memo, Martin County was estimated to receive $12 million (pg 16) from ESSER II.  Since that date, the legislature has allocated funds from ESSER II to meet various anticipated expenses for K-12 education effectively reducing the amount that will be ultimately distributed.  At this time, we anticipate at least a fifty percent reduction, and our best guess is between four and five million dollars that will be available for Martin County.  So, these actual numbers are all preliminary and there is still a state of flux until the actual formulas are revealed from Tallahassee.  

 

Yes, charter schools receive a portion of those funds in a manner determined by the Florida Department of Education.  Last evening the School Board reviewed and discussed an eighteen-page spreadsheet prepared by Staff regarding ESSER II and priorities.  I’ve also attached the Spreadsheet so you can follow along.  The Spreadsheet describes each item, indicates the accounting code, details the allowable category, estimates a cost, and then labels the priority.   I’ll add some detail on our discussions. (You can find it here

 

The first group of funds include an estimate of funding to charter schools; namely $859,211.94 for 1,238 charter students.  It’s obvious that this number could be on the high side since basic extrapolation would put $8.59 million for 12,380 students.  Knowing that we have more than that number of students and expecting an award amount at half of that $8.59 million, this number would be determined at a later date.  

 

Also included are CARES I allocated projects that have lost their funding source.  In here you see teleconferencing licenses (zoom, edgenuity), learning management systems and platforms, professional development for digital instruction, student tutoring and test prep, staff (graduation coaches, paraprofessionals), and student transportation costs to academic events.  The Board removed expenses that were for expenses beyond the two-year period to get a better handle on a realistic number.  This resulted in a total of $2,482,998.60 as the first batch that would be coming from ESSER II.

 

Next, we addressed items that had already been approved by the Board for ESSER II funding including summer programming (June 2 – July 1 including the additional $9.25 per hour for employees coming in to address learning losses and credit recovery), data warehousing solutions, and unrecovered salary expenses (where anticipated revenue decreased) adds $1,031,822 to this number bringing us to $3,514,820.60.

 

Later in our discussions, we added an item on the top of page 6 addressing instructional needs at Port Salerno Elementary which is a challenging population which has been a priority of the Board to address.  This involves a plan to add additional licensed teachers in grades 1, 2, and 3 to focus on literacy skills.  Expanding the number of teachers in these grade levels from 24 to 30, adding two paraprofessionals to assist the eight Kindergarten teachers and a Prevention Intervention Specialist to serve as an instructional support interfacing between the school and families.  The estimated cost of this is $395,000.  (Note that this model can be replicated at other schools in the future.)  

 

We also added an item at the top of page 7 splitting out the Pre-K expansion for Port Salerno adding two classes (40 students) with VPK voucher reimbursement bringing the $190,000 cost down to $100,000 to be added.  (Note the Warfield piece of this is handled later.)  And, we moved the ChalkTalk item on page 15 at a cost of $35,000 because this was Summer programming.  This brings the total up to $4,044,820.60 – which is comfortably within the four-to-five-million-dollar range to not have to come back to rehash these later.  Obviously, the bulk of these numbers are estimates, but comfortable enough for planning purposes.  One other item that we expect to see added to this a future spreadsheet is an estimate of the $9.25 per hour (always to a maximum of $1,000 per employee) for non-bargaining personnel that would meet the same summer requirements as those bargaining unit members.

 

Pages Four and Five outline Capital expenses (mostly computers and safety/sanitation) totaling $2,604,541.00 which may be eligible for reimbursement.  These are expenses that the district has already paid from the Capital Account.  If funding comes through these would be paid.  If not, they would remain Capital expenses impacting the Capital Account’s Five-Year Plan due to the state at the end of the summer.

 

Pages Six, Seven and the first item on page Eight are in pink type on a blue background.  These are labeled as Priority Five expenses and after adjustment total $606,100 (not the $742,967.00 reflected).  

 

The number has been adjusted removing the Port Salerno Elementary components, adding a Prevention Intervention Specialist to Warfield Elementary School with the K, 1, 2, and 3 staffing expansion plus the VPK addition of 40 students in two classes at Warfield Elementary School, and moving the Apptegy item on page 7 to page 8 to be with the Let’s Talk item.  

 

There is another exciting item on the bottom of page 6 currently labeled Calculus Project (but soon to be re-labeled as Algebra Project).  The Calculus Project was an initiative in several districts to encourage minority students to enter STEM career fields thinking that passing the Algebra I in Middle School would create the opportunity to take Calculus in High School and pave the way for a STEM career.  

 

Unfortunately, that result was often unrealized (often because of a lack of a mentor for the student).  However, the process of utilizing summer math programming for students that need extra help between fifth grade and sixth grade creates the opportunity to complete Algebra I in Middle School.  With that Algebra I EOC (end of course exam) completed before entering High School removes one of the graduation requirements from the stress of High School and allows students in High School to focus on opportunities and personal interests without that looming over their head.  The rest of the items in this group include a school psychologist, teacher professional development and resources, and accounting staff.  These are all items that would normally be in the General Fund (Operating Account) but would be slated as the next group to apply to ESSER II funding. 

 

Pages Eight to Fourteen with black type on the blue background are General Fund (Operating Account) items that would come next.  This includes student instructional resources, AVID training, additional CTE programming, communication/customer service/accountability platforms, mental health programs, and teacher assistance solutions.  

 

There was discussion regarding an item on page 8 for the Pandemic Health Services Manager that is identified as a watch/hold (so that we don’t fill a position that may be unnecessary).  These all come together as the next group for ESSER II funding or revert to the General Fund (Operating Account) if funding doesn’t come through from ESSER II.  This group of items will be woven into the 2021-22 Operating Budget that the Board has been working on for the last three months at Budget Workshops. 

 

Pages Fifteen through Eighteen plus the items for the 2022-23 school year from page 2 and without the ChalkTalk that was moved are department/staff requests that are being gathered here in one place but need additional vetting and discussion before moving forward. 

 

It is immensely satisfying to have such meaningful and detailed information to make prudent and logical fiscal decisions.  The level of transparency and engagement far surpasses what I have seen in other districts and in the past here in Martin County.  I am thankful and humbled by the work of our staff and the compilation and presentation by our Chief Financial Officer Carter Morrison.  If you or any of your readers have any questions regarding this information, please feel free to contact me.

 

Thanks again for the opportunity to share.

 

Christia Li Roberts

Martin County School Board Member, District One 

 

THE END OF THE MASKS?

 

There were also several parents that spoke about the continuation of masks for students. The governor has removed the ability of the school board to mandate masks under its own authority. However, the district did file a required plan with the state to reopen schools earlier that the state approved. The board is going to check with the Department of Education to see whether they can stop the practice for the remaining weeks of this school year. They will decide at a meeting next week.

 

Graduation will probably have an option on whether masks should be worn. It is outside and the kids will not be coming back to classes to possibly infect anyone. The board is in a quandary with the new Parents Bill of Rights, print advertising requirements for meetings, the opening plan, and juggling a hundred other differing requirements before being able to take a vote.

 

Ms. Powers was attending virtually, and it fell to Vice-Chair Anderson to preside. He did a good job. Some of the speakers, though were a bit uncivil One speaker threated the members with “someone” running against them. Anderson spoke up and said there is no reason for people to act this way. He suggested that threatening that he would lose the election was not much of a threat since he had a life before he was on the board. Good for you Tony!

 

 

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School Board Latest News From The April 25, 2021 Edition

 

BOARD MEETING APRIL 20, 2021:

 

In some respects, this was a quiet meeting. The board and staff were doing business without muss or fuss.

