Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Charles Parker: Brevard Schools Needs Strategy Change to Win Half-Penny Sales Tax

I need to tread lightly as I am a school board employee.  But I must speak up – as I have done before – regarding a Brevard Public Schools potential proposed half-penny sales tax.

Even though a similar measure was defeated 52-48% in November 2012, BPS is back – mainly because the problems have not gone away.

They have a deficit in their capital funds and have been using operational funds to band-aid problems.  They have HVAC units that are literally pieced together with duct tape.  They have school buses that high school seniors rode on when they started kindergarten.

But, at the same time, they have serious perception problems and they are, frankly, political peons.

First – the perceptions.  I took a look at my property tax bill the other day.  Using some rounding, approximately 70% of my school taxes go to Tallahassee (of which I assume some comes back).  About 7% goes to local general operating funds.  About 23% goes to capital expenditures.

Reality bites…I am already taxed more on school capital expenditures than I am taxed for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department.  And now they want more.  And their detailed charts and graphs do not fix the perception that they already get enough of my money…maybe too much.

Next – the politics.  Last go round, they made a political decision to divulge a cut list of people and programs that would go away if the sales tax vote fell short.  However, they didn’t divulge the school closure list.  They said they didn’t want to spark a parochial battle of school v. school.  And, of course, that eventually happened anyway.  And it was ugly.

But, in the end, the sky has not fallen.  The students from closed schools have settled in elsewhere, secondary teachers are figuring out how to do more work with less time like elementary teachers have always done, some busing was eliminated, some programs ended.

So what does BPS need to do to get this tax passed?  Deal with perceptions and change their politics.

First, the perceptions.  We already know that they are using some funds from the operating budget to prop up the capital budget.  So they need to make a grand statement that they are spending the operating budget wisely so they can justify the transfer and win trust.

What should that grand statement be – you ask?  BPS needs to make a major overhaul in their organizational chart to be more efficient in management and delivery of programs.  If I were Superintendent Dr. Brian Binggeli, I would call in executives from Harris Corporation, Health-First, and some other major players and ask them to develop a new structure that is leaner and meaner.

It doesn’t even have to have a lot of cost savings.  It just has to show the reluctant voter that BPS is serious about streamlining government bureaucracy.  I guarantee a move like this would sway some moderate hearts and minds.

Second, the politics.  They need three actions in this column.

Number one – they need to put out another cut list – and this time they need to name the schools that will close and how it will impact other schools.  Parochialistic fights be damned.  If they really want this money, it is time to play hardball.

Number two – Binggeli needs to lighten his tone and change his tune.  His doom-and-gloom, almost threatening attitude does not ring true for his target voter – middle-aged retired folks who may not have kids in school. They are already suspect of the politics of intimidation by others that always say kids and old people will starve and cops and firefighters won’t show up.  As well, air conditioners and buses are not sexy.  Stop talking about them.

Number three – they need to run this like a political campaign because that is what it is.  They should take out advertising and have yard signs.  Maybe have a pithy saying or two.  And they need someone other than themselves to run this campaign.

Wait…I have an idea…How about they give a politically-knowledgeable teacher a leave-of-absence in 2014, a stipend and modest budget and let him run the campaign for them…wonder who that could be?

36 comments:

  1. Have you spent time in an overcrowded classroom in an elementary school this year? I would not say "the sky has not fallen" until you do so.

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    1. I'm not sure there is a correlation between the failure of the tax last year and overcrowded elementary school classes. Doesn't your school go by the class-size amendment?

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    2. In the proposed cuts, it was stated that breaking this voter supported amendment would save the district money even if they had to pay a fine. Bingo himself essentially said, "other kids are doing it." There have been numerous articles (even in FT) about breaking this law. There are certainly classes at my child's school that are over the limit. Combine that with displaced student this year, some for the 3rd year in a row, and it's a recipe for chaos, even with a great teacher.

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  2. I am a high school teacher and 6 classes with no limit to the the number of students or the number of subjects is impossible. I have 47 minutes to plan lessons and prepare lands for 167 students. it is IMPOSSIBLE and my job is literally killing me and my peers. I am totally exhausted at the end of the day and cannot take care of my family. I sleep for 10 hours on Friday nights. I have no life and this meager salary is not worth death. You better wake up community. Your good teachers are leaving for any place other than Brevard.

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    1. How will the passage of the sales tax alleviate your issues?

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    2. For every teacher that leaves, two line up to replace them. Unemployment is high in the country right now so good luck with finding a new job.

      Everyone is replaceable.

