The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Education Issues Committee observes the Manatee County School Board meetings for items of interest to citizens and to the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the sunshine laws. The following are the major points from the school board meeting on 11/14/2023.
Chair Choate called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and read the district’s mission. He introduced Addison Sterling, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who gave the invocation, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.
Mike Bennett, Supervisor of Elections for Manatee County recognized the "I Voted" 2023 Sticker Contest Winner, Lauren Holbrook. Mr. Bennett described that the stickers will go out to thousands of in person and vote by mail voters. He said this was the first time the school district has been involved in this effort. The contest was held through the Boys and Girls Clubs. He reminded everyone that students can register at 16 and that his office, in the past, has registered over 200 students through this process. He also advocated for students to work the elections, taking a day off of school, getting five service hours, and earning $150 for the day.
Good News Moment
Mr. Barber showed a video promoting the School Showcase Fair at Manatee Technical College, November 14, 5:30-7:30 which celebrates all of the programs in the public schools.
MS noted that last Tuesday was Victims of Communism Day. He shared information about a recent high school contest in which ninety-six students participated resulting in $8,000 in scholarships. He thanked Superintendent Wysong and Kevin Chapman for their support throughout the process.
HF noted the County Commission is discussing removing the All- Access Pass now available for students. She emphasized students need to access what isn’t available in the schools’ media centers. She stated students are losing access to information. Please stand up for our kids.
Reports and Presentations
Audit Committee Report to the Board – Mr. Daniels, the new chair of the Audit Committee, described the three audit reports: MTI point of sale, Contract Compliance, and MTI Financial Aid where there were no significant findings or significant recommendations. He questioned what technology is appropriate for Sales Surtax monies, whether it must be for direct student use, or technology infrastructure. He also brought up issues that had inadvertently arisen by sharing information publicly during the RFP (request for proposal) process. He raised the issue of coordinating the of the Audit Committee and the CFOC (Citizens Finance Oversite Committee).
A robust discussion ensued involving all of the board members, Dr. Wysong and the Board Attorney, Mr. Dye. In regard to the two citizen committees, Ms. Foreman suggested waiting until the next millage referendum before reorganizing the committee structures. Ms. Spray voiced criticism that the CFOC, until recently, had not been given information as freely as the Audit Committee.
Attorney Dye said he has not changed his opinion that the Sales Surtax funds can be used for both technology infrastructure as well as recurring costs of the system, in addition to direct student use.
In regard to the concern about the current RFP issue, Superintendent Wysong thought the item could be discussed in the work shop in December. Ms. Foreman asked that all of the board members be given the full background information.
2023-2024 School Accountability Update – Mr. Jensen, Deputy Superintend for Instructional Services, shared the status of the timeline for shifting to the new BEST standards with the new ELA and Math Assessments. He described the Standard Setting Process to draw lines for cut scores that define the score ranges for student Achievement Levels 1-5 and described the robust process to do this. The achievement levels have new names in the new FAST scale. What was Level 1 is now “Well Below Grade Level,” 2 is “Below Grade Level,” 3 is “On Grade Level,” 4 is “Proficient,” and 5 is “Exemplary.”
Mr. Jensen explained the DOE data releases need the context. In the process of retrofitting, there will be a December release of school grades for last year but will not include learning gains data. Now that we are half way through this year, this may be important for reference but not very meaningful for outcomes for end of this year. Since no learning gains will be calculated in that school grade, it will advantage some schools (kids already proficient) and disadvantage others (schools not as proficient but made gains). Second semester this year will capture all the information for full accountability and will be received at the end of the 23-24 school year to accurately measure the progress schools have made. All are working hard to make the learning gains. [LWV note: Link to power point presentation - https://legistarweb-
Ms. Spray indicated this a most comprehensive, easy to read guide for how it works. They are not lowering expectation, just equating the scales. She hopes DOE doesn’t change the testing again because it is so hard to go from old to new. Mr. Jensen credited Evan McCarthy, Testing Supervisor, for making it understandable.
Ms. Foreman raised concern about parents’ understanding the school grades with the learning gains missing. Dr. Wysong said that is exactly why they did this presentation today. He said the PM2 results will be much more important than this school grade coming out in December which is based on an incomplete equation.
Ms. Messenger agreed with Ms. Spray that there needs to be more feedback to Tallahassee about the issues occurring during this transition.
Consent Items. Twelve items passed 5-0.
