Cheryl Grimes campaign contributions explained, she is rolling around in charter school cash.

By RBirds

A recent Education Matters post listed the contributors to Cheryl Grymes District 1 School Board race. The post noted the extraordinary number of contributions from people and businesses outside of Jacksonville.  Half of the $18,000 the candidate has raised for her campaign came from contributors outside of Jacksonville, one from outside of Florida.

 Why would someone in Nashville be interested in the District 1 candidate for the school board? For that matter, why would someone in Orlando, Cooper City, Winter Park or Miami be so interested that they donate $1,000 to Cheryl Grymes’ campaign?  Can you, dear reader, even name a school board member in another Florida city or know how many school board districts other cities have? If you are like me than the answer is no, of course not.

 But there is a very good reason why these individuals and companies want to lay out their hard-earned cash for this campaign and it all revolves around pecuniary interest – it all revolves around money. Let me be a bit more specific – money diverted from traditional public schools to charter schools.

 When you think of public schools you imagine a classroom full of students doing their school work, led by a modestly compensated teacher. The same image arises when we think of charter schools. But it isn’t the individual teacher or the single classroom full of students where money can be made. 

Rather it is in the volume. For instance, currently around 10,000 Duval County students are enrolled in 32 charter schools in Duval County, diverting around $54 millions of your tax dollars from traditional public schools to charter schools. Each year a few more charter schools open in the county, expanding the stream of dollars flowing to charter schools.

 In this expanding opportunity to generate tax dollars that the relevance of Cheryl Grymes’ list of contributors comes into focus.  Those odd-sounding companies and strange names a part of a network of  management companies, vendors, leasing companies and advocacy groups all working to expand charter schools and divert ever more millions of dollars to fund the services they provide. Here is a current list of charter school-related donations to the Grymes campaign:

 Miami-based S.M.A.R.T. Management, on the books for a $1,000 donation, will open BridgePrep Academy in Duval County soon and begin that tax dollar revenue stream for themselves.

 School Development HC Finance donated $1,000 to the Grymes campaign, loans money to charter school operations and is owned by the Zulueta family that owns the Academica education management organization. Academica, in turn, operates several Somerset Academy charter schools in Duval County. These two schools generated over $3 million in per pupil funding last school year. Ignacio Zulueta also donated $1,000 in his own name to the campaign.

 Charter Schools USA  ($1,000 contribution) operates seven charter schools in Jacksonville, taking in more than $31 million last school year.  Contributing to her campaign seems to be an exercise in sensible self-interest

 ALS Education Inc donated $500 to the Grymes campaign as well a number of ALS execs donating in their own name: Greg Engemen , Angela Whitford, and Randle Richardson. Their contributions totaled $2,000 – 10% of all the campaign contributions collected in 2016. ALS Education operates Lone Star and Biscayne High Schools that were given almost $4 million last school year. According to the Florida Auditor General, ALS takes 97% of all per pupil funding to teach students, maintain the physical plant, lease the building, etc.

 MG3 Developer Group out of Hollywood, on the books for a $1,000 contribution, seems an odd company to donate to a district school board race. But they build charter schools in Florida and goodness knows we will see more charter schools built in Duval. It should be noted this company has a lobbyist registered at the Jacksonville city hall.

 Mountain Moving Strategies first appeared to be a household moving company but that made no sense. Actually they are a consulting company out of Lake Worth providing unspecified services to charter schools. The company is owned by Eris Arza, spouse of Ralph Arza. Ralph was a South Florida legislator that, according to the Miami Herald, was criticized a decade ago for not revealing his paid consulting work with a charter school management organization (Academica) while sponsoring a handful of bills benefiting charter school management organizations. Arza was forced to resign from the Florida Legislature, according to the Herald, for allegedly leaving racist-laced messages on a colleagues answering machine.

 Of course, none of this demonstrates bad conduct or the promise of future bad conduct by this school board member. However, when over half of a candidate’s campaign donations come from a single interest group – charter schools – it is worth taking notice. 

