Flunking on rezonings, teacher pay
Calabrese's exit interview on One on One
Calabrese regrets hiring Thompson
Too military, says ex-Collier Board member
Former Collier County School Board member Richard Calabrese, who says he tried in vain to warn of the harsh impacts of the class size amendment, says hiring Dennis Thompson as superintendent was a mistake. Calabrese, who has resigned due to health reasons and has yet to be replaced by Gov. Charlie Crist, is this week’s guest on Comcast’s "One on One with Jeff Lytle.’’ Video highlights — including video from the garden — and transcripts of that and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneononoe. The 30-minute program with Calabrese will be shown in its entirety Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010, at noon on Comcast CN 14. Lytle is editorial page/Perspective section editor of the Daily News.
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Two videos from the Calabrese interview are on this page.
Lytle: The tough question would be that given what we know now, would you have voted to bring Dennis Thompson aboard and let Ray Baker go, at least in the way it came down, which was a traumatic experience for the community?
Knowing what we know now, in bringing in Thompson as superintendent, was the juice worth the squeeze?
Calabrese: No. No, it isn’t. I based my vote because three people voted to bring him here based on what other people told me about how good he was with kids, and the progress he has made, and how he helped in the reading.
I think the bigger situation has really nothing to do with that. I think what was done with Baker had to be done. Baker made a lot of mistakes. He wasn’t correcting them, and there were a lot of things that had occurred with the Advanced Placement scores and the mismanagement of money.
I think that is a separate element, and I think that should have been done. It was correct.
I think maybe we should have done a search to get the best and the brightest superintendent.
The thing I don’t like about the superintendent is I don’t think he has learned the difference between what you do in the military and what you do in a private sector. I mean, we’re not his plebes. You know he’s not on the grounds of West Point where he can just walk out orders and people would have to jump.
He’s very much of a loner. You do it my way or the highway, which is one of the phrases that had been used.
Lytle: Used by whom? By him or by others?
Calabrese: By others in describing him.
In the evaluation I think (School Board member) Pat Carroll said that he thinks of the board as a nuisance; that we’re just in his way where we won’t let him get the things done he wants. He feels he doesn’t have to work together with us, that he can just go off and do whatever he pleases.
Well, it doesn’t work that way. It really doesn’t. It doesn’t work that way in any kind of business.
It is our responsibility as board members to make sure that the bylaws are followed; to make sure that our money is being spent properly. There are always complaints about we have no money — with regard to the teachers, we have no money. And yet he wants to send principals to Harvard for special training.
It’s what he does in dribs and drabs. And it doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But I did something very stupid — which is what I normally do. I added it up. It comes out to a quarter of a million dollars.
Lytle: Per year?
Calabrese: To send the principals.
Lytle: Per year?
Calabrese: No, for all the principals. You want to spend a quarter of a million dollars for that? Where are you getting that money for it? You don’t have money to give principals.
He also, I was told, that he did some good work with the health-care programs for the teachers in Illinois, where they were paying like $50 a month. And I brought the subject up: well, why don’t we do something to rectify our health program? And it never came about. So, if you could do it in Illinois, why can’t it work here?
I was given things like, well, you can’t go to places like Blue Cross/Blue Shield because they’re profit-making. Yes, but you’re coming there with 4,000 teachers. Hey, give me a proposal.
Lytle: In hindsight and against these critiques of the superintendent, what are we to make of sort of like the last clash of you guys when the superintendent effectively banned you from the Administrative Center unless you were there to do specific work. You were like kicked out.
Was that sour grapes? Or was that ... tell us, what’s the back story there?
Calabrese: Well I think he couldn’t take the heat. I did an evaluation, which I’m bound to do. That’s part of our job.
Lytle: It’s part of public record.
Calabrese: It’s part of the public record, and he didn’t like it.
Lytle: That’s what was driving that?
Calabrese: I would estimate that’s what it was. I mean, he couldn’t take it. And we talk about Connect Now and how wonderful that is, and he’s always in the front row cheering it on.
He cares about that, and it’s a good thing to do, and they stand for open communication and transparency. And I believe you asked him if he is going to respond to evaluations by board members. He said he’d do it in private. Well, that sort of knocks the hell out of transparency right off the bat, doesn’t it?
So how can you believe it?
And to say that the people with Connect Now, do they want to do good things? Yes, of course, they want to do good things. But if you read their report, it’s page after page — it covered half a section in your newspaper — it’s the American flag, apple pie and mother.
But how do you put these things into practice? What is it you’re really going to accomplish? How are you going to accomplish it? What are you specifically going to do to make it work?
It’s all very vague.
Lytle: Are those questions to Connect Now, or are those questions to Dennis Thompson?
Calabrese: Both. If you’re endorsing Connect Now, OK. Now how are you going to make it work?
Look what happened where we were trying to set up a situation as to what his goals are. He didn’t want any goals.
He stated that, well first of all, I don’t know why we would ask him what he thinks he should tell us what we should evaluate him on. It’s up to the board to do that, not the superintendent to tell us what we should judge him on. We should decide what we want to judge him on as to what we want.
Lytle: As we tape, it’s Wednesday, Jan. 20. You’ve been out of office since the beginning of the year. The governor still has not named your successor. What does that tell you?
Calabrese: I don’t know. There are some 20 candidates who have applied for the job. I’ve spoken to some of them. They said that they received some applications from the state that they have to fill out. I think it has to do with some sort of financial declaration.
They’ve done that, but why it would take this long, I have no idea.
Lytle: You mean declaration of finances by the candidates?
Calabrese: Yes, by the candidates.
