LWV School Board Meeting Notes: 11/8/22

League of Women Voters Manatee County
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County observes Manatee School District School Board meetings for items of interest to the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law. The following are the major points from the School Board Meeting on November 8, 2022.

School Board meetings are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month with the first meeting of the month at 10 a.m. and the second at 5:30 p.m.  Meetings are held at 215 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, 34205. Meetings are live-streamed on the district website or viewed live on Spectrum 646 or Frontier 39. 

ITEMS OF INTEREST  

Call to Order at 10 a.m. followed by an invocation provided by Rev. Alethea Winston of Ward Temple AME Church. Chair Golden led the Pledge of Allegiance.
 
Approval of Agenda   Board Member Kennedy moved that item 15 be pulled from the consent agenda and placed in new business explaining that it was related to the resignation of Mr. Bargeron, Deputy Superintendent of Business Services.  Passed 4-1 with Chair Golden dissenting.  The amended agenda was approved 5-0.
 
Recognitions included Farm City Week (November 7-19) and Holocaust Education Week 2022 (November 7-11). 
 
After acknowledging that this is the last meeting for both Charlie Kennedy and Rev. James Golden and thanking them for their service, Communications Director Michael Barber introduced Dr. Paul Gansemer, Director of Adult, Career and Technical Education (ACTE).  In addition to a proclamation for Farm City Week, the Bradenton Kiwanis was saluted for their 100 years of impact and their significant role in the agricultural community.  Kelly Kennedy, Assistant Director of ACTE reviewed the current status of agricultural programs in 5 high schools, 6 middle schools and 1 elementary (Myakka City).  She expressed hope for more in the future. Currently, in Manatee County, there are 750 farms with 90% family-owned.  She described ways that Bradenton Kiwanis has contributed to both 4-H and FFA programs and to celebrate the rich agribusiness segment of Manatee County and support of the Bradenton Public Market. 
 
Holocaust Education Week in Florida is held annually the second week in November which coincides with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938, a major turning point in the persecution of European Jews by the Nazi regime. The Florida Education Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education identifies resources to assist K-12 educators in structuring Holocaust Education Week lessons.
 
Construction Update  Joseph Ranaldi, Construction Services provided an update for the Construction Project at Southeast High School. This involves the construction of a new replacement Science and Art building and a redoing of the central core of the campus.  The two-story building will house 10 science labs and 2 art labs.  The new Building 9 will be completed by 12/15/23.  Demolition of the old Building 9 will be completed by 8/20/24.

Consent Items Thirty-two consent items passed 5-0 following a public comment by Mr. Glen Gibellina advocating for renewable energy as part of the SEHS building, concern that information about projects does not include how the costs are calculated, and whether taxes are being paid on materials.
 
Public Hearing was held for consideration to adopt the Manatee School District’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. Public comment was made by Mr. Gibellina, who focused on library materials and the process for identifying and procuring these items. Mr. Norm Nelson indicated this is the third strategic plan in 10 years and encourages the Board to relate all of their actions to the mission and to monitor the outcomes. Board Member Messenger asked Superintendent Saunders to address concerns about library materials.  Mrs. Saunders and Dr. Laurie Breslin, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction described the details of how materials are acquired for the schools’ media centers and the processes for questioning the suitability of materials regarding age and academic appropriateness.  Mrs. Saunders indicated that with the advent of HB 1467, on July 2, 2022, the district has reviewed its existing processes and awaits further clarification from the Department of Education by the time the new law is implemented in January 2023 to ensure the district is in full compliance.  Mrs. Messenger encouraged everyone to stay focused on the big picture, the entirety of the Strategic Plan, and the descriptions of the actions and outcomes expected.  Once the Public Hearing closed, the 2022-2026 strategic plan was approved 5-0.  [LWV note.  Link to the approved plan:  https://www.manateeschools. net/cms/lib/FL02202357/ Centricity/Domain/3758/ Ready2026StrategicPlan.pdf
 
Public Comments and Responses
Mr. Clarence Pitts’ comments centered on "LGBTQ stuff in schools” calling it sexual propaganda and the need for the board to have zero tolerance for this.
 
