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 09/26/2023.
Chair Choate called the meeting to order at 5:04. After reading the district’s vision statement, Ms. Messenger introduced former School Board Member, Charlie Kennedy, who gave the invocation. Mr. Kennedy reminded everyone of Hispanic Heritage Month and wished Chair Choate a happy birthday. The Pledge of Allegiance followed.
Hispanic Heritage Month and Proclamation – Mr. Barber, Communications Director announced September 15-October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. Ms. Debra Estes, Director of ESOL, Migrant and Dual Language Programs, introduced the first and second-grade Braden River Elementary Dual Language Students who performed. Ms. Barber explained that during school days, the students learn one-half day in English and one-half day in Spanish. A proclamation was read in English by Mr. Tatem and then read in Spanish by Gabby McIntosh, Braden River Elementary.
JC described issues with the ESE’s Safety Transportation Teams. She stated that the person teaching first aid doesn’t have the qualifications to teach first aid, jobs have been posted 4-5 times, personal issues, there’s a lot of stress and help is needed. She asked board members to come and see what’s going on.
GW spoke again in regard to school shootings. When he asked if board members shared the information he gave earlier, Chair Choate reminded the speaker that board members do not interact with the public commenters. When he asked the board if they knew what a “carry” school is, Chair Choate again reminded him of the rule. He asked the board members to help insist that teachers support “carry” schools and stated school shootings occur at non-carry schools.
Reports and Presentations
2023-2024 Progress Monitoring 1: English and Language Arts (ELA) Test Results.
Mr. Jensen, Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Services, started the PowerPoint presentation showing the school grade components for the 2023-2024 school year. He noted writing will not be a part of the school grading system this year. There will still be a writing assessment. Then Dr. Breslin, Executive Director of Curriculum, described Florida’s required progress monitoring windows: PM1, PM2 (January), then PM3 in April and May, and that the district is currently in the PM1 window.
FAST (Florida Assessment of Student Thinking) Progress Monitoring is the tool being used to assess the relatively new BEST (Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking) standards. It is a computer-adaptive test, beginning with a grade-level question and then goes up or down in complexity based on the answers given. The district doesn’t have K-2 ELA results yet. She provided a year-to-year comparison of the State and District results for Reading. Three percent more 3rd graders are scoring well over last year at this same time. There is an accelerated change moving up in all areas except 8th and 10th grades.
Dr. Breslin described the many steps that are focused on improvement (Momentum Manatee: Literacy) that result in better performance. Approximately 3,000 students were tested on the ELA assessment.
In response to Mr. Tatem’s question about non-English speaking students being included, Dr. Breslin and Ms. Estes described a 2-year lag given to non-English students’ start date when calculated into the school grade and when they are counted. However, the ELL student’s growth does count toward the growth element of the school grade. About a quarter of Manatee District students are English Language Learners.
Ms. Spray expressed disappointment in the numbers, preferring a focus on younger students, and said ELL has a major impact and then promoted the support of an English Proficiency Academy “to get beyond this barrier we have with language.” She suggested lobbying state and federal to fund efforts.
Chair Choate described all of the programs that were put in place four years ago which have helped improve results in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. “We are seeing the fruits of our labors.” He questioned the missing piece for 6-10th grades where students are becoming more independent. He suggested returning to incorporating writing into all subjects.
When asked by Ms. Foreman if PM1 is useful, Dr. Breslin indicates it is. She said it helps students who are new to our district and it gives a standards-based analysis to know where to place emphasis. She indicated she prefers the mid-year mark (PM2) which shows progression when compared to PM1. Dr. Breslin indicated progress monitoring will be more powerful as the district helps parents understand the data.
Dr. Wysong said, “The more we learn about the standards and scores, we can appropriately challenge all of our students.” When asked by Ms. Foreman if students can opt-out, Dr. Breslin said all of the students are encouraged to take the exam, adding that students can’t be helped in the best way possible if it isn’t known where they are currently in their learning. Dr. Breslin also described what is being done for ongoing determination if the programs that are used are working, both for implementation and results. Ms. Foreman asked what the impact of Science of Reading is having and Dr. Breslin indicated it is going well. Dr. Breslin indicated, in response to Ms. Spray’s inquiry, that she will send to Dr. Wysong and Mr. Jensen the individual schools’ data.
Consent Items. 15 items passed 5-0.
