What Should Our School Board Do?
YES For Okaloosa Schools has watched or attended every Okaloosa School Board meeting since early 2019. We have seen a Board that accomplishes little in the way of oversight. From these years of watching, we clearly see numerous deficiencies. Below is a partial list of what our School Board should be doing that it currently does not do to properly represent the citizens of our county. .
The Okaloosa School Board rarely, if ever, debates policy issues of any significance. The Board members need to break out of their Groupthink paradigm and start to ACT like an oversight board and perform their oversight function…engaging in active and legitimate problem identification, resolution and prevention.
Virtually EVERY vote has been 5-0 the last two years. This means either they are afraid to publicly disagree or they are avoiding controversial subjects on which there may be disagreement. BOTH are symptoms of Groupthink and organizational paralysis which fails to properly serve Okaloosa students, teachers, staff, parents and taxpayers.
How do they FIX that?
Policy Debate, Formulation and Discussions
- The School Board members should engage in regular, legitimate policy debate instead of rubber stamping virtually everything that comes before them with a 5-0 vote. Since November, 2020, we’re unaware of any motion on which any Board Member voted “No.” That’s a clear sign they are avoiding contentious issues.
- In meetings, the School Board members should sometimes play Devil’s Advocate or encourage analysis of alternatives and options. This very rarely, if ever happens.
- In meetings, the School Board members should always identify problems or lack of proper resource allocations at the schools they represent – and seek solutions – for the Superintendent and his staff. This also, rarely, if ever happens.
The School Board should acknowledge that there’s an Accountability problem in the district and use their bully pulpit to call on the Superintendent to change the paradigm so this type of flaunting of the rules, resulting in endless scandals, stops or at least is reduced.
- Having 16 employees arrested on felony charges over the last few years means there’s a problem in our district. These were not victimless crimes (see https://truth4ok.com/felonyarrests/). The School Board should acknowledge that publicly and seek solutions, not ignore this trend.
- Whenever serious employee misconduct results in an arrest (like the 16 felony arrests we’ve seen in the last few years), the School Board should examine each incident publicly – after adjudication – and determine:
- If the incident exposed a policy flaw they can remedy with a policy change or new policy.
- If the incident exposed a trend due to commonality with other incidents which demand a policy or other remedy.
- If the incident exposed a weakness in the district’s procedures for dealing with employee misconduct which either they or the Superintendent must fix.
- If the incident exposed a student or employee safety issue which must be remedied.
- If the incident exposed a flaw in district investigative procedures and ability to draw conclusions.
- If the incident exposed an unwillingness on the part of employees to come forward with concerns about misconduct by their fellow employees.
- – The 2016 investigation into the Kenwood Elementary Child Abuse case which eventually forced Superintendent Jackson’s resignation identified that at least eight other employees had suspicions of improper student treatment but never spoke up.
- The School Board should routinely review staffing levels to determine if there is a current or potential district-wide or individual school manpower problem – and advocate for shifting resources if required. We have never seen them be proactive on this, choosing instead to wait until problems become crises.
- The School Board should routinely review by-school discipline statistics to determine if there is a current or potential district-wide or individual school behavioral compliance problem or trend – and advocate for shifting resources or moving administrative personnel if required. We have never seen them do this in public, although all stakeholders should be informed as to where discipline trends lie.
Senior Employee Misconduct
After it became clear in 2018 that the former Superintendent failed to report (IAW state statute) substantiated allegations of mistreating a non-verbal autistic 4-year old child, they should have passed a motion of No Confidence in that superintendent and sent a letter to the Governor asking for her suspension from office IAW FL Statute 112.51. As an aside, the teacher who did that was sentenced to seven years incarceration, and three other district employees, including an Assistant Superintendent, pleaded guilty or no contest to crimes related to the scandal….but our Board didn’t do anything. They rarely, If ever challenge the administration on anything, but they need to start now.
- The School Board should take a skeptical look at everything that comes before them and not just accept it at face value and demand answers to hard questions.
- The School Board should send a strong message about senior employee misconduct by making a commitment to the citizens of Okaloosa that never again will they sit idly by if the Superintendent or a senior member of the administration is implicated in a criminal probe. They should promise that if warranted they will:
- Pass a Motion of No Confidence or
- Pass a Motion of Censure or
- Pass a Motion to Petition the Governor to Suspend the Superintendent if the situation is warranted.
Parental and Visitor Engagement
When a parent addresses the School Board at a board meeting about a problem, they almost never ask, “What would you like us to DO to help fix this problem?” That MUST Change!
- The School Board should engage with speakers who come to the Board meetings with problems and try to see what they could do to help solve those problems and prevent reoccurrences.
- The School Board should engage with parents who identify problems to seek solutions and determine if the problem is a trend which the board can address.
- The School Board should follow up with parents to see if their issues are resolved instead of just passing the issue off to the Superintendent and forgetting about it.
Financial and Accounting
2020 Performance Audit
The 2020 performance Audit results were clearly horrible. The audit identified numerous areas for improvement in program planning and resource expenditure controls. See more at truth4ok.com/audit. However, the School Board did not follow up for 17 months, and they only did so after being criticized on Social Media for failing to follow up. they did follow up, the briefing they received (was deficient in that:
– The briefer and Board Members made numerous excuses saying that the auditors were not from Florida, even though the firm is nationally recognized and also audited two other Florida School Districts – both of which got much better ratings.