Mr. Gibellina discussed records requests and why emails are taken down because of certain phrases and words. He continued to express concern for inappropriate books in the libraries.
 
Ms. Brinkley likened library books with inappropriate content to pornography asserting that there are laws for that. She expressed concern for the "angst” some literature might create.
 
Board Members commented on the Public Comments. Mrs. Messenger asked Superintendent Saunders to respond to the comments about sexual orientation and she assured all that the district is following the letter of the law. Mrs. Saunders asked staff to meet with Mr. Pitts to get specific examples of what he described. Mrs. Foreman asked and was assured that the district is not paying taxes on purchased materials.  Mr. Kennedy vehemently disagreed with the comments about LGBTQ students but supported the commenter’s right to say it. He reminded the audience that all that our schools have LGBTQ students and they need to be supported. Mr. Choate likened the need to curb the use of some library materials to the system in place for determining appropriate videos to use in the classrooms.  Mrs. Messenger reminded all that there is a difference between instructional materials (lots of vetting by state and district) and media materials in the library that use a different process for building the collections. She agreed parents should have a say about the books their own children access. Mrs. Messenger made the distinction that a Public Records Request is for a document that currently exists.  Attorney Dye concurred. Mrs. Foreman assured that every one of the board members want age/content-appropriate materials in the media collections. Mr. Kennedy suggested Mr. Pitts respectfully think about the propaganda that he is hearing and encouraged him to think critically about what he is hearing and seeing.
 
New Business (Non-Consent Items/Superintendent Recommendation)
  1. Consent Item #15.  Mr. Kennedy withdrew his request for discussion of this item after speaking with Mrs. Saunders and Mr. Bargeron during the break.  Board voted 5-0 to approve the consent item #15. 
  2. Approval of the Budget Amendments for September 2022.  Mr. Bergeron summarized the changes.  Approved 5-0  
  1. Approval of Advertising a Notice of Intent to Amend School Board Policies and Setting a Public Hearing at the Board Meeting on December 23, 2022. Approved 5-0  [LWV Note:  Find proposed amendments at https://www.manateeschools. net/cms/lib/FL02202357/ Centricity/Domain/1115/2022- 11-08%20Policies%20for% 20December%2013%202022% 20Public%20Hearing.pdf  and https://www.manateeschools. net/cms/lib/FL02202357/ Centricity/Domain/1115/2022- 10-11%20Policies%20for% 20December%2013%20%202022% 20Public%20Hearing.pdf 
  2. Approval of the revision of Speech and Language Pathologist Job Description.  State requirements have changed to only require a bachelor’s degree rather than a masters which will create a wider applicant pool.  The required certification remains the same.  Approved 5-0. 
New Business (No Superintendent Recommendation)
  1. Approval of the Board’s Legal Firm Evaluation for the Period of 2021-2022.  Mrs. Messenger reported that Mr. Dye and his firm, Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff and Pratt PLLC received 4.6 on 5.0 scale demonstrating exceeds expectation and exemplary.  Mr. Golden thanked Mr. Dye for his years of service and for his guidance.  Approved 5-0
  2. Approval of Travel expense Associated with the School Board Member’s Attendance at the Florida School Finance Officers Association (FSFOA) November 2022 Conference, November 13-17, 2022, at the Caribe Royale, Orlando, FL, Not to Exceed $1,400.  Mrs. Foreman will attend.  Mrs. Messenger requests an update and report upon return.  Approved 5-0. 
  3. Approval of Citizens’ Financial Oversight Committee (CFOC) Member.  Mrs. Catherine Ferrer was approved 5-0.
 
Workshops. Given Superintendent’s announced retirement June 30, 2022, Ms. Messenger suggested that Florida School Board Association (FSBA) be contacted to give an overview of the options and processes involved in a Superintendent Search the sooner the better.  Mrs. Saunders indicated she has alerted FSBA and penciled in a meeting to coincide with the December Board Meeting to explain processes and lay out the calendar, with workshops to follow.
 
