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Florida High School students given worksheets that focus on rape and adultery

I recently received an email from a concerned citizen about worksheets used in a Florida high school that talked about the rape of a girl named Suzy and about a Mrs. Smith who has a baby named Tyra. Mrs Smith, who is married, believes one of two men can be the father of her child.

Question 3 asks:

Mrs. Smith has a baby named Tyra. She believes one of two men can be the father of her child. A paternity test is done and the results are shown above. Which of the 2 men are baby Tyra’s father?

Question 5 asks:

Suzy was assaulted in an alley and is a victim of rape. The police collected a sample of sperm that was left at the crime scene and now have 3 suspects in custody. Which of the suspects raped Suzy?

Question 6 asks:

The millionaire, Mr. Big, has just died. He has left behind a wife, daughter and a large inheritance. The news of his death has brought forth 2 men who claim to be the long lost son of Mr. & Mrs. Big. Before Mr. & Mrs. Big were married they had an illegitimate child and had placed him up for adoption. They had tried to find him after they became wealthy but had no luck in locating him. A DNA sample was taken from Mrs. Big, the Big daughter and the two men who claim to be the long lost son. Which, if any, of the men are telling the truth?

The full worksheets in PDF format many be reviewed here. NOTE: The questions are poorly worded.

From the questions it appears the worksheets promote the ideas of: rape (question 5), adultery (questions 3 and 6)  and anti-Capitalism (i.e. the use of the pejorative “Mr. Big” in question 6).

The worksheets were used in science/biology classes at Venice High School (VHS) in Venice, Florida.

According to Sarasota County Schools Communications Specialist Scott Ferguson:

The worksheets… were downloaded by teachers from the Internet as practice sheets keyed to concepts of biology (specifically DNA). The worksheets are not part of any textbooks, tests or official curriculum materials used in Sarasota County schools. Students were not graded on their answers. The worksheets have been used in a total of five courses at Venice High School since December 2015 but are no longer being used. [Emphasis added]

Ferguson states, “We estimate that about 275 students have used the worksheets. Three biology teachers at VHS used the worksheets: Debra Bowen, Christopher Lorenz,  Brenda Randazzese. To our knowledge it is not being used at other high schools in the district.”

Parents and citizens are concerned that materials are being used by teachers taken from the internet. Ferguson notes that even he could not determine who created the worksheets.

Are these worksheets academically sound? Are they being used in other Florida public schools? Shouldn’t teachers use approved, scientifically based materials in the classroom?

It appears that the initial concerns by a citizen are well founded. The question is what will the Sarasota County School Board, the Superintendent, the Florida Department of Education do to insure only properly researched and approved materials are used?

Those are the questions.

Florida: Waste and Abuse at the Sarasota County School Board

SB composite-photo (1)The Sarasota County School Board took up a discussion on a way to save the district money. The discussion died due to three school board members: Caroline Zucker, Jane Goodwin and Shirley Brown. This issue was about the costs associated with holding a tax increase referendum during an off year rather than during the November general election cycle. Here are some facts about the March tax increase referendum:

  • The tax increase referendum costs the School District $324,827.84 every four years. Five of these referendums have taken place costing approximately $1,714,139 to date.
  • Voter turnout is 16.76% during March referendums versus over 75% during a General Election.
  • The District March referendum suppresses the vote.
  • The Sarasota County School Board receives over 58% of all property taxes in the county.

The issue:

When the Sarasota County School Board has a “discussion” about issues, they get the feel for how everyone votes and then if there’s not a majority, they don’t schedule a public vote on it because they assume it’ll lose.

They only bring up winning votes instead of forcing votes and putting people on record. The threat of being on record and the accountability that comes from that could actually sway votes during a regularly scheduled School Board meeting. It would also allow for public input on this and many other issues that never make it out of these “discussions.” Discussions appear to be designed to keep important items off of the public meetings agenda.

This is a huge problem and amounts to the abuse of Sarasota County taxpayers, parents and voters.

