LETTER: 'A clear choice'
The point of educating kids is to give them the tools they need to be highly functioning adults. We know that the high school diploma does not carry the weight it once did as far as preparing our youngsters for the workforce, so now, more than ever, college readiness should be a major standard by which we look at how well our districts are carrying out their mission.
Vague labels like ‘A Rated school district’ as assigned by Florida’s Department of Education shed little light on actual district performance in this regard. I became curious about how we could rectify Walton County schools being given a grade of ‘A’ by the state while concurrently producing students failing to score above 69 percent proficient in the areas of reading, math and science and a dismal 56 percent in writing on standardized tests.
US News and World Report composes high school rankings by state and district annually and I would encourage everyone to go to their website and explore the methods and 2014 outcomes.
The data is telling when comparing the average 'college readiness' scores of the districts that appoint versus elect their superintendents. There are 25 Florida districts that appoint their superintendents while 40 hold elections (as we do in Walton County). There are five unique districts that I didn't include in my calculations (Lab schools at FSU, UF and FAMU), the Virtual School, and School for the Blind and Deaf. The average 'college readiness' score of the appointing districts was 28.56 compared to 17.2 for the districts that elect, with the higher scores implying greater readiness. Of note, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Liberty and Union Counties (all districts that elect their superintendent) had 'N/A' reported as their readiness score, reflecting too few students taking AP exams to qualify. I would point out that the Florida Department of Education has handed out three ‘F’ district grades, going to Jefferson, Hamilton and Franklin Counties. Franklin County is an election district and had a readiness score of 5.9.
Notable scores, if you don't visit the website: Walton 18, Okaloosa 35.8 and Bay 21.3. Alachua and Duval Counties are Walton's nearest neighbors that appoint their superintendents and score 31.8 and 36.7, respectively.
It is quite clear from this data designed to evaluate outcomes rather than provide cover for underperforming districts, as the state has done, that appointed superintendents, rather than those that are popularly elected, are more competent at meeting the mission of their systems.
On Aug. 26 we have a clear choice. We can continue to accept mediocre performance as acceptable given the gilding of Walton's school district with a meaningless ‘A’ grade or we can do what we all know is beneficial to the majority, rather than a select few politicians who have nobody’s best interest in mind other than their own, and vote 'YES' on the referendum to change the selection of a superintendent from one that is popularly elected to one selected by our elected school board!
Patrick A. Ferry M.D.
Santa Rosa Beach
LETTER: 'The art of misdirection'
Any football coach will tell you that misdirection is part of a successful game plan. Get your opponent to think the play is going to the right, then run to the left. In other words, fake ‘em out.
The folks who are promoting vote “YES” on the upcoming school referendum have mastered the art of misdirection. Make everyone think the campaign to appoint a school superintendent is about putting “kids above politics” when it’s really about control of the school system.
The North Walton Republican Club recently held a candidate forum that included a brief presentation of the “YES” and “NO” positions. The speaker for the “NO” position was a former school board member with a long record of public service in Walton County. The speaker for the “YES” position is a registered Democrat who moved here from Louisiana.
We hear some school board members say, “I’m only one vote. You need three votes to get anything done.” The implication is school board members have little power to affect change.
Florida Statutes are specific about the responsibilities of school boards and superintendents.
Title XLVII, Chapter 1001: “Duties and responsibilities of district school superintendent . . . shall perform all tasks necessary to make sound recommendations, nominations, proposals and reports required by law to be enacted upon by the district school board. . . It shall be presumed that . . . the recommendations, nominations, and proposals required of the district superintendent were not contrary to the action taken by the district school board in such matters.”
In this four page statute, the word recommend (or recommendation) appears 26 times.
The “YES” people would have you believe the problems with our schools are due to the fact our superintendent is elected, and is therefore able to do whatever she wants . Clever misdirection!
Look at what the statutes say about school boards.
“The School Board shall require . . .
(1) minutes and records to be kept . . .
(2) control property . . .
(3) adopt school programs . . .
(4) adopt and provide for the execution of plans for the establishment, organization and operation of the schools of the district . . .
--(h) provide for the establishment and maintenance of career schools. . .
--(k) may adopt rules for planning time for teachers . . .
--(l)) provide for exceptional students . . .
(5) Personnel: designate which positions to be filled, and provide for the appointment, compensation, promotion, suspension and dismissal of employees, subject to the requirements of chapter 1012.
(6) Adopt policies establishing standards of ethical conduct for instructional personnel and school administrators, as defined in s.1012.01.
(11) School Plant: Approve plans for locating, planning, constructing, sanitating, insuring, maintaining, protecting, and condemning school property as described in chapter 1013.
(a) provide for all public schools to operate 180 days.
(b) cause to be prepared, adopt, and have submitted to the Department of Education as required by law . . . the annual school budget . . .
(d) school funds – require that an accurate account is kept of all funds . . .
(g) implement a system of accounts and budgetary control to ensure that payments do not exceed amount budgeted, as required by law; make available all records for proper audit by state officials or independent certified public accountants . . . (emphasis added!)
(l) may employ an internal auditor to perform ongoing financial verification of the financial records of the school district . . .”
So, who has the power — the Superintendent or the School Board?
The “kids before politics” slogan is clever misdirection to get you to think that budgetary shortfalls, questionable administrator compensation, and teacher grievances are due to the actions of our elected School Superintendent, Ms. Carlene Anderson.
These same “YES” people believe that giving more authority to the School Board will restore the universe to its proper balance. Our school board doesn’t use the power it has now. Why reward them by giving them power to select the next school superintendent?
LETTER: 'Just vote no'
The superintendent selection process, a referendum item on the Aug. 26th Walton County ballot, was described by Jenny Dargavell (Daily News, August 12) as “a movement to remove politics from the job of superintendent.” Nothing could be further from the truth; there is no position that is more political than a government-appointed job.
In the case of Walton County’s superintendent, it means a move from some 41,000 voters deciding who gets this extremely important job to a majority (3) of the five-person school board naming someone to the post. Expensive head hunting and recruiting, lobbying, jockeying and back room deals are the name of that game.
The appointment argument that the superintendent position should be searched for from among candidates with a higher education degree and experience in the field of education is a fallacious one. State Senator and Senate President Don Gaetz never would have made the cut in Okaloosa County. With zero background as an educator, he was twice elected and turned the Okaloosa school system from one of the worst in the state to the one of the best. That is the power of the people.
Consider that a school board position (elected) requires no more than a high school degree and county residence. It is somewhat incongruous that appointment pushers would have this elected body develop a superintendent’s job description and launch what could be an expensive and time consuming nationwide search to recruit and appoint a superintendent.
Recall that a nationwide search for our county administrator position was undertaken not so long ago. This resulted in contracts with three county administrators in four years, one contract that required a buy-out and a position that was ultimately filled by Larry Jones from our very own Walton County.
The arrogance of the “yes” crowd cannot be overstated. They want to eliminate the superintendent as an elected position because they think Walton County is devoid of qualified candidates. With a significant number of current and former education professionals and otherwise qualified candidates in our county, we will not relinquish the vetting of candidates and selection of our education leaders by the voters to a privileged few.
Free elections allow candidates from all backgrounds to run for office. Voters decide who is qualified for the job. This process has worked since our country was founded and it has worked in Walton County so much so that our district is one of 10 in the state that is labeled “high performing” and has received an “A” grade from the State Board of Education.
Just vote NO on August 26th.
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459