Department Updates - Operations, Safety and Security  Deputy Superintendent Doug Wagner thanked Chair Golden and Mr. Kennedy for their service.  He shared that SEHS’s Culinary Arts Program was featured at the Chamber’s Business Expo.  The East County 6-8 grade school protype posting will close Dec. 14 for the $79 million project.  District personnel attended the USF Sarasota Job Fair and will hold another job fair at Wakeland on 11/10.  Regarding safety, focusing on the impending storm.
 
Superintendent Saunders indicated that district staff is monitoring the storm and that all Wednesday after school activities are canceled. If winds are sustained at 46 mph, busses can’t be deployed and schools would be closed. Mrs. Saunders requested Dr. Breslin, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Mr. Evan McCarthy, Director of Assessment and Research review the results of the Aug/Sept Progress Monitoring.  They provided a slide show and indicated that Progress Monitoring occurs three times a year.  
 
Board Comments
 
Mrs. Foreman is looking forward to judging the SEHS debate.  She recognized Mr. Kennedy for his involvement in schools during his tenure on the board.  She thanked Rev. Golden for his kindness and civility.
 
Mr. Choate remarked this was a good meeting and hoped the weather doesn’t interfere with Veteran Day activities.  He acknowledged Mr. Kennedy as a champion of the Community Schools and expressed appreciation to Chair Golden for his service and decorum even though may not always agree.
 
Ms. Messenger said she’s glad Mr. Kennedy "isn’t going anywhere” since he’s taken a position with the Daughtrey Community School organization. To Rev. Golden, she acknowledged that she and his heart have the same language with their common focus on the love of kids and education.
 
Mr. Kennedy reviewed the last four years, despite tumultuous times the board was stable.  There were disagreements without being disagreeable.  He implored everyone to keep their attention on schools, teachers, and staff.  He expressed his deep appreciation for the employees and "all of you.” 
 
Rev. Golden shared that he left Daytona Beach at 14 to attend Tuft University and pledged his fraternity at 15 in 1962…and the ups, downs, ins, outs, and round and round.  He thanked the board, community, and district for trusting him. He recited Invictus (Out of the Night that Covers Me) by William Henry Henley as a fitting tribute to end his term and the meeting.


GOVERNANCE/SUNSHINE
  • The full discussion among the Board Members regarding library books, their selection, and procedures for questioning materials involved all of the board members in a robust conversation that thoroughly treated the concern brought forth by public commenters. At the request of board members, the Superintendent and staff took great pains to explain how library books are reviewed, how complaints are handled, and how the district has been proactive to provide all parents with the ability to choose what library books they wish their children to read. The time devoted to the topic and the full and detailed explanations demonstrated a sincere desire for transparency and cooperation. Board Members exhibited patience in responding to the concerns, despite this being a trying subject that has been addressed many times. Some frustration was exhibited that this topic was again being discussed, but comments remained respectful.
     
  • However, it is regretful that the discussion of the library books overshadowed the presentation and consideration of the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. The Public Comment about the library books during the hearing to approve the Strategic Plan and the response of the board derailed the whole deliberation and discussion about the Plan. It would have been helpful if the Board had spent time showcasing the contents of the Plan. This could have been done by a brief slide presentation with highlights about the plan before Public Comment. 
     
  • Ms. Messenger took steps to clarify other procedures. For example, she asked the attorney for confirmation that a records request will only turn up records that have already been created.  She also proactively clarified that speech pathologists will still be certified, despite the State removing the requirement for a Master’s degree.
     
  • The Board Members were conscientious in ensuring that public comments were met with correct information and clear explanations that cleared up misunderstandings and provided for full understanding.   
     
  • Matters were discussed calmly and respectfully between the Board and District representatives.
     
  • Today was the first time in a long time that there was a report on curriculum and academics.  This was a welcome report.  It will be interesting to track the progress monitoring results over the three testing administrations.
     
  • Accepting personal phone calls during a meeting is disrespectful and disruptive to the proceedings and should be avoided.
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Reader Comments
Pat Benson
NOV 16, 2022  •  At this time , I request that parents that have concerns about certain books, please read them and then decide. Let the librarians in the schools know that you do not want your child to read a particular book. Do not punish the rest of the school community because of your misgivings. You, the parent, should check what your child is reading. Educators know what they are doing.


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