Watch the video of the discussion held on August 17th, 2015:

During the discussion School Board (SB) Member Bridget Ziegler pushed to have the discussion about moving the Referendum to the General Election. SB Member Frank Kovach aggressively supported moving it as well.

Two of the three SB Members who opposed the move said that it would still pass in November. Caroline Zucker said it would pass in November (at 12:40) but opposed moving and saving money. Shirley Brown also said it would pass in November (at: 10:33 & 12:33) but opposed moving and saving money. Jane Goodwin did NOT support moving it.

Question: So why not save the money and hold the referendum in November?

There is no cost to the School District and taxpayers to add the tax increase referendum to the General Election unless it appears as a stand alone item on an extra sheet of paper, then the cost is only for the paper that is printed on for that one page, a minimal cost.

Those opposed argued that moving the tax increase referendum causes confusion for voters if they vote against referendum and then it’s still continuing from a previous vote. However, SB Member Kovach noted that the Sarasota County Commission did this and it caused no voter confusion.

The opposing SB members worried about the ballot getting crowded and being missed.  See: Too much on ballot SB Member Zucker at 12:40 in the above video. However, SB Member Ziegler rips that apart by referencing voter turnout for the items at the ballot during a presidential general being at 50%+ rather than under 17%. It is also easy to vote via absentee ballot and during the early voting period.

Question: Why should the SB make it more difficult to vote? People aren’t used to voting in March.

Why are Zucker, Brown and  Goodwin so concerned with the campaign to push for supporting the tax increase referendum rather than what’s best for taxpayers? Ziegler notes how bottom of the ballot items during a general election are three times higher than the tax increase referendum turnout. That means more voter engagement, not less.

SB Members have tried to paint first term SB Member Bridget Ziegler as a rookie. Maybe it’s good to have a fresh perspective to understand how much money this is costing the district. Maybe Ziegler is telling the truth and is being silenced at the expense of Sarasota County taxpayers?

Currently the tax referendum happens and is pitched as a rush and then when it’s passed there’s a rush on how to spend the money. It’s easy to spend money when it is not yours on off season tax increase referendums rather than on public school children. Especially when most of that money is used not to improve the classroom.

As SB Member Kovach pointed out the scheduling of the tax increase referendum is “more about victory versus the will of the people.”

Zucker is up for reelection. Perhaps she, Goodwin and Brown need to explain their anti-voter and anti-taxpayer positions?

Florida: Groupthink on the Sarasota County School Board

school board compositI am always fascinated by how politicians, once elected, don’t do what they promised in order to get elected. Rather they become part of “the system”. They become influenced by bureaucrats, forget they represent their constituents and pass laws, rules, and regulations which harm their very constituents. They in effect become group thinkers.

Groupthink is an oxymoron. You see it is not about thinking, rather it is about the group (collective). Wikipedia has this definition of Groupthink:

A psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

The Sarasota County School Board members, with one exception, suffers from groupthink. Because of this it has resulted in irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcomes. One example is the misuse of tax dollars.

YourObserver.com staff in an op-ed stated:

It has been a month and a half, but many of you still will remember the cyclone that whirled about the Sarasota County School Board over its selection of a construction manager for the Suncoast Technical College’s North Port campus.

At the recommendation of Superintendent Lori White, the board voted 4-1 to bypass its selection committee and go with Willis Smith Construction.

The lone “no” vote came from Bridget Ziegler, the rookie board member who was elected last November.

The day after the vote, Ziegler, age 32, posted her rationale and comments on her Facebook page (see box).

Whoa.

At the April 21 School Board meeting, Ziegler’s fellow board members delivered to Ziegler what easily can be called a smackdown, chastising her for seven minutes for speaking out and not following the other members’ board protocol.

Talk about taking Ziegler to the woodshed. “Hey, missy, you need to learn a thing or two before you go spouting off.” That’s the way it comes across.