New Business (Dr. Wysong made the following recommendations for approval)
Approval of Resolution 2023-08 Authorizing a Section 1011.13, Florida Statutes Tax Anticipation Note (TAN), Series 2023 (General Fund)
Ms. Sellers, Deputy Superintendent of Business Services, spoke about the delay in tax collections and that this is to cover that gap. This is about the 15th year in a row that the district has done this. It serves as an insurance policy to cover any unexpected tax collection delay. Passed 5-0
Approval of Advertising a Notice of Intent to Amend and Adopt School Board Policies and Setting a Public Hearing at the Board Meeting on October 24, 2023
Ms. Spray asked if her suggested changes were made. Mr. Chapman indicated these changes are in response to legislative changes and will bring her suggestions to the rest of the board at the Oct. 27th board workshop. When it was noted that the workshop date occurred after the adoption, the hearing date was moved. Ms. Foreman moved to amend the motion to have the hearing on November 14. The amended motion passed 5-0
Approval of the Agreed Upon American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Raise Terms in the Amount of $5,173,054 (Multiple Funding Sources) Passed 5-0
Approval of a New Job Description and Position of Specialist, Leave of Absence (General Fund)
Dr. Wysong indicated this and the following two job description changes provide for the realignment of personnel in the Benefits Department. No new people will be hired. Passed 5-0
Approval of a New Job Description and Position of Specialist, Terminal Payout and Sick Leave Bank (No Financial Impact) Passed 5-0
Approval of a New Job Description and Position of Specialist, Benefits (General Fund) Passed 5-0
Approval of the Reclassified Job Description and Position of Director, School Improvement to Executive Director, School Improvement and Leadership Development (General Fund)
Dr. Wysong explained this is an existing job description that has been broadened due to feedback from school-based and other stakeholders. This provides for a single point of contact working on state accountability, leadership development to enhance succession planning, and directly supervising a small group of schools.
Approval of the Revised Job Description and Position of Executive Director, Pupil
Personnel Services to Executive Director, Student Support and Family Engagement (No Financial Impact)
Dr. Wysong said this is a vacant and funded position. He indicated he waited to get input from district and school leadership and until a Deputy Superintendent of Instruction was hired since this position reports to him. This position is responsible for coordinating all support services for ESE (Exceptional Student Education), ELL (English Language Learners), DOP (Drop Out Prevention), Alternative Education, Federal Grants Department, and Early Learning, with a high emphasis on family engagement. Passed 5-0
New Business (No Superintendent Recommendation)
Approval of the 2024 School Board of Manatee County Legislative Priorities. [LWVMC Note: Legislative Priorities ]
Ms. Foreman indicated for the item regarding attending meetings virtually, the intent is not to have a fully virtual meeting. Ms. Foreman questioned #3 [LWVMC note: “Review and clarify current Sunshine Laws to create basic exceptions for attendance at public events and trainings by two or more Board Members.”] Questions have arisen about whether two or more board members can be at the same public meeting.
Mr. Tatem stated he has a page and a half of notes of his ideas for changes and clarification. He also stated he had spoken with Rep. Tommy Gregory about this. Ms. Foreman stated Mr. Tatem does not speak for the board. Mr. Tatem clarified he only spoke for himself and that other board members could speak for themselves. “Sunshine Laws don’t apply to the State or US legislators so why does it apply to us?” Mr. Tatem asked. He gave examples of what he thinks they cannot do because of the Sunshine Law.
Ms. Foreman spoke to the vague wording. Mr. Tatem is asking for exceptions. Mr. Tatem spoke to the question he had been asked at the Tiger Bay Luncheon when he was on a panel that he couldn’t address. He believes the Sunshine Law inhibits good government.
Chair Choate stated he could see some exceptions. Ms. Messenger thanked Mr. Chapman for taking their ideas and creating a concise one-pager. She stated it’s not a good idea to edit the Sunshine Law. She thinks the words should be reviewed and clarified, for example, Ms. Messenger believes Mr. Tatem could have responded to the question at the Tiger Bay luncheon because it was a one-way comment. It wasn’t a response between school board members. There are optics that need to be considered.
The Chair stated that reviewing and clarifying would help the public, but he is not asking to change the wording.
Ms. Spray stated she supports the thought process of this. The reason we have the Sunshine Law is that “good or not-so-good people did some bad things.” She spoke to perceptions. She also stated that she feels bad when she sees another Board member in public and not being able to go up to them.
Ms. Foreman asked Mr. Tatem to share what statute was discussed with Rep. Gregory.
Ms. Foreman said the items that are being discussed are about public meetings and that we are not in agreement on what needs to be changed with the Sunshine Law. Ms. Foreman said Attorney Dye is very conservative.
Chair Choate said it’s about clarifying public events and training events, which helps alleviate misperceptions from the public.
Ms. Spray wanted to see and hear the same presentation on a particular item/vendor when all were there.
To Mr. Chapman’s suggestion to vote on each item of the legislative priorities separately, Ms. Messenger stated we function as a body, you cannot do that. She referenced, “Shenanigans in the highest order.” She added that the way the language is is fine; and indicated whether we move on this or not.
