Monthly Archives: June 2015

Hendry Co. Education Association Supports Public Streaming of Board Meetings

I was delighted to receive an email yesterday from the President of the Hendry County Education Association supporting public streaming of Hendry County School Board Meetings. You can read the eHCEA Support for Streaming Emailmail sent to each board member below.

Accountability and Transparency for Everyone…Even Board Members.

I genuinely believe people care about what’s happening in their communities and schools but long gone are the days of people having time to physically attend public meetings.  Work, family, social obligations, etc. demand more and more of people’s time than ever before.

This has contributed to the well-documented challenges our District has faced, and continues to face, with parent and community engagement. As elected officials, it’s our responsibility to identify and solve the challenges our communities face, as well as produce effective solutions.

I requested quotes for video/audio recording capabilities in both boardrooms of the Hendry County School Board as I believe it’s in the best interest of transparent service to the public to create video/audio recordings of every workshop and board meeting, and upload recordings to the district’s website for parents, employees, and taxpayers to view at their convenience. Assistant Superintendent Larry Worth reported back that the best bid we received to provide this service would be a one-time $17,000 investment.

Public education has become increasingly accountability-focused. Public school teachers receive VAM scores (which are public record) based on standardized tests scores each year for the purpose of enforcing accountability for student achievement. The collective standardized testing results of a school determines a school’s grade (also public record) for the purpose of holding school administration accountable. The collective standardized testing results of each school determine the district’s grade (also public record) for the purpose of holding district administration accountable for student achievement.

Well, what about accountability for the leadership of elected officials who also receive taxpayer-funded salaries? Hendry County School Board Members collectively receive $180,000 annually in salaries and benefits? (Each member is paid a $27,000 salary and receives an annual benefits package valued at $9,000.) Over a four year term, each School Board Member is compensated approximately $144,000 between salary and benefits.

If transparency and accountability is demanded of the teachers and administrators, then it should be demanded of the elected officials as well. The video/audio recordings will be a cost effective and convenient tool we can provide taxpayers in order to do that.

Can you imagine being able to watch board meetings from the comfort of home? You get firsthand information instead of having to rely on this blog or a local newspaper. I love writing this blog but, to be perfectly honest, it reflects my personal opinions and attitudes toward the topics I write about. All journalism does that to an extent…but not video/audio recordings. Video/audio recordings are unbiased and unflinching.

I’ll admit, the thought of being in front of that camera scares me because I know that by doing so that I’m abandoning the comfort of unattended board rooms for the criticism of unprecedented transparency. I just know that nothing great was ever achieved inside a comfort zone.  Our current comfort zone is a  D-rated school district by the Florida Department of Education. I think it’s time we get out of that zone.

Chairman Dwayne Brown tabled conversation and a potential vote on this topic for the July 14 meeting. I’m inviting anyone who would like to weigh-in on this topic to attend the meeting at 5:30 pm at the Clewiston Sub-Office, or if you can’t attend the meeting, reach out to me and my fellow board members via email before then.

Chairman Dwayne Brown:

Vice-Chairperson Sally Berg:

John Benkert:

Stephanie Busin:

Jon Basquin: Stephanie Busin:

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my post. I appreciate your engagement and I’m honored to serve as YOUR District 4 Hendry County School Board Member. All opinions stated within this post or on this website are mine.

~ Stephanie

6/9 Meeting Recap

The Board participated in a workshop to review new allocations and briefly touched on the school food service transition prior to the regular business meeting.

In Superintendent Puletti’s absence, Deputy Superintendent Gordon Swaggerty reviewed the Superintendent’s recommendation to spend $710,694 in unrestricted funds on new allocations for the 2015/16 school year.  You can see details of the recommendations on pages 6-15 of the 6/9 board packet located here.

Figures quoted include salary and benefits. An overview of the allocations are as follows:

LaBelle Middle School: Guidance, $57,815; Teacher, $57,815

Clewiston Middle School: Guidance, $57,815; Teacher, $76,460; Paraprofessional 1, $23,452; Paraprofessional 2, $23,452; Paraprofessional 3, $23,452.

Eastside Elementary School: Change Assistant Principal title and compensation to Dean; -$11,620

District: Network Technician, $49,922; Director of Professional Development & Evaluation, $118,633; 1/2 salary for ESE Specialist, $28,908; Nurse, $36,032; 1/4 salary for Reading Specialist, $19,730. Change Administrator of Facilities, Maintenance, and Transportation title and compensation to Director of Facilities, Maintenance, and Transportation; $17,446 ($107,774 total). Change IT Trainee title and compensation to IT Specialist; $1,789 ($49,922 total).

Director of Finance Michael Yanosik told the Board to expect an increase in health insurance rates and explained why he budgeted an estimated 4.03% increase for a total of $129,233 included in the $710,694 total price tag for the new allocation recommendation.

Mr. Yanosik also took the opportunity to give the board an update on the food service management transition and introduce the board to the new General District Manager, Mark Turner. Mr. Turner reported a successful employee sign-up process for the current food service employees and advised the Board that job seekers outside of the District showed up to apply for positions with Sodexo too. Yanosik also advised the Board of the progress on the District’s Community Eligibility Program application. We should hear something back from the Dept of Agriculture relatively soon.

The regular business meeting began immediately following the workshop by recognizing the following Clewiston-area retirees for their dedicated service to the District:

Ana Marrero, CHS Teacher, 8 years

Beatriz Hechavarria, CHS Custodian, 14 years

Horace Mixon, Clewiston Transportation Master Mechanic, 32 years

Under Old Business: After tabling the allocations from last meeting after I expressed concerns regarding changes in job titles, and resulting increases/decreases in compensation, equitable applications of steps, and whether these were sustainable positions and salaries for the district to fund in the event of an economic downturn like there was in 2008, the board ultimately approved the superintendent’s recommended allocation requests.