 

Eduardo Diaz, the senior who organized the alternate prom, spoke. Because of COVID, the district endorsed senior celebrations at the three high schools that were anything but traditional. Diaz took it upon himself to put on a non-sanctioned traditional prom for the seniors from the three Martin County high schools. And from everything I heard it was a success.

 

Diaz spoke at the meeting about a South Fork teacher that was on video saying that Diaz had diverted $30,000 in funds for his college tuition. Diaz is not happy with the accusation and he has had to explain the misconception to a summer employer. He wants to know what the district is going to do about the teacher.

 

He will be attending the naval academy in the fall, so he does not need any tuition. Eddie Diaz seems quite intense, and I can understand some people not liking him for that. Should he have organized an event for students that was not school sanctioned? Well, no one had to attend and those who did seemed to have a good time. Diaz claimed that none of the participants came down with COVID.

 

He gave the financial records of the event to the board. Eduardo Diaz should be the kind of student that is a role model not an outcast. He cannot be a slacker and have been accepted to one of the service academies.

 

Diaz is probably one of those students that some teachers wish were not in their class. You know the kind…bright and opinionated; tenacious and relentless. Annapolis will hone his good attributes and curb the less admired ones. He is a Martin County success story rather than someone who should be maligned.

 

The board will not decide on whether masks will be a requirement next year. It is too early, and this should be decided closer to the start of school.

 

Regardless, classes will be in person. There are virtual options through Florida Virtual and St Lucie’s district program. That program was open to Martin County residents because the St. Lucie district was far from capacity. Mrs. Defenthaler tasked staff to try to come up with a way for Martin’s students to be able to attend virtually when they need to be out for an extended period.

 

Roberts made a motion to open in-person school on August 11th that was seconded by Anderson. It passed 5-0

 

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School Board Latest News From The April 11, 2021 Edition

 

It seems that the district was the last one in the state to come into line with the state mandate regarding teacher’s pay. Last year, the legislature gave $600 million to the districts to bring starting salaries to $47,500 and to boost veteran teacher pay.

Even with their proportional share of the fund being $3.4 million, the district will have to kick in another $860,000 for increases. The state once again is leaving a large unfunded mandate to the Martin County District this year and in subsequent years.

 

No form of local government is micromanaged as much as school districts. This could be the pre-cursor of what will happen to counties and cities. The state already dictates to districts how much millage to charge and recaptures part of it to distribute to other districts. Martin County’s taxpayers subsidize other school districts throughout the state. We are known as a donor county.

 

In this session, we have already seen more and more bills in the legislature that infringe on the home rule concept. Expect to see even more in the years ahead. We supposedly have home rule in our constitution. But that is only when the legislature does not enact laws that take it away.

 

The voters of Florida need to pass a constitutional amendment to stop this grab for power. To read more go here

 

BUDGET MEETING MARCH 30, 2021

 

Carter Morrison, the district’s CFO, presented the proposed budget for next year.

 

The district still needs to fine tune it and there are more meetings scheduled. As the next few months progress, the district will know more and more about what mandates the state will dictate including how much to spend on categorical lines such as textbooks.

 

Many things were discussed, and you can find most of the numbers in the attachments. Two things that were not in the presentations but were touched upon in the discussion were the internal auditor and the board attorney. The internal auditor position has been vacant for a couple of years now. The board uses the auditor to gather information for the board and to serve as a supposed check on the district staff.

 

The board will have Morrison come back with a proposal for a part time person to augment his staff during peak times instead of a separate position that reports to the board. It seems to be a better use of resources now that the superintendent directly reports to the board instead of being an independent elected official. The same goes for the board attorney.

 

Is there a reason to have a separate attorney now that the board and superintendent are integrated? It may be time to have a legal department headed up by a chief attorney that reports to the board much as the county attorney reports to the BOCC. Any additional legal expertise needed would be under the chief attorney.

 

The board needs to decide whether the attorney and the legal department should be outsourced, in house, or a combination. There are savings to be had regardless since moving forward the superintendent and the board will be in concert and do not need separate attorneys.

 

To see the budget presentation and handouts please go here

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP APRIL 6, 2021

 

The meeting was all about the new facility’s leasing agreement.

 

Most of the discussion was consumed with Covid cancellation clauses. A legal agreement must be comprehensive and take in all the problems, no matter how remote, that could occur. How I sometimes long for the old days.

Apparently so does Tony Anderson. If Anderson had his way, a handshake (or today a fist bump) would be good enough. He longs for a time that even government could be more trusting. Unfortunately, those days have passed, and Anderson’s more common-sense approach is not how the board can protect the taxpayer in today’s litigious world.

For more than an hour, the board discussed and planned for Covid cancellations. After the changes that will be made and then sent to the board’s attorney for approval, we will be way past the worst of the virus’ havoc.

 

If you are an organized sports team, then this agreement will be welcomed. If you are just a couple of kids that want to use an empty taxpayer-owned field on the weekend or after school, then you are out of luck. Strict rental protocols are in place. Agreements must be signed, insurance certificates exchanged, and most importantly money paid.

 

If these rules were in effect when I was a kid, I would have never played sports on a field. Like Mr. Anderson, I long for those simpler times. I guess they are long gone and aren’t coming back even for the taxpayers who fund everything.

 

To see the draft agreement with pricing list, go here

 

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School Board Latest News From The March 28, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING MARCH 23, 2021

 

The board has approved an agreement with the Arts Council for them to inspect the high school building. The period will be for 60 days from April 1st through May 31st. It does not obligate either party to ameliorate any condition found on the premises.

I would be incredibly surprised if any obstacle found, including the site being a radioactive dump, would be serious enough to ward off the Arts Council. The goal seems to be locating here no matter what. Of course, this puts them far away from the Arts District and Downtown which makes little sense.

 

You can find the brief agreement here

 

EMPLOYEE INSURANCE

 

One of the hardest decisions an employer makes is choosing health care insurance for its employees. The district is no exception.

 

The Insurance Committee of the board meets monthly for most of the year to find plans that are good for board employees but also affordable for the taxpayer. I need to disclose that I sit on this committee. There are no easy answers.

 

Three plans are offered. Most employees and retirees choose the HMO Plan. Then comes the PPO, which has the greatest employee payroll deduction, followed by the “HDHP” (High Deductible Health Plan) which had no cost to cover for employee-only coverage.  That coverage will now have a deduction of $26.49 per paycheck.

 

The board adopted to renew with Scenario 3 of the attachment. This will have a total cost to the board of $608,183 per year. As I said, difficult decisions.

 

To see all the rates and scenarios go here

 

 

OPTIONS

 

During comments, Vice-Chair Anderson spoke about being in a park and overhearing two mothers speak about how public school is not as good as private schools or charters. Anderson then went into how great public schools are and there is a misperception of that fact by the public. I think there are misperceptions.

Most students attend public school. For the most part, they receive a good education. Some excel and take advantage of all that is offered. Those kids mostly come from parent-involved homes. They learn how to enroll in the gifted programs and classes. They make the best out of dual enrollment where they can earn an associate degree while still in high school at no cost.

 

Some kids do not excel in the larger environment of a public school. They do better in a smaller setting and with more rigorous learning standards. Some parents like to have religious or ethical principles taught along with the standard curriculum. Then there is the growing home-school movement where parents get to spend perhaps too much time with their kids.