Ms. Foreman said she sees the topic of Sunshine Law as a blank check without being specific.
Chair Choate indicated this was a good discussion.
Ms. Foreman asked about the Loan Appropriation Request impact. Mr. Chapman stated this vote gets the ball rolling.
Passed 4-1 (Ms. Foreman dissented)
Acceptance of Resignation of Citizens' Financial Oversight Committee (CFOC) Member, Ms. Cynthia Howard Ms. Spray thanked her on behalf of the board. Passed 5-0.
Board Discussion of Instructional Materials Adoption Process; Motion to advertise a Notice to Amend and Adopt School Board Policy 2520 and Set a Public Hearing at the Board Meeting on November 14, 2023
Mr. Tatem added this discussion item to the agenda and then proceeded to ask the board to change the district policy regarding only considering texts that are on the DOE-approved list for adoption. The reason for this is that he wants the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum to be considered during this year’s social studies textbook adoption cycle. To do this the board policy 2520 would need to change. Mr. Tatem made the motion, Ms. Spray seconded and a robust discussion ensued.
[LWV MC Note: Hillsdale is a small, private Christian college in rural Michigan with approximately 1,400 students which is known for refusing state and federal funding to avoid government regulations and for creating a free civics curriculum (Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum) that emphasizes patriotism and American exceptionalism.]
Ms. Messenger expressed appreciation for wanting to be open to other curricula; however, the DOE list assures the materials align to standards upon which students are tested, and the researched best practices when utilizing them. She added that if materials not on the list are purchased or considered and if they didn’t align or use research-based best practices, that would be an error on the part of the board to allow that. She indicated concern for changing policy for this piece and every other piece in the future by individuals who do not understand what is necessary. She expressed a lot of concerns about changing the policy for something not DOE approved; parents wouldn’t be okay with that and added, that multiple levels of checks and balances have value. She reminded them that it takes finely tuned expertise for a teacher to know what to do to align with standards. She said she does not feel comfortable changing policy to introduce non-DOE-approved texts.
Ms. Spray said she doesn’t think every curriculum option can be on the DOE BEST curriculum. Ms. Spray suggested going to the curriculum team to review the 1776 materials before they consider updating or changing the policy. She stated that Hillsdale is an established college.
Ms. Foreman stated this would open a Pandora’s box. She reminded everyone that she is not an educator, nor is the majority of the board and they have no training or experience in curriculum and textbook alignment and that is why they rely on DOE. She added this is a slippery slope being proposed.
Mr. Choate said he taught high school American history and he is familiar with Hillsdale’s materials and feels they would be okay for supplemental use. He agreed changing policy would open a pandora’s box and while may look good now may not look good in the future. Chair Choate posed a question to Dr. Wysong, as superintendent “What would this supplemental curriculum process look like?”
Dr. Wysong stated the focus of instruction should be on the core materials adopted. Supplemental materials do not need to be on DOE approved list. It would need to be reviewed by various faculty members – principals and teachers, as well as using the teachers’ judgment. There are opportunities to look at supplemental materials.
Chair Choate added he thinks it is a very good curriculum. He thought Hillsdale chose not to get DOE approval because they “did not want to pigeon-hole themselves to each of the state’s standards.” He also thinks it should be vetted with the curriculum team, but changing the policy could have repercussions.
Ms. Messenger stated she was concerned when you mention specific curriculum and was basically concerned with Chair Choate’s endorsement of this curriculum.
Ms. Spray stated maybe the motion could be amended to review the proposed supplemental curriculum and not revise the policy.
Ms. Messenger stated putting a motion on the floor regarding supplemental material was not advertised to the public.
Mr. Tatem stated some charter schools in Florida are already using it; the curriculum team should review it. Ideally, this should be a workshop topic. He asked, “Do we want to change the policy?” If we don’t change the policy, we can’t do it anyway. The current policy does not allow this curriculum.”
Chair Choate stated that if the policy is changed, anybody can bring anything up to be reviewed, and there could be unintentional consequences.
Mr. Tatem asked how the non-DOE curriculum could get into the mix.
Dr. Wysong stated his experience is working with the DOE list. If not, there is no assurance that the curriculum has been reviewed by the state. He indicated that when courses are offered for which the state has not reviewed materials is the only time a list is not available. Adopting from the DOE list provides a safe harbor. He indicated he wanted this discussion because if there is to be a policy change, he will pause the selection process that is already in motion. The language needs to be worked out if there is to be a change in policy.
The motion failed 2-3 with Chair Choate, Ms. Messenger, and Ms. Foreman opposing.