Superintendent Vitti should be let go over Picturegate

Some people think he should be let go because teacher morale has plummeted, communication is terrible, discipline is out of control and our district performance have all gotten worse under Vitti.

A few people might mention his wife stalking a sitting school board member as a reason for being let go as well.

I think it is picture gate that should be the final nail in his coffin.

If you missed it, many of our poorer schools went without school pictures this year, the reason being that the picture taking companies didn’t feel as if they were making enough money doing so. The districts response, sure, that’s okay with us.

That’s right the district shrugged its shoulders and said, its not us making the call so its okay.

from Action News Jax which has been absolutely killing it recently.

Students in many of Jacksonville’s impoverished neighborhoods are getting excluded from a school tradition – picture day.
A parent reached out to Action News Jax about the issue, and our investigation revealed 26 public schools in the Duval school district do not offer picture day for students.
Sandra Taylor’s son goes to John Love Elementary, one of the schools that doesn’t offer school pictures.
She said she is angry but more than that she’s disappointed.
“These are memories that you can’t get back,” said Taylor.
She said she was hurt when she got pictures of her grandson in Nassau County and found out there wouldn’t be any of her son.
Action News Jax asked the Duval County school district for a list of public schools that offer picture days.
It took 3 weeks to compile all the information. When the information was placed on a map, it showed almost all of the schools that don’t offer pictures are in Jacksonville’s urban core.
Action News Jax asked the district why students in Jacksonville’s low income neighborhoods are getting excluded from picture day and was told it’s not the district’s decision.
Individual photography companies decide who they serve, according to DCPS.
Officials said: 

While the majority of our schools are able to secure a vendor for school picture day, several experience difficulty attracting interest from a photographer because of the size of the school and/or the low percentage of parents ordering pictures. This unfortunately has been a concern over the years for many public schools throughout the country.

The school district said if schools can’t find a vendor it encourages stakeholders in the community, such as businesses, photography clubs, parent associations and the media, to help fill the gap.
Duval County Public Schools released another statement:

We understand many parents and caregivers look forward to school picture day to capture a historical snapshot of their child. When a school principal experiences difficulty in securing a photography vendor, we certainly encourage community stakeholders to partner and collaborate with school leadership to identify vendor alternatives. Alternative sources to provide picture day services may include yearbook and newspaper sponsors/staff, community and school photography clubs, parent-teacher associations, and local media outlets offering in-kind support

Vitti passes the buck like my Italian grandmother passed the meatballs and that is often. You see its not his fault its the schools faults for being poor. Sucks to be them, there is nothing the district can do, oy vey. Some leadership there right? But its an example how he leads all the time, throw an idea against the wall like paint to see if it sticks and if something goes wrong blame his subordinates, teachers, the state or in this case our poorest children .

I for one am tired of it and believe it is time for a change. Our teachers, children and schools can no longer afford this ineffective leadership.

Becki Couch, we’re a 4-3 board

I will be honest Becki Couch’s first term was very frustrating. She basically sat on her hands for four years. However since her reelection she has been a fighter. Unfortunately for her and our schools she is in the three camp of a 4-3 board.

Listen at the 1:48 mark, to hear how she puts it.

This is a board not firing on all cylinders. Three members of the board, Couch, Wright and Hll, who were actual educators by the way want to fix our schools while four other members, Shine, Grimes, Smith-Juarez and Fischer, who were not educators with a superintendent who is in way over his head want to dismantle them, try gimmicks or throw paint against the wall and hope something sticks. .

Its worse though because the constituents that Couch, Hall and Wright represent don’t want the changes that the district is forcing down their throats and their representatives because they are outnumbered are powerless to stop them, a point Becki Couch makes.

Also listen to Grimes about 1:40, why aren’t we a team she bemoans, the gist behind that is if only Couch and the other would let her help privatize our schools then they could all meet at TGIFridays after the board meetings. 

