PUBLISHERS NOTE: I, Dr. Rich Swier, regret having used the term “illegal” in this and any other article to describe actions by Ms. Pat Gardner and the SC/TA.
Democrat Ken Marsh is in a run off for the Sarasota County School Board in District 1. Marsh has been endorsed by the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association (SC/TA). An investigation has revealed that two officers of the SCTA have been using their official school board email accounts to promote Marsh, denigrate a sitting school board member, promote Charlie Crist for governor and take positions on a variety of political ballot measures. These two individuals are SC/TA President Patricia “Pat” Gardner and SC/TA Treasurer Kevyn Fitzgerald. For example an email from Pat Gardner reads:
From: Gardner Pat
Sent: Thursday, September 11, 2014 3:37 PM
Subject: List of Contributors to Bridget Ziegler
Bridget Ziegler will be in a run off election for the District 1 School Board seat with Ken Marsh in November.
SCTA endorsed Ken Marsh. Bridget Ziegler will not say if she voted for or against the referendum because she voted against it. Attached is a list of contributors to her campaign. This information came right from the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections web site.
[ATTACHED FILE LISTING DONORS TO BRIDGET ZIEGLER’S CAMPAIGN]
>Please be aware that all e-mail to and from Sarasota County Schools is subject to the public records laws of Florida.
Kevyn Fitzgerald, who works at Riverview High School, forwarded an email from Gardner during school hours which reads:
From: Fitzgerald Kevyn
Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:55 AM
Subject: FW: Information for Restricted Class
From: Gardner Pat
Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 10:57 AM
Subject: Information for Restricted Class
Yesterday, I heard from a frustrated teacher at one of our elementary schools that one of her colleagues had announced in the lunch room that she didn’t know who she would be voting for in the Governor’s race. She was shocked and, truthfully, so am I.
We have a screwed up merit pay system ready to hit us right in the face. No one can understand the formula. They don’t have the tests. It is the biggest mess I have ever seen.
Rick Scott signed this bill into law before the session was even finished in his first year. He couldn’t wait. Charlie Crist had a similar version of a merit pay law and he vetoed it the year before. So how hard is it to make a decision?
Scott cut the education budget his first year by 1.3 billion dollars. Yes, the economy was in a shambles. However, Scott’s proposed budget called for cutting 1.75 billion dollars. Even the GOP led Legislature said no. So how hard is it to make a decision?
Scott championed and signed the bill to take 3% from your salary for retirement. He did not put it into the FRS. He used it to fund the state budget. Now they want everyone to go into a 401K. This proposed law has failed twice but they will keep trying. Crist will veto any law that will hurt the FRS. So how hard is it to make a decision?
What is next with Rick Scott? Will they try to limit your sick time? Will they reduce the number of days you can cash in at retirement or worse, take them away altogether? If this man wins everything is up for grabs. He will have nothing to lose.
So, how hard is it to make a decision? [Emphasis added]
NOTE: A flyer titled FAST FACTS For Florida Teachers and Public School Employees was attached comparing Crist to Scott.
You would expect senior SC/TA officials to know the rules concerning use of the school board email system. The Sarasota County Schools Information Technology Guidelines and Procedures, page 28, under the heading “Appropriate Use of E-mail” states the following:
Sarasota County Schools guidelines prohibit certain types of e-mail. These include mail that may be perceived as harassment, political campaigning, or commercial solicitation. Chain mail is also prohibited. Violators will be subject to loss of computer access privileges, as well as additional disciplinary action as determined by the Sarasota County Schools disciplinary procedures. Certain types of e-mail, including but not limited to harassing e-mail, may also subject the sender to civil or criminal penalties. [Emphasis added]
Gardner and Fitzgerald, with others, appear to be willfully ignoring these guidelines by using school board computers and the internal email system, during school hours to send emails that “may be perceived as harassment or political campaigning.” The teacher mentioned in the Fitzgerald/Gardner email is clearly known to all those who overhead the lunchroom conversation. Both emails are promoting a particular candidate for public office.
So, what has Superintendent Lori White done about these, and other, violations of school board policy?
Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist Sarasota County Schools, in an email sent on behalf of Superintendent White states:
Ms. Gardner and Mr. Fitzgerald are representatives of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association.
Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreements between the School Board and the SC/TA, the Association has the right to use the School Board’s email system to communicate with employees regarding union business. Specifically, the instructional bargaining agreement stipulates, in Article IV-G:
E-Mail and Computer Access
1. The employer shall provide access to the Board’s electronic mail delivery system to the Union as a means of communications with the employees.
2. The employer agrees to provide access to a computer and the electronic mail delivery system for the senior Union representative at each worksite.
3. E-mail communications between the employees and the Union and/or its building representatives involving Union business will be considered a private communication not subject to Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.
4. When the Administration deems it necessary to read an employee’s e-mail, the employee will be so notified in a timely fashion. Such notification will include the reason for such interception. The e-mail of an employee will not be read by an unintended party without providing such notice to the affected parties.
5. The Union will reimburse the district a sum of $250 per year or the actual costs; whichever is higher.
Thus, the SC/TA has the contractual right to use the School Board’s email system to communicate with district employees for its own business. The School Board does not monitor these private communications, and they are not the subject of discipline.
Outside of the SC/TA’s ability to communicate with the employees, you are correct that our procedures state that the district email system is not to be used for, among other things, political campaigning. Superintendent White has sent a reminder to all employees of this prohibition.
So what action did Superintendent White take, after we notified her of the violations, exactly? Superintendent White sent out the following to all school board employees:
REMINDER TO ALL EMPLOYEES
As our community is in the midst of a number of political campaigns, I want to remind all employees about the School Board’s Information Technology Guidelines and Procedures which prohibit, among other things, using the School Board’s email system for any communication that may be perceived as political campaigning. While I encourage all our employees to be civically engaged in the electoral process, this engagement should not occur on work hours, nor should the School Board’s email system be used for this purpose.
Thank you for your cooperation.
Of course since the school board does not monitor these union “private communications” and “they are not the subject of discipline” then Superintendent White cannot know if her reminder will be honored. The only way to know for sure is to follow the school board procedure and revoke Gardner and Fitzgerald’s email privileges at least temporarily.
Imagine what would happen if a student used the school board computer system to politic, what would happen to that student? Perhaps Marsh needs to reconsider who his friends are? Or perhaps Sarasota County voters should consider Marsh and his union friends as “birds of a feather who flock together”?