Among the disturbing comments came from board member Jane Goodwin: “I just hope in the future you’ll … consider that you have a loyalty to this board and … we represent the Sarasota County School Board …”

So what we have on the Sarasota County School Board is one thinker, Bridgette Ziegler, and four followers. The issue is that the Sarasota County School Board selected a vendor whose bid was $4.5 million higher than the lowest qualified vendor. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Shelby Web reported, “The board voted 4-1 to follow Superintendent Lori White’s advice to hire Willis A. Smith instead of A.D. Morgan Corp., which had said it could do the job for about $4.5 million less.”

Does this not appear to be a dysfunctional decision? Aren’t the board members supposed to be good stewards of the people’s property (tax dollars)?

Why do we see politicians at every level become group thinkers? 

Perhaps Frédéric Bastiat’s  who penned the seminal work The Law said it best. He pointed out that the relationship between the rulers and the ruled becomes distorted, and a sense of systemic injustice pervades the culture. Bastiat observed this in horror in his time, and it’s a good description of what happened at the Sarasota County School Board:

The law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense.

The collective must silence those who think – namely Bridgette Ziegler. However, I do not believe Ms. Ziegler will be silenced.

RELATED ARTICLES:

How Law Enforcement Can Take Your Stuff, Explained in 2 Minutes

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EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is by Artsy Magazine.

FL: Sarasota County School Board wants more money to pay teachers for doing less?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sarasota County School Board members. Front row: Caroline Zucker, Shirley Brown. Back row: Dr. Carole Todd, Jane Goodwin and Frank Kovach. For a larger view click on the photo.

The School Board of Sarasota County is pushing for the extension of a 1 mill tax on all county property holders on March 25th. They are using school funds to lobby in favor of and promote the 1 mill tax. According to their official Report on the Uses of Referendum Funds since 2002, ”This vote allows the District to maintain existing programs, provide additional programs and continue the District’s commitment to quality education.”

In a previous column I questioned whether the School Board is really committed to a “quality education”. School Board Member Caroline Zucker responded to my column in an email stating, “There u go telling incorrect info.” I replied, “What is incorrect?”. To date Zucker has not answered my question.

Historically the revenue from the 1 mill tax goes directly into teacher’s salaries (see the District Report on the uses of referendum funds since 2002).This is why the School Board holds a special off cycle referendum at a cost to the School District of $.5 million. Doing so suppresses the vote.

However, teachers come out in droves to vote for their pay raise, and the union promotes the referendum via teachers and parents as a must have do-or-die effort to insure a “quality education.”

What the referendum does is make for a “quality union salary and benefit package” for teachers and administrators. For their $.5 million investment the School Board gets an ROI of an estimated $30+ million annually for four years. Not a bad deal but will it lead to a better education for Sarasota County public school children?

There are two issues. The first is that the School Board is all in with Common Core. This means that teachers have little or no control over what is taught, how it is taught, when it is taught and how it is tested. Parents are totally out of the picture. Common Core cuts out the ideal of local control of the education process, leading to a top down approach designed and implemented by the US Department of Education.

Terrence O. Moore, an assistant professor of history at Hillsdale College, states, “The Common Core Standards control the testing and curriculum of public schools and a large number of private schools in over forty states in the nation. Sold to the public as a needed reform, the Common Core nationalizes absurdity, superficiality, and political bias in the American classroom. As a result, the great stories of a great nation are at risk, along with the minds and souls of our children.”

So, teachers will be given what they must teach – in effect and in practice – Sarasota County teachers will be getting paid more, if the referendum passes, for doing much less due to Common Core.

The second issue is the children themselves. Which does research show truly enhances student achievement – teacher salaries or the child’s family?

Rod Thomson in an op-ed writes, “The debate over extending the extra tax for Sarasota County schools needs to be seen in light of the much larger debate over the future of our children and grandchildren and their opportunities for improved lives. In that context, the extra money taken by the school district is not just a waste of taxpayer money. It is a feel-good but ultimately empty distraction that allows us to vote for something without taking any action on the actual underlying, fundamental causes of poor student achievement and lack of upward mobility. But those root causes are hard to correct.”