 

It is all about perceptions and ultimately choice. Anderson, the rest of the board, and the entire public-school bureaucracy are not going to be able to be all things to all students and parents. As time goes on, I believe we will see more and more parents choose different options. Vouchers are one way to ensure that choice will be an option. Education Commissioner Corcoran and Governor DeSantis should just keep pushing that idea.

 

 

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School Board Latest News From The March 14, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP MARCH 2, 2021

 

The board listened to a presentation detailing what each high school is doing for its “prom” this year. It is completely different than what most of us experienced at our senior proms.

The events at each high school are based on responses from what seemed like a distinct minority of seniors who bothered to respond to the survey. In this time of Covid, what can and cannot be done is testing what that special occasion will become. The event has morphed into more of a celebration on a class-wide basis than what many of us remember as an expensive and intimate formal date.

 

It seems food trucks will dominate, and movies will be shown under the stars. Not bad but hardly anything special. Things have changed and Covid has accelerated the pace of that change. To view the presentation made to the board go here

 

ARTS COUNCIL’S QUEST CONTINUES

 

Nancy Turrell, the Arts Council leader, and Jeff Hardin from Straticon Construction gave a short presentation about what is next for the quest of having the old high school building become the new Arts Council.

The Council now needs to get into the building to see the physical condition and what needs to be remediated. One of the things that precipitated the district to buy the old Stuart News Building was the problems this building had with asbestos and other sick building problems and the projected cost to remediate it.

 

Mr. Hardin renovated the old Rice Hotel on Federal Highway which had gone through several renovations previously, the last being the old Rookies restaurant. While he may have saved the old building from demolition, any resemblance to an historic structure is purely coincidental.

 

The board gave a consensus for Chair Powers and Dr. Millay to proceed with negotiation. The space cannot exceed the master plan for Stuart Middle which leaves about 2 acres for the Council.

The main building itself served as the original Martin County High School from 1923-1964. If everything goes according to plan the Arts Council will be there in 2025. There are plans to rent to other nonprofits, to have performance space and, of course, expanded gallery space.

 

Most of the funding for renovations would come from grants. I just cannot help but wonder if trying to save an old building is serving the arts in Martin County, the taxpayers, and the organization well? It is almost a fixation on that goal rather than what might be beneficial to do something else.

 

Turrell was instrumental in establishing an Arts District downtown. Now she is moving the Arts Council further from the district. There is not a restaurant or store anywhere near the place. Instead of trying to integrate the arts with a vibrant urban scene, we are seeing the worst form of urban planning…almost a kind of sprawl.

 

There is no synergy with the stores, galleries, or restaurants of downtown and the Creek Arts District. How would you expect that district to flourish if you remove the patron organization?

Instead of people spending an evening of looking at a painting or show and then strolling over to the Gafford to have dinner, they will do one or the other but probably not both. If they do, then it will encompass driving from the one venue to another.

 

Perhaps the school district should look at obtaining grants to have the high school turned into housing for teachers and other employees instead of grants for paintings. We need to stop doing things with a 1960s perspective rather than the perspective of today and more importantly what is needed tomorrow.

 

To see the Arts Council presentation, go here

 

 

UPDATES

The staff gave an update on the ongoing projects at Stuart Middle, the two new elementary schools, the new boardroom being constructed at headquarters and other construction updates. You can see it here

 

The board also received an update regarding the health insurance contract for next year.

 

A final decision will have to be made later this month at the School Board Meeting. Health insurance is an extremely complicated subject but one that is especially important to those covered. Should this plan or that be subsidized and to what extent? Taxpayer dollars are used to keep the premiums manageable but still individual employees contribute a large amount to their plans.

 

You can find the presentation here

 

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School Board Latest News From The February 28, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING FEBRUARY 16, 2021

 

CTE stands for career and technical education. CTE promotes and supports middle and high school programs that provide technical educations for students for 21st century non-college jobs. In the old days, it was known as vocational education.

 

Public schools throughout the country have tended to go away from more practical hands-on classes that were meant to train students to be auto mechanics and carpenters. However, there certainly continues to be a need for that type of education. I am not quite so sure whether a regular high school is the right place for this education today.

 

We do need practical nurses, cooks, auto mechanics and an entire range of vocations where the practitioners do not need to know much about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or the Jacobines. That doesn’t mean those students shouldn’t have read the Reeve’s Tale or know that there was a French Revolution. There is such a thing as a basic education that should be universal for all students including those in vocational studies.

 

So, when a school official such as Dr. Millay states that he could add an additional nursing classroom at each of the high schools, I think we miss the point about what is needed. Mrs. Powers said that “we can’t be everything to everyone.” Sometimes in trying to do too much, we end up doing everything poorly.

 

Why in America are we tied to keeping kids in school until age 18? For those who want a technical career, they should be in a program by junior year where they can be learning subject matter for their intended occupation (e.g., science or math) in the morning and being in apprenticed jobs in the afternoon in the work force where their training can be subsidized by the district but with real world experience.

 

Schools cannot provide the same level of job training that doing the jobs can. Schools will never have the same up-to-date diagnostic computers to train an auto technician. The same goes for most occupations. Schools could serve as more of an employment agency for those students while still providing the academic underpinnings needed for their intended occupation.

 

As Mrs. Defenthaler added, there needs to be a focus on community partners. The worst thing education can do is try to teach these kids methods that are obsolete. What better place for practical and current knowledge than the private sector?

 

Mr. Anderson stated that Mrs Gaylord, the last elected superintendent, did a great job of bringing back the district from chaos. Anderson is right. Without the calmer and more professional atmosphere that Gaylord fostered, anything that the first appointed superintendent does would not be possible.

 

John Millay has brought some great skills and educational background. His report you can find here  It shows how he is moving the district forward. As Defenthaler stated, there needs to be community partners and Millay has jumped at bringing more of them into the fold.

 

BUDGET WORKSHOP #1 FEBRUARY 23, 2021

 

In 2021, the taxable value of real estate for the district will be about $26 billion. Over the next 5 years with current trends, the value will rise to almost $30 billion. In year 2007/2008, the school board had $43,886,882 in tax collections. Today the amount is $36,484,159 for capital outlays.

Close up of Various currency notes and coins from different countries

A couple of things happened to make collections less. One was the Great Recession of 2008 which crashed values. The second was when the state reduced the millage allowed for capital improvements from 2% to 1.5%.

 

In effect, they gave the taxpayers a reduction which they took full credit for and it came directly out of the school board budget. That is about a $175 million loss over more than a decade. This is a reason why some outlays for roofs, chillers and other capital items could not be done. Remember, you can only use capital money for capital repairs and operational income for operations.

 

I am not going to go through every page of the budget presentation that was shown. It is lengthy and it is attached. A couple things stand out. One is the cost to bond for capital improvements such as the two new elementary schools is cheaper than what was anticipated when the sales tax was passed. The bonds will be paid off at the end of the special sales tax period in 2025.

 

The second is that they are expanding programs in career and technical education. This will allow more kids to come out of high school with certification that they are ready to enter the work force. It looks like training in welding, nursing, and HVAC will be expanded.

 

The board wants to see data to make sure the expenditures are cost effective. As Ms. Defenthaler said, she wants to see the ROI for this work. The next budget workshop will flesh out more details.

 

The entire presentation can be found here

 

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School Board Latest News From The February 14, 2021 Edition

 

In the January 24th Newsletter, I reported on a proposed pre-k training program for students to obtain jobs at Jensen Beach High. School Board Chair Marcia Powers wrote a letter to me regarding the piece:

 

Hello Tom –

 

I want to clarify your synopsis of the school board’s discussion of building two Pre-K classrooms at Jensen Beach High School.

