COMMENTARY: School board forum will be anything but open, honest

Kathleen Reynolds
Special to the Sun Times

Parents, guardians, and concerned citizens who are willing to take the time to attend the alleged School Board Candidate Forum on April 14 at the Presbyterian Church on Marco Island should know that they may well be witnessing anything but an actual open and honest forum.

Instead, the intent is that they will be subjected to a carefully planned and scripted show designed to humiliate and eventually embarrass any candidate who dares to disagree with a selection of the more inane positions taken by some of the sponsoring groups. (How respected individuals like Jane Watt ever agreed to participate in this circus is beyond belief, but more on that below.)

Here’s what’s going to happen at the falsely labeled “forum.” A series of extremely complex and potentially politically volatile questions will be read to the candidates, and they are expected to respond with appropriately painted fans – one green for YES, one red for NO, and one yellow for NO POSITION.

The questions come from the Candidate Questionnaire posted on the SWFLCitizensAlliance.com among which, for example is: “Have you studied Austrian / Hayek and Keynesian Economics and do you support teaching these and other economic theories in public K-12 schools.”

Now this is an issue that I am pretty sure is not topmost in the minds of most moms and dads as they pack their children off to school each morning. More serious than the loopy fans at this alleged forum is the absolute dedication that some of the sponsoring groups have shown toward unraveling our public schools’ premier programs and their ongoing and vicious attacks against the current superintendent.

For example, Steve Bolduc, listed as president of Parents ROCK, one of the sponsoring groups of the phony forum, wrote in a guest commentary in the Naples Daily News (2/22/16) how the Blue Zones project, the quality health initiative supported by just about every long term credible organization in Collier County including our schools, is really connected to a position supposedly maintained by the World Health Organization in 1945. That position, as relayed by Bolduc and supported by none other than Alger Hiss, is that the Blue Zones project is really about “parents teaching and influencing their children is a bad thing.” Total utter nonsense.

Steve Bracci, also of Parents ROCK, has repeatedly sued the Collier County School Board because he believes that his organization should provide after-school care. The positions of school principals and district staff be damned, and who cares how much of taxpayer dollars are wasted as long as Parents ROCK has a venue in which to continue their factually challenged diatribes against the school district and administration?

Oh, and did you know that Collier County Public Schools is gleefully teaching your children pornography? How could you not? It’s all right there on the SWFL Citizens Alliance website. Not only is this sponsoring group potential book burners, they also would like to be in a position to have THEIR designees select our students’ textbooks. They proposed a bill this legislative session that actually got some limited traction, but thanks to the good senses of our elected officials died a well-deserved death. In this bill the School Board, not the professionals that are hired and paid to do the job, would choose the members of the textbook selection committee. And, please, please note, these far-out groups already have two members on the Collier County School Board and are trying to position themselves with electing two more. Ultimately, this is the rationale behind the phony forum, that is, to get potentially embarrassing video footage of any candidate who disagrees with their positions playing with their foolish fans.

I am hopeful that all School Board candidates will realize what a charade this PHONY FORUM will be and refuse to attend. If some do appear, I trust that Jane Watt, whose hopes and dreams have been supported to the max by Marco Islanders, will demand that the forum simply consist of civil conversations among the candidates. Give each person an opportunity to present why they are running and what they would try to accomplish on behalf of Collier’s children if they were to be elected. Dump the dumb fans and the simplistic waving of responses to the potential twenty-five dissertation worthy questions listed on the SWFL Citizens Alliance website. If the moderators do not take control and offer the public what is outlined above, perhaps the audience should simply demand it. Incidentally, I am certain that high level debate and discourse takes place at our beloved Marco Island Academy, and faculty there would never permit the simplistic approach to complex issues planned for this event.

In closing, please note that I have been a close watcher of the events in the Collier County Public Schools for about 30 years. I came at a low time in the evolution of our schools, when many of them were hovering in the lowest third on national achievement. I have observed many superintendents, some truly awful and some inspired. Collier County Public Schools is at its zenith in terms of academic growth and program development. I am more than willing to provide back-up data to those who wish to pretend that the sky is falling. It isn’t.

But if the voting public does not pay close attention to this upcoming election of School Board members, trust me, it could. Get your absentee ballots and become informed about the issues. While you may no longer have children or even grand children in school, please do understand that our collective futures, including the well-being of our progeny, has everything to do with the quality of our public schools. Please do not let the loud and angry voices of a handful of dogmatic naysayers with agendas other than children and their futures destroy the good that has been accomplished.

Kathleen Reynolds of Marco Island holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from NYU, and a Ph.D. in reading, language and cognition from Hofstra University. She has served in many roles in prek to graduate school education, as classroom teacher, university instructor, and superintendent of schools in Massachusetts. Kathleen is the retired CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of SW FL, and she holds strong beliefs about the relationship between quality education and our state and national economies. She may be reached at KReynol@aol.com