“An extensive Harvard study was recently released titled ‘Where is the Land of Opportunity?‘ The four researchers concluded that the largest predictor of a child’s positive ability to move up in life is a family with both parents at home. For lack of upward mobility, they wrote, “the strongest and most robust predictor is the fraction of children with single parents. This study piles on top of a snow-capped mountain of data pointing to what all of us really know to be true — the metaphorical elephant in the living room. And spending more money on programs and salaries is simply irrelevant to the driving factor of family,” notes Thomson.

So why doesn’t the Sarasota County School Board recognize this disconnect between teacher salaries and student performance? Why they want to get reelected. Who gets out the vote for them? Why the teacher’s union of course. Are they buying votes? All we can say is that since the referendum was first introduced only one school board member wasn’t re elected – Caroline Zucker. But she ran again and was elected.

Three school board members are up for reelection in 2014. Perhaps that is why they are pushing the 1 mill referendum?

EDITORS NOTE: Stephanie Simon from Politico writes that with states such as Florida, Texas, and Washington state recently deciding not to require courses such as chemistry, physics, Algebra II or a foreign language for high school graduation, they are thumbing their noses at Obama’s call for a “rigorous college-prep curriculum” for all students, supposedly embodied in the Common Core State Standards.

Sarasota County, FL School Board loves Common Core

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Sarasota County School Board members. Front row: Caroline Zucker, Shirley Brown. Back row: Dr. Carole Todd, Jane Goodwin and Frank Kovach. For a larger view click on the photo.

The School Board of Sarasota County is pushing for the extension of a 1 mill tax on all county property holders on March 25th. They are using school funds to lobby in favor of and promote the 1 mill tax. Has anyone asked if this is legal?

According to their official Report on the Uses of Referendum Funds since 2002, “This vote allows the District to maintain existing programs, provide additional programs and continue the District’s commitment to quality education.” But is the District really committed to a “quality education”?

Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist Sarasota County Schools, states in an email:

The Sarasota County School District has been implementing the Common Core Standards per Florida Department of Education requirements and timetable. We are in full implementation in grades K-2. The current 2013-14 school year is a “blended year” for grades 3-12 (a combination of Common Core and the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards). Full implementation is scheduled for all grades for the 2014-15 school year. Again, this is all according to the state schedule and requirements.

As you may be aware, the Florida Board of Education is considering adopting some changes to the Common Core Standards, including changes in handwriting and math standards. If adopted, the proposed revised standards will likely be referred to as the Florida Standards, since they will depart from the Common Core Standards in these and other areas.

What Ferguson does not say is that the District can opt-out of Common Core, as did thirty school districts in New York. Parents, teachers, educators and concerned citizens see Common Core as anything but a “quality education.”

Terrence O. Moore, an assistant professor of history at Hillsdale College, states, “The Common Core Standards control the testing and curriculum of public schools and a large number of private schools in over forty states in the nation. Sold to the public as a needed reform, the Common Core nationalizes absurdity, superficiality, and political bias in the American classroom. As a result, the great stories of a great nation are at risk, along with the minds and souls of our children.”

Brenda Pastoric in an op-ed titled “The Price of Human Capital” states:

The new business relationship our leaders of Sarasota schools are now promoting CRADLE TO CAREER sounds very promising for the uninformed public and unsuspecting parents, especially in today’s stagnant workforce climate. While we can agree that not every child is college bound, students will lead productive lives either through our excellent vocational education, ROTC, the Military Academy, Booker’s Visual Arts programs and others omitted here. But when “focus groups” such as the Chamber of Commerce and public-private partnerships are created and the “right people” like the CEO of Sun Hydraulics’ speaks of a “formula” and all are “collaborating” with our school officials who state they cannot “do it alone” and looking at “talent” in the fifth grade through data mining, we should be alarmed.