 

To clarify, I do not think all Pre-K teachers should have a college degree. However, I do believe that they are woefully underpaid. Until we, as a school district and a state, value these teachers and pay them appropriately, it will be hard to attract potential employees and students to this field. Under our current VPK system, requiring teachers to have college degrees would make the program cost prohibitive to families. Currently, VPK in Florida is provided mainly by private providers with public schools accounting for only 20% of the available seats. The VPK system in Florida would not be successful without providers like Gertrude Walden Child Care Center and many others, but they also need the ability to pay their employees a wage that reflects their value to our community.

 

My objection to the two vacant classrooms being utilized for Pre-K, stems from the fact that MCHS and SFHS are currently over capacity. JBHS will become an open school choice high school next year to hopefully alleviate more overcrowding at the other two high schools. Because a new high school will cost approximately $100 million to build, I think it is most responsible to leave any currently vacant classrooms at JBHS for high school students.

 

Thank you for reporting on the school board meetings.

 

Best regards,
Marsha Powers, Chair
Martin County School Board

 

And my response:

 

I did not communicate your position as well as I thought. 

 

You did so in your email beautifully. 

 

In general, we should as a society nationally be providing for not only pre-k care but day care in general for every child. I believe through primarily the private sector using adequate tax credits and vouchers this can be accomplished. As you know I am on the board of Gertrude Walden and strongly believe that every teacher and day care worker should be qualified but not necessarily with a college degree.

 

With proper funding those that work in those centers could be paid more than now. We as a nation just need to decide that this is the direction we must go.

 

Thelma Washington who is the executive director of Gertrude Walden also wrote regarding pre-k and childcare:

 

Tom,

 

Thank you, concerning the Early Childhood Program at Jensen Beach High School.

 

I agree with your comments as well as Marsha Powers.  At Gertrude Walden Child Care Center, the quality of instruction is high and teachers with the assistance of financial tuition from the TEACH program are able to obtain their AS degree and higher. 

 

I would be happy to partner with Jensen Beach High School as a work experience and training sight. I presently accept interns from the Work Force Solutions program and that has worked out well.  I’m sure most providers in Martin County would be happy to do the same.  For your further information, Dunbar, Hobe Sound Early Learning, Apple Tree and Gertrude Walden are all accredited as well. 

 

WE all have teachers with Associate Degrees.


Those who are early learning professionals, let us know about your thoughts, experiences, and ideas.

 

WORKSHOP FEBRUARY 2, 2021

 

This was a workshop that was very substantive yet for the lay person extremely boring.

 

The first thing was the Clifton Strengths Assessments. It is an hour-long assessment identifying your natural patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. It has 4 Domains and 34 Themes. At the end of it, you are supposed to know yourself better.

 

In large work settings, I guess it is important to be aware of your colleagues’ work behaviors to be able to partner with them more effectively. You understand their motivation and how they think about things and process information. You can then compare their work styles against your own and have greater understanding of how to develop more collaborative and successful work relationships.

 

You can find the superintendent’s and school board’s assessments here

 

Ms. Roberts put together a book of operating guidelines for the board. It outlines policies and procedures. You can find it here

 

Dr. White gave a presentation on the new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking- B.E.S.T. Standards. The English Language Arts Standards will be implemented in 2021/22 year and the math in 2022/23 school year. It is strictly a Florida Dept. of Education product and it supposedly goes back to basics.

 

To see the presentation, go here

 

The Gerhing Group, the district’s health insurance consultant, presented its 6-month findings. So far this year, Florida Blue has paid 104% in claims. That means it has lost money. Not only by paying 4% more in claims than it collected but much more when you figure in the 20% in administrative costs assigned.

 

The large claims, those over $150,000, are 266% higher. The blended increase for the plans would be 13.8%. This is only for half the year but that doesn’t mean the board can wait six months to decide on any changes. Those will be done at the next few meetings.

 

You can read the entire presentation here

 

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School Board Latest News From The January 24, 2021 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING JANUARY 19, 2021

 

There was not much of substance at this meeting.

 

Jensen Beach High is expected to have less than 90% of capacity next year. It will be a school of choice. In other words, if a student wants to go there regardless of where the student is zoned, the student will be able to do so. You can read the brief one-page memo here

Board member Roberts did an excellent breakdown of elementary school population by race and ethnic group. Martin County’s school age population is changing. It is no longer only white and Black. There is a large and growing number of students from Latin America. At Warfield, nearly 90% of students are of Latin American origin and 65% are classified as an English Language Learner. To see the population tables for every elementary school, go here

 

Finance Director Carter Morrison presented the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) for the year ending June 30, 2020. You can find it here

Finally, there is the Superintendent’s update here

I hope there is something more going on behind the scenes.

 

WORKSHOP MEETING JANUARY 12, 2021

 

After a dozen years, the Interlocal Agreement for using school board fields and gymnasiums is becoming serious.

 

As a taxpayer, I have been confused for years as to why school fields, gymnasiums and auditoriums are locked up for half the year. It is as if we the people that pay for these facilities to be built are somehow barbarians that need to be kept out by locked gates.

Because of our obsessive fear for safety and impregnability of school property, we keep great facilities away from the community. Schools should be looked at as community centers. Perhaps this may be the first steps for this to occur again.

 

Both the BOCC and school board want this to happen, but the devil is in the details. There are expenses that are associated with use. It appears what has been going on for years is that the district charges hundreds of dollars for the use of a field. This prevents many kids from enjoying activities of just hanging around in a relatively safe environment after school and on weekends.

 

There needs to be a place for adults and kids to gather to play a pickup game of basketball or soccer. While the two governmental giants battle to allocate the cost of using these facilities (and I mean the true cost), we should not lose site of the reason these fields were built. The board and county will discuss this at their next joint meeting.

 

The presentation and points of discussion can be found  here

 

          PRE-K TEACHERS

 

Jensen Beach High School wants to begin a certificate program for students who want to become pre-kindergarten teachers. There is a real shortage of qualified people to do this. Yet there was some pushback on the proposal.

 

In order to convert two classrooms for use in the pre-school certification program at Jensen Beach, it would cost roughly $650,000. You can’t learn to be a pre-school teacher without the pre-school kids which explains the conversion of the classrooms. There is a shortage of classrooms already in the high schools and no intention of building anymore.

 

Board Member Li Roberts asked if it were possible to have two portables instead in the rear of the building where the classroom conversion was going to be made. Her reasoning is that portables do not count toward your available classrooms and this way the young kids are not in the high school itself. There also would be a drop off and pick-up loop for the kids.

 

Chair Powers questioned whether a program is necessary. The pay of those that receive the certificate will be about $10 an hour which is less than many fast-food employees. As the head of the Early Learning Coalition, she believes that pre-k teachers should have at least a bachelor’s degree. My question is would credentialing mean better pay and would the quality of the instruction be better?

 

Obviously, the more education one has in any subject, the better your understanding of the subject matter. Will that make you a better teacher for young children? Most pre-k classrooms are not in the public schools. They vary from tony private day care to places like Gertrude Walden in East Stuart. I don’t know whether places like Walden could possibly stay open if their staff was paid comparable to a public-school teacher with a bachelor’s degree.

 

The people who work in a place like Gertrude Walden are mostly not college graduates. Yet the kids receive more than adequate instruction and are ready for kindergarten. We need to be careful that we do not make it more difficult for these kids and their teachers who may not qualify if educational standards are raised. Women make up nearly all the staff and are raising their own families with this job.

