Jeff Lytle: School Board still needs class in communications

JEFF LYTLE
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It has been like learning a whole new language.

Our new page size has meant finessing editorials, columns, letters to the editor and more into less space, and learning anew how much text on my computer screen fits into a certain amount of space on a piece of paper.

It sounds so simple, so fundamental. Using oranges instead of apples.

Until I get the hang of it, I am a dummy.

Maybe that is why I am constantly drawn to Collier County Public Schools and what it does and the way it communicates.

Often none of it makes sense.

The examples tend to come in bunches.

The other day, the first-year report cards by two advisory boards’ members came out, and while they weren’t universally negative, there was a theme. Some members felt out of the loop on real issues in advance and one went so far as to say he felt as if the committees’ members were are being used for certification — “not advice or collaboration.”

I recall having the same concern when the advisory boards were established. Superintendent Dennis Thompson said he saw them as opportunities to direct debate away from board meetings and leave more time for the business of education.

Actually, those debates are part of that business, and an absence of them at public meetings can portray an illusion of bliss and unanimity.

The next example of communication School Board-style came on the Oct. 12 “Open Mic/Open Dialogue” call-in program that I host for the school system. I get to ask my own questions and the school system does not pay me.

Seeking some clarity on what is or is not going on with sex education, I asked School Board member Steve Donovan how public response is going now that the entire text of the school system’s sex-ed policy is posted online.

He grumbled that the public controversy would have been entirely avoidable if matters had just been left to the superintendent.

Parent panelist Gary Price, who also is a Naples City Council member accustomed to public hearings and policymaking, could not believe what he had just heard. And said so. The other parent/panel member, Julie Bissell, added Donovan’s course of action would have assured twice as much trouble.

Later on the same program, a caller asked how retirees with skilled backgrounds can volunteer. The financial expert was advised to check with the school in her neighborhood and consider helping band boosters with bookkeeping.

I asked Donovan if there were or should be a “one-stop shop’’ for volunteers on the school system’s Web site. He said that might be a good idea.

Actually, something like that is already on the Web site — only it’s a two-stop shop. You can click on “Volunteer Application” under “Quick Links” on the home page, or you can click “Parents” at the top of the home page and look for the drop-down “Would You Like To Volunteer?”

There is a disconnect, and it shows in big and small ways — even on a TV program designed to connect.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I am determined to master the nuances of resized newspaper page.

Might be because I really want to and, frankly, have to.

Might be a cue there for the schools people.

* * *

New Collier County Manager Leo Ochs is a busy guy these days and can’t keep track of everything.

But you would think he would have his hands around a key detail of the county’s controversial red-light-camera deal.

Part of that is a requirement for vehicle owners who want to challenge the photo citations to pay $50 extra if they lose. That leads to fair questions about how objective the paid hearing officer can be.

I asked Ochs about that in a TV interview this past week (not in the part in print and online) and he said it’s a non-issue, because protesters pay that extra $50 whether they win or lose.

You pay extra even if you win?

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. I actually thanked him for the clarity.

Again, I was a dummy.

Ochs was wrong. Protesters pay only if they lose.

To Ochs’ credit, after we challenged his remark later, he called to set things straight. “I screwed up,” he told me — only to proceed to get himself back in the soup by saying the $50 fees go into a county general fund from which the magistrate gets paid, although for other code-enforcement chores too.

* * *

Thanks to Daily News reader Betty Herbst of Golden Gate Estates.

She answered the plea in last week’s column for a DVD copy of the 1972 Naples promotional film that declared our area a perpetual protector of the environment.

Five years ago we loaned out dozens of copies and — again, like a dummy — I neglected to keep one.

We will figure out how best to share it once again with our readers — maybe as a holiday special.

Jeff Lytle is editorial page editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is jlytle@naplesnews.com. Call him at 263-4773. Check his blog at naplesnews.com/blogs/jefflytle

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