Legal Department Update Attorney Dye expressed his admiration for their discussion on the Sunshine Law.
Operations Update - Deputy Superintendent Ranaldi reported regarding Human Resources that at the recent job fair, 44 attended and 18 offers were made. The next Teacher/Paraprofessional Job Fair is slated for 9/28, 4:30 -7:30 at MTC.
Another Operations Job Fair will be held on 9/26 from 9-1 at Wakeland. There are now 101 bus drivers for 95 routes. Job Fairs and training are continuing for bus drivers. Food Service is celebrating National Hispanic Month with special menus and posters. The construction and architectural teams have been selected for Palma Sola Elementary. The groundbreaking for Tara Elementary’s renovations is October 5.
Instructional Update – Deputy Superintendent Jensen stated Freedom Week is being celebrated this week. Early Literacy activities begin on October 17 with a Rotary program. The Catapult Engineering Challenge will be held at Johnson Middle School this Saturday. MTC will host an open house on October 6. A Career and Technical Rally will be held this Saturday at Parrish High School.
Superintendent Remarks - Dr. Wysong thanked the parents and students who participated tonight. He also stated that there would be more presentations that would be given by district staff such as the one tonight to incorporate transparency. He thanked the Board for supporting the 15 items on the consent agenda with $17.4 million in grants being approved and all of that funding benefits the district. He thanked the Board for allowing him to attend the Fall Convening of Superintendents. Dr. Wysong stated that he, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Edwards have been spending time with Palmetto community leaders. He indicated that yesterday, he enjoyed having lunch at the Bradenton Rotary Constitution Day Essay Event. He also attended the Freedom Elementary School Ribbon Cutting yesterday and will attend Master Board Training next Tuesday.
Ms. Foreman thanked Dr. Wysong for including board members on his tours. She stated it is special to see the interaction between him and the schools. She has signed up for tomorrow’s visit at Anna Maria Elementary. She stated she had attended SAC meetings. She wished Chair Choate Happy Birthday. In addition, she stated it was a good meeting with civil discussion and that she’s happy to be a part of this board
Ms. Messenger stated she had no comments since it was Mr. Choate’s Birthday.
Mr. Tatem added a safety moment reminding all to lock their cars, which will cut down 50% of the crime. He said that people were coming from St. Petersburg and breaking into cars. He stated he has been on the board for 10 months and we have great employees. He closed by saying the discussion was great and it was cordial.
Ms. Spray stated she enjoyed the discussion at the Bradenton Rotary Constitution Day Essay Event. She stated former board member Mr. Miner started it and he was present at the event. She attended the ribbon cutting at Freedom Elementary where she spoke. She also attended the Palmetto Youth Center event yesterday. She also mentioned a teacher present at the Palmetto Youth Center event that is in their 50th year teaching. She also attended the Sarasota MPO meeting. Happy Birthday to Chair Choate.
Chair Choate stated he wasn’t able to attend the ribbon cutting at Freedom Elementary and thanked Ms. Spray for attending. He thought this was a great board meeting, and they had great discussions.
The board was observed to conduct themselves in a civil manner during robust exchanges while conducting thorough discussions.
Board members are asked to request that the district update the website to reflect changes in board policies to be heard at future meetings. For a short period of time, the full board policy with proposed changes was posted for easy review.
As board members referenced their legislative priorities, it would have been helpful for the public to know what the referenced item was, e.g., virtual attendance at meetings.
Ms. Spray’s expressed disappointment in the first Progress Monitoring scores, when the results showed improvement, which seemed unnecessary. It was helpful for
Chair Choate to remind her of the efforts that are being made that have led to the improvements. She will also benefit by learning how literacy instruction looks differently at the secondary level and her support for those efforts will be helpful.
Ms. Messenger again brought the board members’ attention to their work and the need for them to rely on the expertise of the district staff. She diplomatically cautioned them when they appeared to step into managing. And she also reminded fellow board members when their intentions veered in a direction not advertised in the agenda.
Distracting sidebar discussions between Mr. Tatem and Mr. Dye should be discouraged.
We agree the board members will benefit from a thorough and complete understanding of the Sunshine Law so that they can function appropriately. A review and clarification will be helpful. We caution against advocating for changes. We suggest board members request the School Board Association offer clarification as part of their School Board Training.
Mr. Tatem bringing the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum to the table in the midst of the textbook adoption process was disruptive. It highlights his lack of understanding about the procedures and timeline, as well as the basis for the current policy. However, the ensuing discussion was informative to all. It underscored the need for board members to be able to discern the differences between curriculum, instructional materials, and supplemental materials, and the importance of alignment to the standards.
We remind board members that the instructional experts are on the district staff. It is not the board’s role to vet or endorse specific products or vendors.