 

Should Martin County spend all that money on one more certificate program? I believe the answer is no. If the district believes there needs to be such a program, then have classroom instruction at Jensen Beach and then the certificate students can go to existing pre-k classes for hands on training. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

 

SOUTHFORK EXPANDS

The preliminary plans for the new athletic complex at Southfork was presented to the board. Much of the detail planning still needs to be done. Nothing was decided and again it seems that they are building something to be used for the limited time that school is in session. This would be the time to make sure it is designed to meet state mandates and be used by the public.

 

The presentation can be found here

 

 

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School Board Latest News From The January 10, 2021 Edition

 

DECEMBER 15, 2020 MEETING

 

Karen Resciniti was the only public speaker. Resciniti is the head of the union but she was only speaking for herself as a teacher. About a third of her 180 students are attending remotely. This was causing her difficulties in keeping everything straight. She claimed it was unsustainable.

 

In Martin County, remote learning was never meant to be the new way of attending class. Many teachers do not have the ability to work with individual students both in the classroom and at home. I like the idea that the lessons are streamed, and I hope it continues. It should only be for a kid that is home sick so he can follow along and not lose instruction time.

 

To ask teachers to continuously work with home bound students and those in the classroom at the same time can be stressful for the teacher and leave the students without everything they need. Since this set up will be with the district for the rest of the year, Dr. Millay should see whether it can be improved. If next year we are still prisoners to Covid, then those students who are at home should explore Florida Virtual or one of the other means to continue in-home education.

 

The board was also being asked whether to suspend a custodian without pay because she was not performing her job. Apparently, she sustained an injury while on the job at JD Parker and now is unable to bend down or lift anything. She was cleared for full duty by the doctor. There will be a termination hearing in January.

                   CafePress

I don’t want to get into the merits of the case. I don’t even want to discuss whether she should or should not receive pay pending the termination hearing. (The board did suspend with pay) What I do want to know is why the board has to be involved in what would be a trivial matter in the private sector.

 

I was told that under statute they must be involved. I can’t believe that in Palm Beach their board becomes involved in whether low or mid-level employees should be terminated or suspended. According to the district’s website, Palm Beach has 22,600 employees. If their board were as involved as Martin’s is, they would do nothing more than act as a big HR department. Perhaps there is a better and more professional way of handling these disputes.

 

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School Board Latest News From The December 13, 2020 Edition

MESSAGE FROM SUPERINTENDENT JOHN MILLAY

 

MARTIN COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT’S NEW SUPERINTENDENT

By Dr. John Millay

Greetings Martin County students, employees, families, and members of the community,

 

It is my honor and pleasure to officially introduce myself to the Martin County School District community. I feel very privileged, excited, and humbled for the opportunity to serve as your Superintendent of Schools.  The Martin County School District’s reputation for excellence is a testament to your commitment to the well-being and academic success of children.  The numerous opportunities offered to students both inside and outside of classrooms are nothing short of remarkable, and I am committed to building upon the established framework to ensure all students continue to be educated for success, achieve their highest personal potential and explore their interests in a safe, nurturing learning environment.  As a father of three (Allie, Maggie, and Jake), all educated in public schools, I fully understand the dreams and aspirations that all parents have for their children to have the very best possible education that also meets their unique needs and differences. 

 

Prior to my arrival in Martin County, I completed a very successful, 27-year career in Kentucky public education (serving the last 14 years as a high-performing school superintendent).  I remain passionate about student achievement, equity and access, the professional growth and success of faculty and staff, and empowering families and the community to become full partners in the educational experience offered in our schools. In addition to its reputation for academic, instructional, and financial excellence, the level of community support and engagement are what drew me to the Martin County School District.  As I participated in the interview process, I was impressed by the sense of pride employees and community members shared for the District and public education.  As I have traveled throughout beautiful Martin County over the last few weeks, I have met countless students, faculty, staff and residents who have been incredibly welcoming and excited to see what lies ahead for our school system. 

 

I look forward to continuing to meet and learn from each member of our community as we celebrate success and develop new goals for the future together. It has been said that no effective learning can occur without a relationship. I believe that relationships are central to learning, effective communication, cultivating a positive culture and developing an understanding of our common needs. As we are all members of the Martin County School District family, it is my hope that we will consistently work toward building bridges that will unite us.

 

In reviewing the District’s mission and vision statements, three inspirational words stood out to me as guiding principles for our work – All, Dynamic and Excellence. 

 

“All” literally means all – it means every Martin County student will be equipped to reach their highest personal potential, including our most vulnerable populations.

 

“Dynamic” means bringing a positive attitude, energy, fresh ideas and an adaptable spirit to our work each day.  It takes a lot of effort, a willingness to embrace change and innovative thinking to move a school district forward.  I will need everyone’s help.

 

“Excellence” is what we will strive for, knowing that success has no finish line. I know each of our teachers, administrators and employees truly wants to be the very best they can be. 

While we continue to navigate uncertain circumstances, I am confident we will conquer the challenges before us to move forward in becoming Florida’s premier school district and one of the highest-performing in the nation.

 

As I shared before, I am humbled and honored to have been given the opportunity to serve as your Superintendent of Schools.  My door is always open – please never hesitate to submit any questions, concerns, comments, or accolades you have about our schools or school district to me.  I can be reached at (772) 219-1200 ext. 30222 or millayj@martinschools.org. If you have a few minutes over the next few weeks, I would greatly appreciate hearing all of the initial ideas, input, feedback and suggestions you may have.  A survey created for this purpose is available here – https://forms.gle/y4nE2K8ek6MiuTyaA

 you may remain anonymous when submitting your responses if this option is the most comfortable for you.   

 

It is an exciting time for all of us in the Martin County School District and I am genuinely looking forward to building relationships and achieving the vision and mission of our school district. 

 

 

WORKSHOP DECEMBER 2, 2020

 

Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran issued a new order stating that schools will have in person classes no matter what for the rest of the year.

detroit Free Press

The remote learning piece can continue with a new caveat. If an online student is struggling, then he should resume in-person classes unless the parents refuse. In my opinion, the state is not going to allow districts to go past this year in the offering of simultaneous online classes. There are other more effective ways for kids to continue with virtual learning, such as Florida Virtual.

 

Dr. Tracey Miller, Chief Academic Officer, gave a report on going forward that encompassed this and much more. The statewide assessment tests will be given, and the students must come into the schools to take them. Last year when these plans were being formulated, we did not have the data we have today. I feared and wrote that schools could be a hot bead of infection. I was wrong as were so many others.

 

Schools have proven to be a relatively safe environment as compared to bars and restaurants. Those are now open and so should schools be. The district will be applying for funds to hire a data scientist to help formulate plans going forward. Another good idea.

 

The district projects to have 18,942.4 students this school year. It has 18,140.62 students or a loss of 783.78. That means there is a decrease in funding of $8,192 per student for a total of $6.42 million. The governor’s order spares us all but $170,000 loss this year. The state will not continue to subsidize the district by millions of dollars so cuts may be in the offing for next year.

Nearly ¾ of the student body is in school while the rest is still virtual. The average grade for remote students is C while for those in person it is B. That will affect our school ratings. New Superintendent Millay wants the students back in the classroom. He stated that the dual means of instruction is stressful to teachers. It is not as if teachers are not interacting with online students.