Public Hearing for Consideration to Adopt and Amend School Board Policies – closed with no public comments.
New Business (Non-Consent Items)
Approval of the Budget Amendments for September 2023 Passed 4-1 (Foreman voting no)
Ms. Sellars reported charting activities and budget amendments over $1 million. The discussion centered on the increased budget for the firing range project by over $1 million. The increase is due to increased materials costs and upgrades to the access road by paving at the request of the adjacent property owner. This project had been approved. This is a change in the budget to accommodate the escalated costs for the project going forward. The GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) could not account for this. The board will see the item again when it is time to expend the actual funds.
Quarterly ESSER Report for Period Ending September 30, 2023 Passed 5-0
Ms. Sellars described additional allowable adjustments with outstanding amounts submitted to DOE to spend down. Ms. Foreman reminded everyone the report was requested to keep board aware of what recurring costs are being paid by ESSER.
Approval to Adopt New Policy and Amend School Board Policies Passed 5-0 [LWV note: Link to changes - https://d2kbkoa27fdvtw.
Approval to Adopt New Policy and Amend School Board Policies – Passed 4-1 (Ms. Messenger voted no) Ms. Messenger believe this moves the district backward and that the chair should be able to run the meeting virtually. [LWV note: Link to change - https://d2kbkoa27fdvtw.
Approval of the Altria / JUUL Related Settlement Agreement Dated August 19, 2023 amended to include that funds received to go to educational instruction regarding the harms of vaping and other preventative measure regarding vaping. Passed 5-0.
Mr. Dye reviewed the background and indicated the district will receive its first installment of $250K next month from the JUUL case and from a smaller vaping group, Altria, around $80-90K. Ms. Foreman indicated she believed the funds should be spent to mitigate the harms of vaping and the ensuing discussion resulted in the amendment that passed. In response to Mr. Tatem’s question, Mr. Dye indicated the attorney’s fees to his firm comes from those awarded the CA firm leading the suit, not from the district’s award.
New Business (No Superintendent Recommendation)
Approval of the Board's Legal Firm Evaluation for the Period of 2023-2024. Passed 5-0
Ms. Messenger stated the overall score for Mr. Dye’s firm was rated as highly effective. Ms. Foreman explained the purpose is to communicate with the law firm and commended them for saving the district a lot of money. She stressed to fellow board members the need to provide rationale for their scores. Ms. Spray said as first year school member, she leaned on Mr. Dye for many matters and appreciated his candor and honest opinion whether she agreed or not. Mr. Tatem appreciated the personal relationships and availability. He raised the question for one of the items on the form regarding informing the board of legislation when it appears that Mr. Chapman does that. Mr. Dye indicated that the volume of legislation requires each of the departments to be technicians that look at the laws that impact their departments. He and the school district attorney are available to assist with interpretations when needed and to answer questions. Mr. Tatem suggested the form be updated. Mr. Dye explained why there is a school district attorney for staff and a board attorney for the school board. Ms. Foreman expressed a concern that the board does not always know what litigation is going on and there needs to be a system to make them aware. Dr. Wysong indicated that the board will be informed each time a legal issue has been filed against the board. Ms. Foreman asked for a spreadsheet which the district attorney said would work.
Board Discussion Regarding Service of Process
This discussion centered around who is authorized to receive a summons/paperwork from a Process Server in regard to a legal matter. The state statute was consulted and board members were assured that adding more personnel than the Board Chair or Superintendent to the school board policy would be appropriate. The question arose when a Process Server delivered paperwork to Mr. Choate’s home rather than the district office and the Superintendent. The School Board Chair is seldom at the district office except for meetings. Ms. Messenger indicated the Superintendent can delegate.
Legal Department – Mr. Dye thanked board members for their evaluations. He strives to be accessible, forge personal relationships, and keep the board informed and out of trouble.
Operations – Mr. Ranaldi said that HR had a successful Operations Job Fair and Virtual Teachers Job Fair. Currently there are the lowest number of teacher vacancies in four years at 44. For Transportation, the first of 3 electric busses were delivered, and the next two will come in December. The FPL charging stations will be ready in mid-December. In regard to the white van work fleet of the ten 10 ordered, three have been received, 6 are at the dealership being retrofitted, and the last has been constructed. In Food Service, milk cartons are okay. The Holiday Meal will be served in the schools on Nov 16th and invited the board members to partake at a school site. Last week Prine Elementary invited the Cedar Hammock firemen to have lunch and while there, rescued a ball on roof. Construction Services will have a ribbon cutting on November 15 at 5:30 for Buffalo Creek MS.