This early, progressive and socialistic labeling from all fronts is not a new phenomenon. History teaches us that mining for human capital by governments or government-corporate partnerships have been a hallmark for some of the most repressive societies. With unfunded mandates to states, during President Bill Clinton’s 1994 School-To-Work act, federal controls and performance-based education were implemented in local schools at the earliest possible age for every American worker to choose careers by Workforce Development Boards, formed to study which labor skills were needed in each state to determine “human resources” training requirements. Then we saw President Bush with “No Child Left Behind” and his 2001 Executive Order “21st Century Workforce Initiative”.

It’s time to wake up as the 1% surtax referendum draws near, and elected officials and parents call for more $, we may be subsidizing the human capital for government and corporations with our children.

Early voting on the 1 mill referendum began on March 10th. Perhaps voters should consider if they want their tax dollars supporting the implementation of Common Core in Sarasota County public Schools.

RELATED COLUMNS:

Why Common Core is Wrong For Our Kids – Period! 

Common Core nationalizes absurdity, superficiality, and political bias

Comprehensive list of States that have pulled out of Common Core

Allen West: If Governor Scott does not “renounce Common Core” he will lose in November

Former Mayor Responds to Sarasota County School Board Raising Taxes

David Merrill, businessman and the former Mayor of the City of Sarasota, Florida, sent the below email to all Sarasota County School Board members.

School Board Members,

I urge you to reject the proposed increase in property taxes for schools. You can eliminate the need for the extra taxes by cutting wasteful policies and programs, and you have failed to make the case that the money will actually improve the education of our children.

Instead of looking to more taxes, you can find more than enough savings to eliminate the need for the taxes by replacing your credential-based compensation system for teachers.  Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, and Bill Gates have said we need to find the money to improve our schools by eliminating the waste and inefficiency from the type of compensation system that you use. Yet, other than perhaps for some new-hires, Sarasota’s teachers’ salaries are set from a salary table with two variables: advanced degrees and years of teaching.

In 2010 Arne Duncan said, ”There is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers.” Despite this information, Sarasota pays for more advanced and special degrees than any other district in Florida. A full 67% of Sarasota’s teachers have a degree above a bachelor’s degree.  While some advanced degrees may be appropriate, does giving two-thirds of the teachers at Phillipi Shores Elementary School higher salaries because they have advanced degrees really do anything to help our children learn the alphabet and the multiplication tables?

When it comes to teacher longevity, Sarasota’s teachers have the 7th highest average longevity out of the state’s 67 school districts. However Harvard Professor Paul E Peterson’s study titled “It’s Easier to Pick a Good Teacher than to Train One: Familiar and New Results on the Correlates on Teacher Effectiveness” reports that there is little increase in a teacher’s effectiveness after the first three years of teaching.  But you continue to increase teachers’ salaries based solely upon the number of years that they’ve been teaching, when, instead, we should pay them based on a performance evaluation like other professionals.

Some of you may say that you know these arguments, but politically you can’t cut teachers’ pay.  Therefore, in the absence of courage to confront the teachers union, your argument is that you have no choice but to increase taxes.  But, based on FCAT and EOC Assessment scores, you can’t show that you have been good stewards of the half-billion dollars you have collected from the referendum-initiated school tax since 2002.

Looking at our FCAT history, Sarasota’s ranking among Florida’s school districts on the high-school Reading FCAT and Math FCAT are lower today than they were a dozen years ago.  For the first three years of the high-school Math FCAT back in 2000, 2001, and 2002, Sarasota’s score was either the second or the third highest in the state. Likewise, for the first two years of the high school Reading FCAT in 2000 and 2001, Sarasota’s scores were either second or third in the state.  When the school-tax referendum passed in 2002, everyone looked forward to new and innovative educational strategies to build on our excellent school district, but, instead, the school district immediately went into an inexplicable funk, from which you’ve not yet recovered.

(I use the FCAT scores from the highest grade in high school that the test is given because they include the cumulative learning from lower grades, and they are the closest measure of the performance of your finished product, the high school graduate.)