 

Li Roberts said that the sequential subjects such as math are harder online. That makes sense since unlike history you need to master one step before going to another. The entire presentation including a more in depth look at the statistics can be found here

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School Board Latest News From The November 22, 2020 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING NOVEMBER 17, 2020  

Marsha Powers and Mike DiTerlizzi were sworn in for their new four-year terms after running unopposed in the recent election.  This was also an historic moment for Martin County education. Laurie Gaylord has now finished her 2nd term. She will be the last elected superintendent in Martin County. As of November 17th, Dr. John Millay has become the first appointed superintendent in the county. He will report directly to the board. The fundamental relationship between superintendent and board has changed.

Millay does not report to the people. He doesn’t have to stand for election. Unlike Gaylord, his bosses are now the school board members.  

The board can no longer blame the superintendent if something goes wrong. There was a separation of authority that is no longer there. The buck stops with them. That does not mean the board becomes involved in day-to-day operations. If those operations go wrong, they are now accountable for it.  

It was also time to pick the chair and vice chair for another year. Tony Anderson nominated and made the motion for Powers. It was seconded by DiTerlizzi and passed 5-0. Li Roberts nominated Anderson and made the motion that was seconded by Powers. It passed 5-0.   Once again, congratulations to this chair and vice chair.

ACCEPT THE OUTCOME

A few weeks ago, there was a proclamation that was championed by Victoria Defenthaler regarding LGBTQ+ month in October. It was contentious and had many public speakers against it. In fact, it died for a lack of a 2nd. As far as the board is concerned, it is history.  

Then why did most of the public speakers who were against the proclamation need to denounce it again at this meeting. Neither the proclamation nor any suggestion of it being discussed was on the agenda. Sometimes, you must know when you won and accept victory. There were a few who spoke in favor of the proclamation who were mostly students.  

The board’s resolution that passed regarding all students being accepted for whom they are is hard to disagree with regardless of your beliefs. I wouldn’t call it a courageous gesture by any means. Yet it hit the right note for most of Martin County’s parents and residents. The board recognizes this and none of them are anxious to do anything more.  

For those who didn’t want to see the proclamation passed, you need to accept that the board agrees with you. This is a contentious issue with strong proponents on both sides of the question. It is time to let the matter rest.  

If Defenthaler or any other school board member tries to resurrect this contentious issue, it will be time to once again come out and speak. Until then, let’s put down our rhetorical weapons and return to our ploughs.

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School Board Latest News From The November 8, 2020 Edition

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING OCTOBER 20, 2002

 

This was Laurie Gaylord’s last meeting as superintendent.

Her report was primarily one detailing what the district has accomplished since she became superintendent in 2012. She will be the last elected superintendent in Martin County. People fought hard to finally get the electorate to vote to do away with their collective ability to choose. Will it be better or worse?

 

In some cases, there should be a more cohesive carrying out of policy. The superintendent answering to the board will place the five school board members firmly in charge. They now own their decisions and their implementation. If something is not being done, then they are the ones accountable.

 

Ms. Gaylord served the district well if not always on the same track as the board. Eight years of being on the firing line is a long time. Martin County citizens, students and district employees owe her thanks for placing herself in the hot seat. Good luck!

 

Martin County School District has initiated its own COVID-19 website that tracks cases in the schools. This is a very handy tool, and this should be parents first stop to know what is going on. It may cut down on the misinformation that has been easily spreading when it comes to COVID. It tells how many confirmed cases there are in the district and breaks it down by school.

 

It is updated daily. You can access it from the school district’s website (https://www.martinschools.org/)

 

RESOLUTIONS PROCLAMATIONS & DIVERSITY

 

How do you start a controversy in Martin County Schools? This is a textbook example…so to speak.

In an earlier meeting, Board Member Defenthaler wanted to have a proclamation supporting LGBTQ+ History Month. She thought it was important that those students should feel that they were part of the school family. Mr. Anderson and Mr. DiTerlizzi expressed some hesitancy. It looked to me like she had everyone supporting the proclamation except DiTerlizzi at the end of that last meeting.

 

Ms. Roberts in fact did an impressive presentation even going further than the proclamation and explaining ways of having a diversity class on LGBTQ+ history. There was not a mention of that at this meeting by her or anyone else.

 

In the interim, Roberts worked on an extensive resolution speaking about diversity without mentioning LGBTQ + students. The resolution mentioned in some detail the steps the district has taken in furthering anti-bullying and promoting acceptance of all. It states how the district has implemented policies to conform with Florida and federal law.

 

The many public speakers were not in support. Most expressed that it was not the place of the public schools to speak to non-educational matters. There were several members of the clergy who spoke against the measure.

 

Stuart Mayor Mike Meier spoke in favor. He is a graduate of the Martin County system. Even though he came from a loving home, he had some of the same issues expressed in the proclamation. He was bullied, skipped school, and at times contemplated suicide. He would have liked to see a sign from local leaders of support. He urged the board to set aside the fear and rhetoric.

 

One speaker stated that he would run a candidate against any school board member who would vote in favor of the proclamation. He had already raised $12,500 and were looking to have $100,000. He went on to say that things were fine, and nothing needs to change. Our kids love everyone.

 

Martin County is conservative both politically and socially. It tells you that it is open and friendly. And to some extent it is…except when it is not.

 

From the last meeting, there was no mention of a resolution in support of diversity. It was strategically placed on the agenda to come before Defenthaler’s proclamation. The bulk of the discussion from the Board centered on the much less controversial resolution.

 

Early on, Defenthaler suggested about diversity training for the board. It was not addressed further.

 

DiTerlizzi wanted to know cost associated with moving forward. He said the resolution follows current law and there is already an anti-bullying policy in place. It does not single out any one group. He went on to say that sex education and other things should not be shoved down anyone’s throat.

 

Anderson said this has nothing to do with his personal views. It is about the public, his constituents. He addressed the person that threatened to spend money against any board member that voted in favor of the proclamation. Anderson expressed his outrage and that it was an insult that he or any of his colleagues would bow to pressure.

 

He is right there. And I am glad Tony Anderson said that. Besides the two board members that were up for re-election this year faced no challengers. I can’t think of a less potent threat.

 

Powers likes the resolution and the way it expresses things. She believes the proclamation is too narrowly focused. The resolution is inclusive of all. She will support the resolution. If it helps one student, it would have been good.

 

DiTerlizzi wants to see data specific to the district regarding the proclamation.

 

A motion was made by Anderson to issue the resolution. It was seconded by Roberts. It passed 4-1 with DiTerlizzi voting no.

 

It was then Defenthaler’s turn to speak to her proclamation about LGBTQ+ History Month. She had been taken by surprise regarding not only the resolution but that it had been used as an alternative to her proclamation. She now knew that she had been led down a path. The support she thought she had from other board members evaporated once oppositional emails began flooding in.

She then made a motion to issue the proclamation. It failed for a lack of a second. The silence was deafening.

 

This shows the limits of what can be done when it comes to more than the “3Rs” in not just Martin County but in most public-school settings. We live in a political world and the schools are not immured from its effects. We are not California or New York and attempting to be too open about differing views on sexuality are not going to fly here. And without support of the community, it never will.

 

SCHOOL BOARD WORKSHOP & SPEC MEETING NOV 3, 2020

 

There is something to be said for those who are elected being in charge. This meeting was a good example of when that occurs.

 

The education of the students was not to be discussed. Nor were the proposed new school buildings. There was some concern about car lines and parking.  The real concern was the positioning of the two community playgrounds.