Under New Business: The Board approved additional allocations to the tune of $235,940.20.  One position totaling $57,815 is funded through unrestricted general funds. The remainder are funded through restricted funding sources. You can see details of the recommendations on pages 27-32 of the 6/9 board packet located here.

Figures quoted include salary and benefits. An overview of the allocations are as follows:

LaBelle Middle School: Music Teacher, $57,815; ESE Teacher, $49,654.60

LaBelle High School: ESE Teacher, $49,654.60; ESE Self-Care Assistant, $22,959.40

District: Migrant Literacy Specialist, $78,816

The following changes in allocations were board approved:

LaBelle Middle School: Change Reading Teacher Allocation to Agriculture Teacher

Clewiston Middle: Change Migrant VPK Paraprofessional to Title 1/School-wide Paraprofessional and move position from Central Elementary to CMS.

Country Oaks Elementary School: Move Migrant Resource Teacher from Central Elementary to Country Oaks Elementary.

I’m extremely pleased to report that the Board approved a contract with Neola, Inc. and will begin the process of updating and revising District policies. This is a suggestion I brought to the Board several months ago.  Participation by the Board will be a great educational experience especially since three of us are new to our positions. Policy update/revision is our opportunity as board members to have an influence over the processes and guidelines the district operates under.

During discussion over the Consent Agenda, I requested from the District regarding the price tag for the Contract for Services for First Baptist Preschool and RCMA to provide daycare services for children of teen parents attending school in Hendry. The request piggy backs onto the request from the last board meeting for expenditures associated with the on-campus infant care centers provided at both high schools.

I want to disclose that the funding from these programs doesn’t come from the unrestricted funds the Board controls but is paid through federal and state monies. The subject of teen pregnancy/parenting is very complex one but one which can’t be ignored because of it’s complexity. According to 2014 data from the National Vital Statistics System, Hendry County’s teen birth rate is 75, the fifth highest in the State. That means that for every 1,000 female students ages 15-19 in Hendry County, 75 have given birth. It was my observation while reviewing this data that districts with high teen birth rates also had low academic performance. Considering the continuing challenges teen parents face after high school, finding ways to partner with health providers and be proactive in reducing these numbers through education should be a priority in my humble opinion.

The remainder of the agenda was approvals of agreements for ESE-based student services. Please feel free to consult the board packet if you’re interested in reviewing those agreements.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and for the privilege of serving as your board member.  I hope all our teachers are enjoying their summer break and I’d like to say thank you to our administrators who are working extra hard to compensate for the shorter-than-usual summer.

~ Stephanie

Governor Scott Recognizes WES and LMS for Improving School Grades, Appoints New School Board Member

LaBelle Middle School students with the School Recognition Program check from the Florida Dept. of Education.

LaBelle Middle School students with the School Recognition Program check from the Florida Dept. of Education.

Governor Scott visited LaBelle Middle School on May 29 to present the Hendry County School District with a check for $132,183 with funds from the Florida Department of Education’s School Recognition Program. Westside Elementary and LaBelle Middle School earned this recognition money by improving their school grades based on standardized test performance.

My youngest son, Baron, meeting Governor Scott.

My sons greeting Governor Scott when he arrived at LMS.

In the governor’s signature style, he greeted every person he met as he walked through the hallways toward the library. He visited classrooms and spoke with students and teachers. He made sure that every person who wanted their picture taken with him got the opportunity, students included. (A little side note: Clewiston native, Nathan Edwards, son of Chip and Mary Edwards, is the Governor’s staff photographer. I used his pictures in this blog. I’ll give you a link at the end of this post to see all the pictures he took during the Governor’s visit.)

Principal Tony Busin

Principal Tony Busin

While Governor Scott was here, he spoke to the press about his hopes for the senate and house to pass a budget that included “record allocations on K-12 education” during special session currently underway. The Governor also gave Superintendent Puletti, and Principals Ken Pickles and Tony Busin a chance to address the press regarding their school’s achievements. Both school administrators praised their students, teachers, and staff for the successes.

Superintendent Paul Puletti, Governor Scott, LMS Principal Ken Pickles, and WES Principal Tony Busin.

Superintendent Paul Puletti, Governor Scott, LMS Principal Ken Pickles, and WES Principal Tony Busin.

As a board member, to have the Governor visit your district and present school recognition funds to two schools is an amazing honor. I’m incredibly proud of these schools for their successful strategies, hard work, and resourcefulness that moved the student achievement needle. (I think it needs to be acknowledged that Clewiston High School has shown recognition-worthy growth and was within a few points of improving the school grade to a B.)

Governor Rick Scott and The Busin Family

Governor Rick Scott and The Busin Family

I don’t know if you caught the last name of one of the principals I mentioned earlier. The principal of Westside Elementary, Tony Busin, is my husband so the honor was not only professional, but personal as well. It was such an exciting moment for our family to celebrate together.

The Governor’s visit brought additional exciting news to the district with the announced appointment of John Benkert to the District 3 seat vacated by Pat Langford. I’ve had the privilege of working with John on various education-focus initiatives through the Hendry County Education Improvement Task Force in the past and look forward to working with him as a colleague on the school board. You can read his professional bio on his Facebook page: District 3 John Benkert

As promised, you can see all the pictures from the Governor’s visit here. Thank you again for reading my blog and for the privilege of serving Hendry County.

~ Stephanie