Some more random hypocrisy from Jason Fischer

District 7 last time around you had two other candidates who i believe would have done a good job. Sadly you went with an ideologue who was only interested in advancing himself and his bank account.  You have to do better this time around.

That being said here is some more random hypocrisy from school board member Jason Fischer.

Remember 4 years ago when Jason Fischer campaigned on keeping transsexual students in segregated bath rooms? 

Remember all the times he brought up proposals to keep trans children of which there are only a handful separated?

You don’t? 

It’s because he never did either of those things though now he is all over the media expressing his faux outrage in an effort to protect our children from transsexuals.

As you read below just remember that Duval County has had the same policy concerning transsexual children in restrooms and bathrooms since 2008 and it only became an issue for Fischer when he thoughy he could score some cheap political tricks.

Below is a quote from Fischer from multiple sources.

“This intrusion by Obama and Washington liberals is exactly everything that’s wrong with the DC education bureaucracy, How we teach our kids is best left to families and local representatives who can be held accountable for results.”

Oy vey, where do I start. 

Um, but he is okay with testing and common core, admittedly double downed on by the Obama administration but initiated by the “conservative” Bush administration and who did Fischer brag he received support from? That would be Jeb Bush the number one proponent of both high stakes testing and common core.  

Also what is a conservative value? Could it be taking tens of thousands of dollars from for profit charter schools because he can check that off his list? As for local representation, he has to be #$%ing me, the republican government in Tallahassee, which he is currently trying to join, has tried to erode local control at every turn.

If this guy actually believes the things he says, he is an idiot, if he says them without believing them then he is worse. 

Jason Fischer has never cared about our kids, its all about self advancement for him and don’t think differently for a second.

District 7 you made a tremendous mistake when you elected him 4 years ago. You have to do better this time around.

Finally lets put this transgender bathroom issue to bed, it was a solution without a problem, and a despicable solution at that.

Some Clay county administrators feel pressured to remain quiet and even donate to Van Zant’s campaign

By Laura Mayberry

no surprise that many teachers in Clay County are frustrated with current
Superintendent Charlie Van Zant. We have blogged about it, posted on Facebook,
spoken at school board meetings, and written letters to the newspaper. Most of
the teachers who are speaking up have professional services contracts. No, that
doesn’t mean tenure. No, that doesn’t mean a job for life. It means we have due
process. We cannot be arbitrarily let go at the end of the school year.
Although any teacher, regardless of contract status, should feel comfortable
voicing their concerns and opinions, annual contract teachers live in fear of
being told they are “not a good fit” and their contract is not being renewed.

With all of this anger and frustration towards the superintendent and some
school board members, why aren’t we hearing from school and district level
administrators? Their silence this election cycle is deafening. Many people
don’t realize that they are on annual contract too. They fear being transferred
or losing their job at the end of each year. As much as the Van Zant campaign
likes to use catchy phrases about not bringing Duval policies to Clay (as a
slight against his opposition, Addison Davis), the constant shuffling of
administrators is a trademark Duval tactic that we have seen a lot of in the
last few years.
County administrators have been virtually silent about our current situation,
which is a shame. Their insight into district policies and how they have
affected teacher morale would shed more light on what is going on in our

their lack of gusto in supporting Van Zant for reelection, there is one
critical way that they have shown their “support” for our current
superintendent – with their wallets. A quick trip to the Clay County Supervisor
of Elections website will show you that the campaign contributions have been
rolling in. While I wasn’t there to see those checks being written, one can
only assume that for many administrators it was with gritted teeth and after
much moral wrangling. I’m willing to bet some of them have never donated to a
political campaign in their life. I take that back. Some of them did donate
once before – to Van Zant’s 2012 campaign. Interestingly, the donations from
administrators were still pouring in even after he defeated Ben Wortham in the
primary election. There was zero chance of his losing the general election, yet
the money kept coming. Draw your own conclusions there.