Sarasota’s Ranking on High School FCAT among 67 Districts

2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
Math
3
2
3
10
11
12
9
10
11
12
6
6
Reading
2
3
6
16
12
16
9
13
12
12
6
9
Science
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
n.a.
11
8
11
12
10
11
9

 

Fortunately, we’ve begun to regain some of our former glory.  On the recent Algebra EOC Assessment, Sarasota had the second highest score, which may be the beginning of getting back to where we were 11 years ago.

Unfortunately, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of supplemental taxes that taxpayers have given you since 2002, Sarasota’s high school student’s FCAT scores are still determined more by Sarasota’s favorable demographics than the school district’s extra efforts.  As you know, demographic factors such as adult personal income, percentage of free and reduced lunch, adult educational levels, and student racial composition are good predictors of a district’s FCAT scores when considered together.  In fact, there is a good argument that our county and city commissioners are more responsible for Sarasota’s FCAT scores than the school board since the commissioners’ policies have had the most influence on our demographics.

If you were to chart these demographic factors for Florida’s school districts, most school districts’ FCAT scores would fall within a narrow band of where one would expect to find them based on their demographics.  However, when districts deviate from their demographic prediction, it’s possible that their school district is doing something different from the other districts.

Accordingly, there are three districts on the high school FCATs who have challenged Sarasota’s scores, but who shouldn’t be able to based on their demographics alone. These districts, Sumter, Gilchrist, and Wakulla, all have less attractive demographics for adult income and educational levels compared to Sarasota, and their free and reduced lunch percentages are either similar to or higher than Sarasota’s.  Even with these unfavorable demographic characteristics, and along with having less money per student, fewer teachers with advanced degrees, less teacher experience, and lower teacher pay than Sarasota, these lower-income districts have achieved some impressive FCAT scores. They are obviously doing something right given what they have to work with.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
Teacher Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College
% High School
% Free-Lunch
% White
Advanced Degrees
Median Salary
Science
Math
Reading
GILCHRIST
$29,682
15%
72%
48%
92%
33%
$42,829
322
339
324
SARASOTA
$52,331
34%
87%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
317
339
322
WAKULLA
$28,711
22%
78%
35%
82%
37%
$37,042
317
338
322
SUMTER
$24,836
17%
77%
45%
71%
33%
$42,365
320
334
317
FLORIDA
$38,210
23%
76%
45%
47%
41%
$45,723
307
329
309

 

If you could show a similar pattern of consistently having higher test scores than our demographics alone would predict, you could make an argument that you are efficiently and effectively using your resources, and that giving you more resources could lead to even higher test scores. However, you can’t make the argument because our high school students don’t consistently outscore the districts with similar or more favorable demographics.

On the 2011 FCAT tests, there were six districts that outscored Sarasota’s combined test scores and who also have demographics at least as favorable as Sarasota’s.  (I’ve excluded Gilchrist, which is shown above.) The districts are St. Johns, Okaloosa, Brevard, Seminole, Martin, and Santa Rosa. Each district has its favorable and unfavorable demographic factors, but they would all be considered similar.

Some key characteristics for these districts are shown on the table below.

District
County Adult Data
2011 11th Grade Science FCAT Students
District Data
2011 High School FCAT Scores
Personal Income
% College & Prof. Degree
% Free-Lunch
% White
Teacher Advanced Degrees
Teacher Median Salary
All Gov. Revenue Per Student
Science
Math
Reading
ST. JOHNS
$ 48,640
40%
13%
84%
41%
$44,370
$        9,360
324
344
332
OKALOOSA
$ 41,024
33%
23%
74%
42%
$48,779
$        9,245
328
342
330
BREVARD
$ 37,284
33%
25%
67%
43%
$42,421
$        9,226
326
341
326
SEMINOLE
$ 40,133
40%
31%
60%
48%
$43,301
$        8,910
318
343
327
MARTIN
$ 51,723
33%
25%
71%
41%
$43,677
$      10,739
321
340
326
SANTA ROSA
$ 34,838
32%
28%
80%
37%
$42,729
$        8,791
317
338
331
SARASOTA
$ 52,331
34%
38%
72%
67%
$55,264
$      11,961
317
339
322

 

Although the demographics are similar, as the chart shows, the Sarasota’s median teacher pay is 25% higher than the average of the other districts, and Sarasota takes in 28% more tax revenue per student than the other districts on average, or about $2,500 per student.  And, yet, with more lower-paid teachers and far fewer financial resources, these other districts have typically outscored us.