School Board Member DiTerlizzi appears to have reached out to his old colleagues on the BOCC to come to a solution on new school settings for Palm City and Jensen Beach. Commissioner Ciampi is generally able to finesse differences and come to resolutions. He did so here by making sure he had rounded up the PTA and other concerned citizens to speak out for Palm City.

 

Commissioner Smith was there on behalf of Jensen Beach and had rallied that school’s PTA. He spoke not only on the playground issue but a brief history of the hydrology of the site. At the BOCC last meeting, Smith talked about engaging the Treasure Coast Planning Council to do a charrette whether the district wanted to participate or not. Today he was looking for resolution and not to prolong the building of the schools.

 

The staff responsible for the project has done a remarkable job in ignoring and alienating the schools’ surrounding communities and the PTAs. Why wouldn’t you want to involve and get approval from the people? Maybe it is because staff does not run for office. They do not ask the people to hire them as do both school board and county commissioners.

 

I doubt if the staff would have done anything if it weren’t for those that are elected. How do you alienate the public? By doing just what staff did! These parents and the broader community are stakeholders. They are not being unreasonable in their concerns with playgrounds that they built and have contributed money to their maintenance. Those PTAs have agreements with the School Board regarding those existing playgrounds.

 

Once discussion was held, the workshop was adjourned, and a special meeting began.

 

DiTerlizzi moved that Plan B be approved in Jensen Beach with the paving of the rock roadway in the rear using as much stabilized turf as possible. It was seconded by Roberts. The motion passed 5-0

For Palm City, DiTerlizzi moved that Plan A be approved. It was seconded by Anderson. The motion passed 5-0.

 

In both passed plans, the playgrounds stay where they are. Was that the best design? Probably not in all ways except politically. Perhaps with better outreach, a better outcome could have been realized. John Millay, the incoming superintendent, has just seen another challenge. Education is not the only thing to be concerned with in Martin County.

 

School Board Latest News From The October 18, 2020 Edition

WORKSHOP OCTOBER 6, 2020

 

The Board had a very brief presentation on redistricting.

 

Interestingly, it seems that enrollment is continuing to fall. There has been a decline of 1000 students attending county schools. There is no way of knowing how many of these students will be returning to class once the pandemic ends. But there has been declining enrollment for several years now…just not to this extent.

 

Perhaps as approved developments are built, enrollment will begin to increase.  Several projects have recently been approved in Stuart which would probably add the most students. As of today, only one of those projects has come out of the ground. I would suspect that maybe half of these will be built. That is the nature of development.

 

A redistricting committee will begin work in February 2021 and perhaps by the start of the 2022 year, children will be going to different schools. However, it was decided to make Jensen Beach High School open for all since it has the most capacity of any of the high schools.

In the next few years, I would imagine that another charter school will open, and perhaps other choices will be made available for parents and their children. The District seems to be stuck in a mid-20th century model which increasingly may not be what their customers want. It is even more puzzling that the District is building needed replacements for two elementary schools (Jensen Beach and Palm City) using the very models that are proving obsolete.

 

The presentation which was given to the Board in handouts was not part of the agenda packet. I could not see anything being projected on the screen from my home computer, and the two Board Members that were participating remotely didn’t have the information. I hope the new Superintendent and the Board stop this all-too-often practice of not having agenda backup included.

 

You can see the presentation here

 

NEW SCHOOLS

 

As I wrote above, both Palm City and Jensen Beach are being built to accommodate students and teachers for several hours a day when school is in session. Evenings, weekends, and summers these building, costing $64 million, will sit unused by those same students, teachers, and every resident of the County. What a waste!

 

Both those schools have community playgrounds that are open to the public and were built by volunteers raising funds to do so. In the redesign, the playgrounds will have to be moved and will be recreated. The Board has promised that the new playgrounds will be better.

 

The design of these schools needs to be reconsidered. The fields and other interior areas, such as gyms and libraries, should be made available to the public when classes are not in session.

 

These are public buildings paid for with taxpayer dollars that sit idle for more than half the year. I understand the need to provide a safe environment when schools are in session. Yet, by innovative design those indoor and outdoor facilities can be made so that using them when school is not in session is possible.

If we continue to build facilities that are costing taxpayers millions for a shrinking pool of students without the needed innovation, we are doing a disservice. We can’t afford to build such specialized places with the idea that they belong to a District and not all County residents. This myopic vision of what a school should be is becoming less and less relevant especially with declining enrollment.

 

Every government wants to preserve its fiefdom. What they need to realize is that they all have the same customers. Does that mean the expense of maintaining some of those amenities should fall to the District alone? The answer is no! All governments need to share the cost. Yet I have seen inordinate expenses charged to use current facilities by other governments and groups. That can’t be either.

 

I charge the School Board and the County, along with appropriate municipalities, to begin thinking not in terms of “mine” but to think in terms of “ours.”

 

To see what new these facilities are currently planned to be go here

 

THE DIFFICULTY WITH DIVERSITY

 

Board Member Defenthaler had proposed a proclamation celebrating LGBTQ+ month in October. This had been done in June by the City of Stuart. Like so many things when it comes to education, it is beginning to take on political overtones.

I don’t want to surprise anyone but there are Martin County students that are not heterosexuals. Those students that identify as different are more likely to be bullied and sadly feel that suicide is a viable alternative.

 

We have spent years trying to stop the scourge of racism. I think we may be closer with this generation of students than ever before. To hate someone just because they are of a different color or ethnic group means you had to be carefully taught as the Rogers & Hammerstein song goes. Now it is time to extend inclusivity for all students including LGBTQ+.

 

The question is how do we accomplish this? What is a proclamation supposed to do? A proclamation is simply a way to acknowledge that these students are valuable members of their schools and society. It is a measure of the worth of those children.

 

Apparently, some on the Board think that it should go further. Ms. Roberts put together a thorough presentation on the teaching of LGBT history. There are now several states that mandate such classes. What is Martin County trying to accomplish?

How much is a person’s sexuality key to their accomplishments as human beings. Pete Buttigieg ran for president this year. He was a mayor, naval officer, linguist, business consultant, scholar, deeply religious person and quite possibly could become a member of a Democrat administration. He also happens to be married to another man.

 

His accomplishments are not because of or despite his sexuality. Yet those accomplishments can be seen by a gay kid as an inspiration as he becomes an adult.

 

Should all students be required to take such a course? Should it be offered as an elective? This is something that requires more study, and I would suggest that the administration reach out to their LGBTQ+ students and find out what they believe their needs are.

 

I do think the Board, staff and all students would be served by diversity training. Most of us have biases. We may not think we do, but it is there. You hear it when people speak and sometimes you are the person speaking. Diversity training is different from sex education in any form. To confuse them shows why diversity training is needed.

 

A proclamation is a good first step. The other suggestions need further input and study. The Board needs to show all students and, in a broader sense, the entire community that race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation does not matter. Validation is important.

 

Ms. Robert’s and the staff reports can be found here

 

 
 

School Board Latest News From The October 4, 2020 Edition

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

 

The big day had arrived. The Board was picking Martin County’s first appointed superintendent.

 

In the preceding months, the Board had put into place with the guidance of the Florida School Board Association (FSBA) parameters for choosing that person. There were 45 applicants that were narrowed down to the final 4.

 

During the meeting, each Board Member explained his/her rationale for their choices. Board Member DiTerlizzi stated that Martin County had fallen in the rankings in his opinion. He thought there needed to be an agent of change hired. Two candidates stood out to him… John Millay and Peter Licata.