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  3. I don't see anything about cutting the fat at the top so I will repost what I just posted on a Florida Today article.

    Here are a few examples of the increases in salaries in administration in Brevard Public Schools.

    2008 Wesley Sumner- Director District Communication/Public Info- Salary $80,000
    2013 Michelle Irwin- Director District Communication/Public Info- Salary $95,000
    Increase of 19% *

    2008 Cyndi VanMeter- Principal Cocoa High- Salary $106,801
    2013 Cyndi VanMeter- Asst. Sup. Curriculum- $121,800
    Increase of 14%*

    2008 Mark Mullins- Principal of Clearlake Middle School- $86,923
    2013 Mark Mullins- Area Superintendent- $111,650
    Increase of 28%*

    *This doesn’t include the 4% increase in salary that was given to administrators recently taken from the money that was supposed to go to the teachers. So there is an even larger percent increase in salaries for these examples.

    So tell me again how the schools are struggling with cash flow because I just don’t see it.

    By the way I noticed that your salary as a teacher (as with many teachers) Charles Parker stayed the same from 2008 to 2013 why is that?

    Is a teacher job not held to the same reverence as an administrator job? Maybe you should focus on firing those administrators that we pay over-the-top salaries to keep us in the black but instead put us in this financial mess to begin with.

    Why would I want to give any more of my hard earned money when they will only misspend it again?? I will not reward their incompetency, I will focus my efforts on these people being fired instead.

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    1. Hahaha..... No Comment from Charles Parker on this one...

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    2. I don't respond to reposts from other news outlets. However, I don't complain about my payscale because I could certainly go and do something elsefor more money if I wanted to...

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  4. The author of this article implying the situation is not yet dire in Brevard schools - see "the sky is not yet falling" is indicative of what is wrong with the entire school board. To say only a "sky is falling" situation requires immediate action is reactive when in fact responsible leaders are proactive.

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    1. Please..do not lump me in with the school board...

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    2. Mr. Parker - You are a paid employee of the school system, as are the members of the School Board.

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    3. That's ridiculous. It's like saying all federal employees agree with Congress and POTUS. ..

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    4. But you sir stand to benefit, either directly or indirectly from this proposed tax increase which makes your credibility questionable.

      Anyone that advocates for tax increases within this environment of heavy taxation we already have is supporting the socialist agenda and are themselves a liberal by their actions. We have more than enough money in our school system. No additional taxes are going to fix anything. Give it 3 or 4 years and they'll want still more money as they adjust up to the next level of funding.

      I for one will not support any more taxes. Neither will anyone in my family.

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    5. I was very careful not to "advocate" either way for this referendum. The purpose of the article is to provide political advice to BPS.

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    6. By default, you are advocating for how this should be done and therefore supporting the effort.

      Sir, you are not an unbiased outsider but an insider seeking this highly unpopular tax.

      The taxpayer is tired of hearing the Brevard School system whinning for more money. They have more than they need right now. They just make extremely poor decisions with the funding they already receive. More money will just give them more opportunity to continue these poor decisions.

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    7. Haha... I am hardly any insider... That statement right there shows you don't know me... And thus.. You are clueless as to my motives andwhat I am seeking...

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    8. Get real!!! You are far more inside than most people are.

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    9. "I was very careful not to "advocate" either way for this referendum. The purpose of the article is to provide political advice to BPS."

      Wow! This is like a priest telling the hangman how to tie the knot but doesn't advocate one way or the other as to the hanging. What a hypocrite!!!!!!

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  5. Absolutely not!!! I will not vote for another tax increase. We are being taxed right into slavery. I already spend a large portion of my income on taxes. It has to stop!!!!

    You can't forever fix issues and problems with increasing taxes. Like another person wrote here, cut out some of the fat in the system. It's amazing to see how many 6 digit and close to 6 digit incomes for those in our school system.

    NO NEW TAXES!!! I can guarantee you more taxes will not fix the problem. I've heard this rant before. The $300M bond issue of the past was supposed to fix everything. Obviously it did not.

    All my life I've heard the School Board rant and rave about not having enough money and things always get done. They don't need any more money.

    I'm sure the founding fathers are spinning in their graves.

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  6. My air conditioner is falling apart also. But I can't go to the voters to get it fixed. I have to manage my funds so that I can get a new one. I am so tired of the lack of responsibility and accountability in our school administration. Charles, I sense you are passionate about teaching and your career in general. But why would you want the frustration and anxiety that come with running a campaign where you are already going to be on the short end of the stick? I'll gladly support a tax when you can prove responsibility. Having to bring in corporate troubleshooters to show the school administration how to right the ship only proves that they don't have that ability. Best of luck to you, sir.