– The briefer did not talk about all the audit ratings/grades, only those which didn’t illuminate how bad the results were.
– All “Fixes” on the powerpoint slides were highlighted in Green – regardless of whether or not they were ongoing or complete – creating a visual illusion that everything was complete, even though it was not. Incomplete and ongoing items should normally be in red or yellow to highlight the status so board members would know to follow up on that item later.
– Findings and recommendations about the Transportation Program were ignored and not discussed in detail, because the district said that they could not spend Sales Tax money on the program as originally planned. But rather than examining those “fixes’ anyway, they simply didn’t talk about them.
What Should They Do Better?
- The School Board should acknowledge that the results of last year’s Performance Audit were horrible and commit to the public that they will, as a Board, pursue and monitor implementation of fixes until all fixes – including the Transportation Program – are Complete.
- The School Board should demand regular updates on the fixes the district indicated it would implement based on the Performance Audit results. One briefing is not enough when there are still fixes that are “ongoing.”
- The School Board should challenge the briefing instead of making excuses.
- The School Board should re-engage and demand regular updates on Transportation Program fixes the district committed to in 2020.
IT Seat Management Contract
In 2014, the Board accepted the Higher (by $1 Million/year) of two qualified bids for a $6.5 Million IT Seat Management contract (click here for more information). In 2019, when the contract was up for renewal, they refused to consider negotiating down the $100,000/year raise the contractor wanted and simply accepted the increase. Some of their reasons for not putting the contract out to bid was they didn’t have time, despite the fact that they had over six months until the contract expired.
- The School Board should renegotiate the Seat Management contract at the end of the next school year.
- The School Board should make a public statement that they expect ALL contracts be re-examined or re-bid to achieve cost savings.
No Purchase Order Expenditures
Since at least 2015, at virtually every School Board meeting, the Board approves purchases made with No Purchase Order in violation of Board of Education rule 6A-1.012, Paragraph 13 and their own policy 02-17. Purchase Orders are required to ensure budgetary constraints and accounting requirements are met.
This subject came up at the School Board Workshop on September 23, 2021. One Board Member made the point that the current practice violated state statute. Another Board Member chimed in that a former Superintendent used to order school principals to appear at Board meetings to explain why they violated Purchase Order requirements, and that stopped the practice. The exchange is at the 10:20 mark at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWEUIzc6yM0.
However, no current Board Member ever insisted that the practice stop. If they wanted to spend tax $$ correctly, they should:
- Withhold approval of future purchases made without Purchase Orders until the administration takes positive corrective action to permanently Fix the problem.
- Demand a public explanation of exactly why each expenditure was made without the required Purchase Order
- Amend Policy 02-17 and their procedures for implementing it to comply with Board of Education rule 6A-1.012, Paragraph 13.
Leading up to the 2020 Sales Tax Referendum, the district proposed a Project List to spend over a Quarter-Billion Tax $$ on band aid solutions to fix up schools in our county. However, many of our schools are over 50 years old, and several are over 60 years old. Replacing those schools instead of trying to extend their life with band aids will very likely be more cost effective due to the huge savings in energy costs and maintenance – especially since energy costs have risen significantly in the past year – (click here to see how the rise in energy costs impacts our schools). Ten years from now when Sales Tax money runs out, we will have schools that are ten years older and more obsolete and no funds to fix them when the band-aid fixes break down. But it STARTS with getting the TPM Contractor to do a legitimate study, not just ignoring the issue and pretending this looming problem isn’t there.
- The School Board should take whatever steps are legally required to engage their TPM contractor (or a third party consultant), perform Cost-Benefit Analyses on our oldest buildings, and if necessary revamp the “project list” for using the Half-cent sales tax revenues. They should come up with a legitimate plan to replace obsolete schools in our district when that’s determined to be more economical. A combination of Half-cent sales tax revenues and “1.5-mil” capital money offer opportunities to save money over the long run – if they do their homework and come up with a plan.
Miscellaneous Issues – Just Plain Common Sense
- The School Board should demand the current Superintendent create a task force (to include local citizens, parents, teachers and taxpayers) or other group to study WHY we have so many of these problems and what needs to happen to fix the district’s culture.
- The School Board should offer to have a Board Member serve on or lead the task force.
- The School Board should figure out what changes they can make in policy, personnel and budgets and use that power to Improve Accountability.
- The School Board should examine why Okaloosa’s rating among Florida school district fell to 11th in the 2020-21 school year and determine if this was an outlier or a trend.
- The School Board should engage the administration to figure out exactly why 22 public schools in our district were NOT named “Schools of Excellence.”
- The School Board should then come up with a plan to improve those 22 schools which were NOT named so they can become “Schools of Excellence.”
- The School Board should regularly and randomly select small groups of employees and hold small group sessions to get feedback direct from employees in a way the employees feel safe from retaliation. They should then use the feedback in a constructive manner to Improve the district’s functioning.