participated in the legislative committee meeting where CCEA vetted Addison
Davis. The subject of campaign contributions came up and he stated that he
would not seek out contributions from Duval County administrators because it
wasn’t right to put them in that position. I wish our superintendent had done
the same. Sending district level administrators into schools to encourage
donations is ethically questionable. Using any means, stated or implied, to
pressure your employees to fund your reelection campaign is wrong. It amounts
to extortion. Pay-to-play doesn’t seem like a traditional family value to me.
The right thing to do would have been to announce that he would decline all
donations from his employees to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

of the worst parts about these donations is that they are causing rifts at the
school level. Many teachers have become disheartened after finding out that one
of their administrators has made a donation. While we understand the pressure
that they are under and sympathize with them, it still stings. Teachers have
been putting their jobs on the line to stand up for their students and their
working conditions, only to have their bosses unwittingly help the very man
whom many of us view as just a politician climbing his way up the ladder, not
an education practitioner looking out for the best interests of all students.

further reflection, I want to make it clear that the intent of this post is not
to “out” specific administrators for their donations. I actually feel sorry for
them. I know why they did what they did. They have a mortgage to pay and mouths
to feed just like teachers do. They know on which side their bread is buttered.
It is a shame that they are put in this difficult position. It’s too bad they
don’t have a union that would protect them against this unfair labor practice. 

Duval County overriding teachers and pushing through promotions.

First let me say I have never thought it good policy to
retain a child based how they did on a high stakes test, which sadly has been SOP for
third graders in Florida for years now.  
That being said I have no problem with a child being
retained if they don’t master the material they are supposed to have.
Now some may point to statistics that say retained children
are at a higher risk of dropping out or entering the school to prison pipeline
as reasons not to hold them back.
To which I would counter, pushing kids through just starts a
cycle where they fall further and further behind and never catch up only to be
eventually graduated out without the ability to do much.
I also believe kids that are retained should get the extra
help they need, which may include wrap around services to catch them up.
Finally I am also a big fan of summer school because some children
need a longer school year to master the material and less time in between grades so they don’t lose what they have learned.
Okay I have rambled on enough, let’s get to it.
If a teacher wants to retain a student they must now fill
out a teacher retention form and get their decision approved by the district, you
know, because we need to micromanage teachers more.  
Furthermore retained children can automatically appeal.

This might not be a problem except I spoke with one teacher at an elementary school who said
last year every appeal but one was granted by the district. Only one out of dozens was denied. I hear all the time about how teachers are pressured to pass children even if they don’t deserve it or haven’t mastered the material.
We can’t continue to push kids along and wonder why they are
not successful and we can’t continue to blame teachers for poor results when their
hands are tied, their decisions overridden and they and the children are put in
positions where success is unlikely.

We have to start doing things the right way, even if it is a
little harder and takes a little longer. Our teachers and children deserve it.

Need a school board member in your pocket? Cheryl Grymes is for sale!

On the heels of taking thousands of dollars from for profit charter schools looking to make in roads in Duval. Mrs. Grymes has taken in thousands more from for profit school management companies.

This past cycle she took in 7,500 dollars of which only 500 came from Jacksonville and friends I can’t make this up.

Notice who is not supporting her? Teachers and parents, that’s who.

District 1 is there nobody that cares about the schools living there? Is nobody willing to step up and say, we won’t let our schools be given to for profit companies who care first about profits and then about educating our children somewhere further down the list. Come on district 1 you can do a lot better than Cheryl “I’ll rubber stamp anything the super says” Grymes.

