The First Debate
The First Debate
...for the District 7 Seat for the Orange County School Board
I didn't know a debate was scheduled, but the incumbent and I were both at the same event, and we both were given 2 minutes to share a few thoughts with the group hosting the meeting. The incumbent was late for the event, so she missed what I had to say. After the event was over, she approached me and said she would appreciate it if I would quit telling people that she is for Common Core. Well...the debate was on.
I responded, "I didn't say anything about Common Core. If you were here on time, you would have heard what I said." She replied that a couple of her friends in the crowd told her what I had said. I told her, "They are mistaken. I didn't say anything about Common Core, and I don't lie. If you are against Common Core, why don't you put a statement on your website that explains exactly how you feel about Common Core." She replied that it is a complicated issue. I replied, "Interestingly enough, though, while I did not say anything to the group about Common Core, there were a couple of people at my table that mentioned that you asked them to form a group in the past to speak positively about Common Core." I then told her what I did speak about during my 2 minutes...
I spoke about two things...The first thing I spoke about was Career Technical Education. I would like to see the School District invest more in Career Technical programs at high schools throughout the district. I explained to the group that a student where I work, Orange Technical College - Westside Campus in Winter Garden, recently got a job making $50 an hour as a welder. A nearby hospital called and needed a certified welder, and this particular student was the only one that was certified at the time. I explained to the group that Career Technical Education (CTE) is not just trying to get students jobs, but we are trying to get them careers--high skilled, high paying careers.
I then explained that one of the saddest days of my administrative career was the day Apopka High School lost its Auto Tech program a few years back during her watch as a School Board member. I went on to explain that many students came to school just for this program--their attendance and grades in other classes improved because of their interest and participation in the Auto Tech program. This was their magnet program. (I don't know how the incumbent can speak of wanting to increase magnet program offerings when this particular program, a program that was meeting the needs of many students at Apopka High School, was kicked to the curb. Not only was the program closed, but somewhere around $500,000 worth of car lifts, tools and equipment were sold for peanuts...literally pennies on the dollar.) It was sad to see so many students lose the program that they lived for.
The incumbent replied that it was the principal's decision to shut down the program. I told her that she should have spoken up for all those kids and saved that program. She replied that nobody said anything to her. I told her she needs to talk to teachers and students a little more. That's the job of a school board member...to represent the people in her area, and advocate for the things that are important to them. The job isn't just about PR moments and photo ops with successful people in her district, in order to somehow absorb some of the credit for what they have accomplished.
The deeper side of things that really irritated me was the fact that she probably didn't even know that Apopka High School had an Auto Tech program. She probably didn't know that Westside Tech was in financial trouble and could no longer fund some of the programs at the high schools. Digging a little deeper, from what I've gathered from individuals closer to the situation, I discovered that the financial trouble at Westside Tech was, to some degree, the result of a previous Senior Executive Director over OCPS CTE that was stockpiling cash down at the District Office...somewhere around $30 million dollars. The School District had all that cash, yet somehow, Apopka High School's students lost their Auto Tech and Culinary programs? Why wasn't someone at the District Office staying on top of what was happening behind the scenes?
The other thing that I don't think Ms. Moore fully understands is the enormous amount of pressure that is put on Principals to produce results on high-stakes testing, and the fact that the Apopka High School Principal had to fund extra reading and math teachers, Darter Success teachers to help 9th and 10th grade students stay on track academically, and math and reading instructional coaches. It's too easy to simply say that closing the program was a Principal's decision. It seems everyone wants some of the credit when a school gets an "A", but people quickly shift the blame when a popular program is shut down. School grades don't go up without money, but unfortunately, school grades often trump great career programs for students--we tend to feel good about spending money to help students with their weaknesses, and we completely forget about helping students with their strengths, their passions, and the very things that make them want to come to school every day. This is what I am talking about when I say I want to limit the destructive effects of high-stakes testing. High-stakes testing can consume a Principal's entire budget, leaving very little for programs that students look forward to coming to every day. It may have been a principal's decision to close the Auto Tech program, but there are so many other things that come into play when decisions like this are made. We need people on the School Board that understand what is happening on the ground...that will listen to the students, parents, teachers, and administrators, and advocate and fight for what is best for students.