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    1. My tongue is firmly planted in my cheek with that last paragraph...

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    2. Right where it should be!!!

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  7. Our Brevard County School system is broken. No additional money through increases in taxes will fix it.

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. Give them more money and they will spend more money....the never-ending cycle.
    NO MORE TAXES! Perhaps the money could be saved by cutting administators' pay.
    Is population increasing in Brevard?.....if so additional taxpayers will make up the shortages.......or perhaps a fee on developers (OMG - not that .....how will they afford kickbacks to the politicians?)

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    1. Fee on developers? I think they called this impact fees and it hindered development. Government went out of control on developers and try to extort more and more fees. How much development are you seeing in Brevard?

      The well for extortion (i.e., taxation) is running dry but politicians cannot seem to understand this.

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  10. Charles: I've met you once before in person and we had a healthy discussion about the school closings and other school district issues. I think your article and recommendations have merit. I can comment that the school district has a serious communications and perception issues. I for one am not convinced that the school district has budget issues at the level they claim. The Brevard Parents Action Committee (BPAC) conducted a survey on the tax issue and wrote an opinion paper on the topic to include recommendations on what BPS can do better. You can find the paper here: http://www.brevardparents-pac.org/. If you're proposing to run a campaign on the tax you may want to read what is written by BPAC.

    I can also state that BPS's budget deficit is based on some capital needs figure that should be reviewed with the public. How do we know which of the items on the budget list are actually critical needs? or is it a wishlist? No doubt that there are serious capital needs, but has the projects list been reviewed by anyone besides the BPS senior staff? I for one would want to ensure that the list does not include items such as the computer software BPS purchased right before the summer. This computer software was a NO BID purchase to EDR LLC to the tune of $8M. I know for a fact that BPS received an unsolicited proposal from another vendor that would have saved them over $1M for the same capability. BPS was adamant in not considering a competition and sicked the software vendor's lawyers on us parent's who dared to challenge them.

    Bottom line is there is a serious trust issue that BPS must overcome before additional funds are approved by voters.

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    1. Trust is easily lost and difficult to re-acquire. I agree that the Brevard County school system has lost the trust of the public. Problem is they continue to reinforce this distrust in their actions. They are management heavy with large salaries. They have many "teachers" on the books that don't teach. It's a mess and I can't support a tax increase in this environment.

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  11. Our entire government system is out of control. From the Federal to the State to our despicable local government. I fear there is not much we can do anymore. It's only going to get worse and worse until in time, we give all we make to the government and they give us what they think we need to live. Just like Communist Russia and Red China.

    Thomas Jefferson got it right when he said we should fear the government and keep it small. I think it's too late for us now.

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    1. Yes, you are correct. We've already lost the right to own property. Don't pay your property taxes and you lose your home.

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    2. This is defined as a "Lease"

      So we don't own property, rather we lease it from the government.

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  12. Charles this is a very well written even handed article especially:

    Number two – Binggeli needs to lighten his tone and change his tune. His doom-and-gloom, almost threatening attitude does not ring true for his target voter – middle-aged retired folks who may not have kids in school. They are already suspect of the politics of intimidation by others that always say kids and old people will starve and cops and firefighters won’t show up. As well, air conditioners and buses are not sexy. Stop talking about them.

    My parents could have cared less about this, I'm over 60 and so is my younger brother but the baby in the family is still in his 50's so possibly they did worry about his school.
    The threat will make this bill DOA for sure!

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    1. Threats are atypical behavior from our School Board. They are fat with admistration and many administrators have very high salaries. Their mismanagement of what funds they do get is a crime. They need less money, not more....

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  13. I've lived in Brevard County for 45 years and I could write a book with the nonsense presented by our School Board in it's quest for increased tax money.

    They support the epitome of waste and mismanagement. They are heavy on administration and do not have the education experience for the children in their sites. Instead, they are focused on their own agenda which needs an ever increasing amount of tax money to continue.

    There is not much they could say to convince me that they truly have a need for more money. What they need is for an unbiased outside party to review their operations and make changes. They cannot be trusted to make meaningful changes.

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  14. Sir (Parker) you take the position as being on the "right?" You appear more left than right to me... To even make this statement in jest, "Wait…I have an idea…How about they give a politically-knowledgeable teacher a leave-of-absence in 2014, a stipend and modest budget and let him run the campaign for them…wonder who that could be? " ...just goes to show me you are not a right wing conservative but a tax advocating leftist trying to garnish support from the right. A little like Chuck Nelson has done....

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