To put a better perspective on the magnitude of this disparity in revenues between districts, Sarasota has about 40,000 students, so a difference of $2,500 per student amounts to $100,000,000.  That’s how much Sarasota could save each and every year if we matched the average budget of the other six districts above.  Or, said another way, that’s how much money we could save if our school district were as efficient and effective in delivering high-scoring high-school graduates as other top districts – like we used to be a decade ago.

The table below summarizes the calculation for the extra tax burden that Sarasota taxpayers must fund annually above what the other top districts on average must pay.

Calculation of Sarasota’s Extra Tax Burden Relative to Top-Scoring Districts
Sarasota’s Per-Student Tax Revenues
Avg. Tax Revenue of 6 Higher-Scoring Districts
Higher Tax Burden for Sarasota Per Student
Sarasota’s Student Enrollment
Sarasota’s Total Extra Tax Burden
$11,961
$9,379
$2,583
41,076
$106,078,770

 

So, the questions before us are whether or not Sarasota has the potential to be the top school district in Florida, and whether we need to collect an extra $100,000,000 in taxes to do it.  And I’ll answer the first question with an unequivocal “Yes!”  And I’ll answer the second question with a “Hopefully not”.

The first question is easy to answer because we right there at the cusp a decade ago.  Back then, before the extra taxes started gushing in, our high school kids were just shy of having the highest scores on the FCAT.  In fact, it was the promise of being the top school district that got the voters to rally behind the property-tax increase in 2002 after having voted down a similar referendum in 2000.  Our recent 2nd-place score on the Algebra EOCA shows that we still have the potential, and it’s not unusual in the lower grades for us to have top FCAT scores.  By effectively using the financial resources that the public has given you, you can overcome any demographic advantages that even a district like St. Johns enjoys, and our high school students can be the very best in the state.

However, the reason I don’t support a continuation of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes is because the need for it is purely remedial. There are only two reasons that the extra taxes are needed.  One possibility is that you have failed to develop a school district that is as efficient and effective the school districts that are currently at the top of the FCAT rankings.  The other possibility is that our city and county commissioners have failed to create an economy that provides enough jobs for high income, college educated workers.  After all, it’s their children who get the top scores.

But continuing the extra $100,000,000 in taxes drains our economy of productive resources and makes our community-development plans more difficult. Other districts that don’t have to pay it are gaining a competitive advantage over Sarasota.  Over a decade, the cumulative impact of draining this much money from our economy is huge.

In less than two years you will have another vote to extend the property tax for schools.  (It only provides about half of the extra $100,000,000 in taxes that you collect.)  I predict that you will fail unless you do two things.  First, you must develop a compensation system that rewards our many excellent teachers and eliminates the bad ones.  (Ever read RateMyTeachers.com?  We still have bad teachers.  My 7th grade son just got one of the worst ones at his school.  Why is Ms. Friedland still allowed to teach?)  Secondly, you must restore Sarasota’s high-school test scores to their rightful place at the top of all districts.  Unlike a decade ago when we were Number 2, with all your extra resources, we need to be Number 1.

Finally, with $100,000,000 more than the average of the other top districts, you don’t need more money.  You need a better plan.  Arne Duncan has said that schools need to do more with less.  I suggest you show your understanding of the new reality by voting down your proposed tax increase.

Best regards,

David Merrill
Arox Land Development, Inc
700 Bell Road
Sarasota, Fl  34240