Lytle: Does it tell you that there is some difficulty in choosing — that’s it’s problematic politically? The governor is facing an election this year.
Calabrese: I think it is. I think that does play a part. Most people assumed that he would really just take whoever the chamber would recommend; because that option would be very politically good for him, to be on the side of somebody from the chamber.
There are some good people on that list. There are people I’ve never heard of. I think it’s interesting that they applied for the job directly from the governor, but they didn’t want to run for office, which is another whole ball game: You know, I’ll put my foot in the water, but I’m not going to really go all the way in.
Because I think that’s really important. Do they really want the job?
Lytle: Do you have a preference among the field of candidates?
Calabrese: No, not really. I think Karen Arcquard who I know personally because I was with her on the Golden Gate Area Civic Association — she was there for a long time and has done a lot of work with the planning committee and all that stuff. So she’s been very much involved.
And Joe Paterno?
Calabrese: He’s been around for quite a while. I think he’s probably a favorite of the chamber. But I really don’t basically know any of the other people.
Joe Whitehead? He came in to talk to me. He wanted to know what I thought; what my feelings were and if I had any wisdom to give him. The only wisdom I could possibly give him is, hey, don’t make the same mistakes I made at the very beginning — coming in like a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t work.
I think there’s a big difference between the way I was at the beginning and what my last year was like. There was a complete difference in my demeanor and my attitude as to how to get things done.
Lytle: You also had a couple of very serious heart attacks in between there too. That might have played a factor. That will change your outlook on some things.
Calabrese: Yes, quite a bit. There was a lot of rehabilitation ...
Lytle: And now you’re back here.
Calabrese: Now I’m back.
Lytle: Another candidate in your race, Roy Terry, a former school principal, has he come to you to consult?
Calabrese: No, Terry has never talked to me or contacted me, and I’m kind of surprised because I know him. I have a relationship with him because he was in my district; and when he was let go because of the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), I got very upset about it.
Lytle: Let go as principal of Palmetto Ridge High School.
Calabrese: And I argued with the superintendent about that, because I disagreed with that whole policy of dropping people who were on the DROP program. That DROP program was put in so that we would keep the better people who should have retired. But we put this in motion so they would be permitted to stay on.
Lytle: Before we get any further, let me ask you about a policy that’s on the School Board’s agenda right now, and that’s the rezoning. If you had a vote, how would that vote go? And surely during your tenure as a board member, you saw this train wreck coming.
Calabrese: Yes, I did. And I spoke about it. And nobody paid attention to it.
That law was passed in 2002.
Lytle: By the voters.
Calabrese: By the voters, yes. This is 2010. They’ve had eight years to prepare for it. Why haven’t they done anything about it? The Baker administration didn’t do anything. Superintendent Thompson didn’t do anything. And now we’ve got to rezone the kids. That’s how it’s going to be solving the problem.
Whereas, if we had taken steps in 2002, when it was passed, to start integrating the schools, it would be practically almost finished, and we wouldn’t have to shift kids all over the place.
See, we keep talking about kids come first. Our whole thing is the kids, the kids, the kids. And what happens when there’s a problem? Let’s move the kids.
The kids are not the problem. The problem is the fact that the administrations have not done a darn thing about it, and they should have been addressing this problem.
There are people saying, oh, you know, they were waiting for some sort of miracle that the Legislature is going to change that. Well, the Legislature can’t, because it was passed. It was a referendum. It was passed by the voters. The only way the state can change anything is another referendum and it’s got to pass by 60 percent of the voters, and that’s not going to happen.
Lytle: You mention students first, and honest, it’s on my list of questions.
My question is to you: knowing what you know now about the school system, inside out, and we hear that our goal is students first, is that really true?
Calabrese: I don’t think so. I think it’s a good catch phrase. It’s the kind of thing that everybody wants to hear. It’s the thing that makes everybody feel good. But are we really working toward doing that? I don’t think we are.
And the reason why I say, who is responsible for the kids’ education? It’s the teachers. And we have been abusing our teachers constantly, day after day, year after year. We don’t want to give them raises.
We hem and haw; we fight about it, and we always say, oh, it’s a money problem. Well, there’s never a money problem when you want to give administrators raises. There’s never any money problem when you want to keep adding administrators.
A while ago, the state said we had 27 percent too many administrators. And when Dr. Thompson came here, I had spoken to him, and he said you’ve got a third more administrators than you need. But he hasn’t done anything about that. He’s added more administrators.
Lytle: If the superintendent were here right now, he would say that the administrators have gotten the same raises, if any, that the teachers have gotten. That’s what he would say.
Calabrese: Mm-hm. Yes, but what about all the administrators he’s hired? And he has promoted people from one level to another.
You hire a teacher and they get a salary —
Well, let’s take the teachers. We want to hire teachers. Thompson says he wants to hire teachers on a one-year contract. Now how do you induce the best and brightest teachers to come here on a temporary contract? Because you’re saying, hey, you only got a year, and if for some reason the moon is full, and the principal doesn’t like you, you’re out of work.
What kind of stability is that?
Now I understand what his problem is when we’re talking about tenure. Because you get these people, and they’re tenured. OK, but then you’ve got to be very careful of how you pick people. And if you give them the right offer, in terms of coming here, and you’re more selective — not the way they do it now.
They have like a supermarket, where all the people come down. They fill out applications, and in 10 minutes, they do an interview, and you’re hired. Have you ever gotten a job on a 10-minute interview? I’ve never gotten a job like that.
And certainly it shouldn’t be done when you want to entrust our kids to these people.