Tony Anderson felt that there was a tremendous weight on his shoulders. He mentioned that Licata said the plan should be to front load education in the early years to save the system on the back end. Licata cared about the wide-angle approach that even in “A” schools, there were students who were underperforming and should not be left out. Anderson loved Millay’s energy and enthusiasm and then mentioned his young age (a serious no no). He also had Millay and Licata as his 2 top picks.

 

Victoria Defenthaler was looking for a transformational leader. She also narrowed it down to Licata and Millay. Licata is a regional superintendent in Palm Beach County with 59 schools and 65,000 students. Millay retired as superintendent from a district in Kentucky with far fewer students and schools than Martin County has. Defenthaler said that Licata was a data person. He had started middle school academies and was a managerial leader. Millay, she believed, understood all departments. He had a fresh perspective and was forward-thinking and inclusive.

Li Roberts was looking at the academic and financial side. Millay had a plan and had done his research.

 

It was clear that three board members favored Millay (DiTerlizzi, Defenthaler and Roberts), and two preferred Licata (Anderson and Powers). Roberts asked if it made sense to throw it open again. None of the others wanted to go there.

 

Defenthaler made a motion to begin the process of negotiating a contract with Millay. It was seconded by DiTerlizzi. It passed 3-2 with Powers and Anderson dissenting.

 

I wished that both Powers and Anderson had voted in the affirmative when they saw no minds were going to change. It sends a clearer picture. Many candidates would never take a job where the Board is so split. Though I was more partial to Licata because of his Florida experience and the size of his subdistrict, I would have voted in the affirmative to give the decision unity.

 

One of the things that Millay did was assemble an “Entry Plan.” It was cited by several Board Members as a reason that they voted for him. I am enclosing it here

 

Good luck, Dr. Millay!

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING OCTOBER 1, 2020

 

The School Board met to finalize Dr. John Millay’s contract to be the first appointed Superintendent in Martin County history.

The contract provides for a yearly salary of $170,000 plus other benefits. The term is from November 17, 2020 to June 30, 2024. As of July 1, 2021, and every fiscal year thereafter if Millay receives a satisfactory evaluation, then his base pay will increase by the same percentage as other administrators in the district. He will receive an additional 7.5% of compensation to be paid into a deferred compensation annuity along with being in the Florida Retirement System.

 

Millay can receive $2000 additional by maintaining his certifications. There is a $10,000 moving and temporary living allowance. He must live within the County. There are other provisions for reimbursement laid out in the contract which can be accessed here

 

 

Is this more than what the elected superintendent was receiving? The answer is yes. In Gaylord’s case the state sets the salary as an elected official. Dr. Millay is a contract employee, so it is negotiated. Will the students, taxpayers, and business owners get increased value? That is yet to be seen.

 

Dr. Millay begins on a per diem basis based on his contracted salary on October 26th. That should give him time to work with Gaylord and the rest of the administration to understand the District. One thing is for sure is that the Board now has total responsibility for what happens. The ultimate outcome will be in their hands.

 

School Board Latest News From The September 20, 2020 Edition

BUDGET MEETING SEPTEMBER 8, 2020

 

This was the final millage and budget meeting for the 20/21 year.

 

Tallahassee sets a required millage rate. That rate has been steadily reduced for the past decade. For 20/21, it has been reduced from 3.9 mils to 3.6990. The local rates will remain the same at 2.748 or a decrease in the overall rate by .2010 or 3.2%. Though the rate has gone down, do not expect the amount you pay to be less. Property values have increased so any savings will be absorbed by the that increase.

 

Overall, the budget has increased by about $18,235,986 for a total amount of $404,224,540.  While the 2019/20 General Operating Budget was $221,229,425, budget amendments throughout the year brought the total to $235,833,901 which is a bit more than this year’s same budget. Given the uncertainties of COVID-19, the budget overall is about as good as could be expected.  

 

The presentation can be found here

 

The entire detailed budget can be found here

 

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING SEPTEMBER 17, 2020

 

During School Board Attorney Tony George’s report, he read into the record an email and a letter.

The first was an email from Tyson Waters who represents the Board negotiating an impact fee and concurrency agreement with Pineland Prairie. In May, a series of bullet points were sent to the District addressing concerns of Waters. Staff will be scheduling a meeting to go over the items. This has not come up at the Board since May.

 

Pineland Prairie has decided to resubmit its Master Site Plan Application to the County in the next few weeks. They plan on submitting a final site plan next year. I guess no rush there.

 

The Arts Foundation has submitted its proposal to Tallahassee for a $50,000 grant for design and planning of the old high school building. They were ranked 16 out of 58. If the stars, the moon, and the sun line up, maybe something will happen.

 

Jennifer DeShazo, the information officer, gave a presentation on attendance at the District. There are 16,628 students in K-12. 1049 students have left the District and 15,449 have enrolled. There are 10,756 students attending in person (65%) and 5872 doing do remotely (35%).

 

There is an opportunity for parents to request changes in status going forward. 209 students will go from remote to in person and 45 will go from in person to remote. Attendance for those registered is 95.2% for in person and 92.7% remotely.     

Since schools opened, 537 students have transitioned to quarantine/remote learning. Here is the breakdown: 113 elementary school students, 80 middle school students, and 344 high school students. 40 employees have transitioned to essential employee quarantine in the same period.

 

Ms. Roberts stated that parents looking for answers should call the District. She was surprised that parents would resort to Facebook groups to find out what is happening at the District. Sometimes it may be hard to get an answer, but parents can always write one of the School Board members or all of them with a question if need be.  Get the right information.

 

The presentation can be found: HERE

 

School Board Latest News From The September 6, 2020 Edition

WORKSHOP SEPTEMBER 1, 2020

 

The meeting focused on whether to fill vacant positions or not. When it came to most of those on the Organizational Chart, the Board was reluctant to do so. With a new Superintendent being hired, they wanted to hold off as much as possible.

 

Two things they did do were approve a third payroll specialist position and a Health Services Manager. I was surprised that with the Transportation management team now driving buses because of a shortage of drivers, the Board did not bother to first make sure that an all-out effort be made to find drivers. Secondly, considering that the two-senior people in that department are in the Drop Program, they would not hire a Transportation Manager as requested.

 

The Drop Program is a commitment a person makes to retire within a defined amount of time. Within the next couple of years, this Department will be without a senior team. It is not good succession planning for sure.

 

SUPERINTENDENT SELECTION MEETING SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

 

The Board began by discussing its top candidates and the reasons. Thomas Phelps, currently employed by Osceola County, received 5 votes. Peter Licata, from the Palm Beach County District, received 3 votes. John Millay, the former superintendent from Meade County Kentucky, received 2 votes. Michael Dunsmore, currently teaching at East Carolina University in North Carolina, and Lori Romano, formerly from Martin County now in Pasco County, received 1 vote each.

 

The Board continued to discuss which candidates to interview for over an hour. Would it only be the top vote getters, or would others be included? It was finally decided that the five would be invited. A question was raised as to whether the candidates with the fewest votes would choose to come to Martin County since they were not high up on the School Board Member’s list. I guess we will see.

 

The Board also went over the proposed contract language. The new organizational structure will have the Superintendent reporting to the Board. Currently, the elected Superintendent functions as a co-equal. I originally thought that the new person would not be in the District prior to December, but it looks like the hiring procedure will be wrapped up by the time Ms. Gaylord’s term ends in November.

 

School Board Latest News From The October 10, 2021 Edition

School Board Latest News From The October 10, 2021 Edition

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