Instructional – Mr. Jensen indicated feedback about the 2024-25 calendar options from over 700 people and more input is needed. He reminded everyone about the School Show Case at MTI where the parents and community can learn about all of the district’s options and program offerings. The social studies text book adoption process is ongoing. Finalists have been identified and schools will let their preferences be known. On January 8, recommendations will be made to the Superintendent. It is still open for public comments via the district website. Mr. Tatem asked if the calendar could change to have Veteran’s Day off next year. Mr. Jensen said he would check.
Superintendent Remarks – Dr. Wysong indicated there were few consent items today but that December would have many. He highlighted the sign off on media projects started last spring at Anna Maria, Ballard, Bayshore and Rogers Garden Elementary schools and encouraged board members to visit the bright open beautiful places. He also mentioned the promotion of Kathia Johnson from principal at Palm View K-8 to the Executive Director of School Improvement and Leadership Development. She will focus on instructional improvement and a succession planning system. He reviewed the many instructional topics and events over the last two weeks including the Holocaust, Victims of Communism, and Veterans Day, engaging students with citizenship and history. He described participating in crisis management safety table top events with the district teams and other agencies. These happen at different time throughout school year. Thanks for all who served at the operations recognition luncheon. Friday work shop will include Master Board training.
Ms. Foreman said having Veteran’s Day off came about due to a former board member’s passion. She attended an interesting Florida Finance Officers Conference.
Ms. Messenger had no comments.
Mr. Tatem indicated he went to all of the Victims of Communism events referred to by one of the public commenters. He reminded everyone that the School Choice window opens within the district from Nov 27 through Dec 20 for 2024-25 school year. He visited Freedom Elementary and attended Sarasota Classical Academy’s Veterans Day programs.
Ms. Spray had to leave Friday’s workshop but did go back and view the video. She met with a potential new CFOC member and her name will come in mid-December for board action. She congratulated Ms. Johnson’s promotion and acknowledged retirements. She is focusing on her district’s school events and SACs.
Mr. Choate thought the Arts Alive celebration was great last week. He congratulated MHS’s Key club for their 2000 hours of service hours so far this year. He thanked Ms. Foreman for her amendment to the JUUL agreement.
Meeting adjourned at 2:07 p.m.
The results of the School Board Reorganization Meeting included Mr. Choate returning as Chair and Ms. Spray returning as Vice-Chair. Meetings will follow the same schedule except the one meeting in March will be on the 19th.
The Chair needs to be consistent for the equitable application of the time allotted for public comments. It was noted that one commenter went almost a minute over the three-minute limit.
Use of the microphones must be monitored for maximum effectiveness. Mr. Bennett’s important message was lost due to being off mic. Ms. Spray needs be sure her mic is directed towards her.
After the Superintendent indicates an item will be dealt with in a workshop, the Chair should direct board members to end the discussion. Considerable time was used during the meeting discussing items that would be treated thoroughly at a later date when members would garner more knowledge.
Questioning by board members continues to be helpful for the most part.
During the discussion of the increased costs of the firing range project, it became apparent that both Mr. Tatem and Ms. Spray will benefit from understanding how the budgeting process works. Planning to meet with staff to learn more is commended.
In trying to help Mr. Tatem understand the issue of an increased cost of a project, Ms. Messenger provided a helpful analogy using a fun hypothetical example of Mr. Tatem trying to buy a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert that is above what he budgeted and the decisions and adjustments he would need to consider.
Ms. Foreman’s focus on the loss of ESSER funds and how the general fund will be impacted is appreciated. In addition, Ms. Foreman’s leadership to direct the funds coming in from the vaping law suit to decrease vaping rather than just put in the general fund is to be applauded.
Ms. Messenger provided an excellent summation of the constant change in assessments and ratings systems and the confusion this causes for students, teachers, parents and the public.
We recommend the Chair ask Dr. Wysong to ask all the staff to be prepared to provide clear, full and candid information, anticipating questions the board may have.
Kudos to Chair Choate for a year of running effective board meetings, sometimes even in the face of considerable challenges. Congratulations to Mr. Choate as Chair and Ms. Spray as Vice-Chair for 2024 board year.