At this point, the incumbent asked me something that I'll never forget. She said, "So you are running just because Apopka High School lost their Auto Tech program?" I replied that it was only a small part of why I am running. The "just because" spoke volumes to me. It was as if the Auto Tech program wasn't really that important. "Just because!" This kind of decision could easily provide plenty of reason to run, but there's so much more to it than that.
We also talked about the Marzano Teacher Evaluation system, and the fact that great teachers are leaving our school district for private and charter schools. I talked to her about a text I had just received from an unknown number that mentioned two longtime AP teachers that had just resigned to take teaching jobs at private schools. I told her she needs to talk to teachers and find out how they feel. She told me that the District has fixed the Marzano system. She has no idea what is going on behind the scenes. She only knows what she is told through Board Updates...which are filtered through the PR department. It's time to wake up. I have no doubt she will try to arrange some meetings with teachers soon for some photo ops and newspaper articles... That's what politicians do...it makes it look like they are really trying to do something. It's a little late for that.
I went on to mention the other topic that I spoke to the group about. I said, "I also mentioned to the group that the majority of the money you collected in the month of May, about $13,000, was from OCPS Construction Vendors that build the schools the tax payers are paying for--architects, engineers, painters, etc." She replied by saying that it was politics, you have to have money to run, and she didn't care where she got the money. I said, "Well, you should care. It may not be illegal to take money from OCPS Construction Vendors, but it is highly unethical." She replied, "it's not unethical. You're just mad because you don't have any money." I told her I didn't need any money. And then I remembered what I told the group...The "Message" is more important than the "Money". How do the tax payers know if they are getting their money's worth if OCPS Construction Vendors are so eager to empty both the personal pockets and their business pockets into a School Board members campaign account?
What is truly amazing is the fact that as the District Athletic Director, I worked closely with our Legal Department to make sure all coaches and athletic directors understood that they couldn't take anything from OCPS Vendors...it was a conflict of interest. I also had to address a few coaches that were trying to work for OCPS as coaches, and work for an OCPS Vendor at the same time...they had to pick, one or the other. It just seems odd that School Board Members are allowed to take money from OCPS Construction Vendors...some of them giving $1,000 personally, and $1,000 as a business. I know who they are because I was involved in approving the athletic plans for the new schools being built...I met with the companies during the approval and review process. Others may not have picked up on the money trail, but I did right away. Simply amazing...politics at it's worst...the OCPS Construction companies have put their money where their money is. When the incumbent speaks proudly of how much money she has raised, remember where it came from. I hope the taxpayers are getting a good deal. It strikes me that a School Board policy would have an exception for School Board members to take money from OCPS Vendors...it would seem to give incumbents an undue advantage in fund raising.
Well, the first debate was over...there was no one around, no moderator, no audience, and no preparation...just a healthy back and forth about hot topic issues. I wonder if the incumbent will come up to me again and tell me to stop saying something she didn't hear me say? I remember telling her that I don't tell lies. It was incredibly obvious that School Board members need to know what is going on at their schools, and that they also need to start talking to the great teachers of our district...before all of the great teachers leave. I wonder if she knows that teachers are taking pay-cuts to go work at Charter schools just to get away from OCPS and its micromanaging Marzano disaster. Maybe we'll talk about that at our next debate.
If you would like more information about my campaign...go to fitzforschools.com. I can also be found on Facebook at Matthew Fitzpatrick & Fitz For Schools. I can be followed on Twitter at @Fitzforschools. If you would like to donate to my campaign, visit www.fitzforschools.com and look for the "Donate" button.