Num Date Contributor Contributor
Occupation Contribution
Amend Amount
1 4/2/2016 S.M.A.R.T. Management LLC
7990 SW 117 Avenue
Suite 210
Miami, FL 33183
Business SchoolManagement Check $1,000.00
2 4/2/2016 Business Charter Schools USA Inc.
800 Corporate Drive
Suite 214
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334
Business SchoolManagement Check $1,000.00
3 4/8/2016 MG3 Developer Group
1915 Harrison Street
Hollywood, FL 33020
Business RealEstateDeveloper Check $1,000.00
4 4/15/2016 Taylor Smith
6670 Epping Forest Way N
Jacksonville, FL 32217
Individual SchoolDevelopment Check $500.00
5 4/15/2016 Richardson Randle
236 Elm Hill Pike
Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37214
Individual SchoolManagement Check $500.00
6 4/18/2016 Angela Whitford
4451 Gwyndale Ct.
Orlando , FL 32837
Individual SchoolManagement Check $500.00
7 4/20/2016 Greg Engeman
1302 Golfside Drive
Winter Park, FL 32792
Individual SchoolManagement Check $500.00
8 4/25/2016 ALS Education, Inc.
2636 Elm Hill Pike
Suite 500
Nashville, TN 37214
Business SchoolManagement Check $500.00
9 4/3/2016 Dass Raymond
9710 Stirling Road
Cooper City, FL 33024
Individual Test Prep Check $1,000.00
10 4/17/2016 Mountain Moving Strategies, In
7367 Water Dance Way
Lake Worth, FL 3346i7
Business TransportationI&Logist Check $1,000.00

Charlie van Zant says discrimination is one of his family values. (rough draft)

I personally think the transgender bathroom ban has been a solution without a problem. Transgender children have been using the bathroom they identify with for years now.

I also think president Obama made a mistake with his edict, I think he should have just let the courts handle it because this plays into the far rights irrational fears about executive over reach. When republicans do it, hey who cares but when a democrat does it, then he is taking away our rights and now I have to listen to all the ridiculous, you think its okay for a man to go to the bathroom with little girls nonsense.

All that being said, Van Zant once again proves what a zealot he is and that he has no business running a school district.

This is a direct quote from him speech. “Make no mistake we will not disregard the traditional family values in our community to accommodate the demands of a very small majority.”

This makes me angry because traditional family values in the Van Zant home  say it is okay to allow a sycophant to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, which is what he did when he ran for superintendent in 2012 and is trying to do again this year.

Furthermore, this debate was not started by the transgender community. Instead it was created by those who would sow hatred and bigotry, apparently two more of his family values.

Finally, it’s not okay that the majority get what it wants at the expense of a minority. That’s discrimination, it’s that kind of thinking that said slavery was okay, it’s all right to round up Jews and and that any group that is smaller or weaker can expect to be persecuted, marginalized and have their rights trampled upon. Van Zant may try to cloak himself in family values but what he is really doing is embracing the discrimination of a group he either doesn’t understand, loathes or both.

Clay County hasn’t this guy done enough damage? Time and time again he has proved incapable of doing the job.

The district is charging for information

I recently did a piece on Dinsmore elementary using nearly 12 thousand dollars of title I funds on a field trip. I heard from readers that it was happening at other schools too.  So I asked the district to let me know how many field trips had occurred this year that had cost ten thousand dollars or more and were paid for with title I funds.

This is what the district told me:

Your request has required extensive clerical support, supervisory assistance or extensive use of information
technology resources and/or costs to copy the requested documents. To produce the request, it will require 30
hours to create, collect or redact these records at a base hourly rate of $17.60.

Please note that we are estimating the number of hours to research and create the requested report. If you wish us
to proceed forward at this time with the current information we have gathered, a payment of $528.00 is required
in advance of commencing work; therefore, please remit your check payable to:

They also pointed out that charging me was perfectly legal. Pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07(4)(d), the District, as custodian of the records, may charge fees to cover any
extensive clerical support, supervisory assistance, extensive use of information technology resources and/or costs
to copy the requested documents.

I get it in a way too. We don’t want the district to have to go on time consuming fishing expeditions or be forced to research minutia.

That being said, I thought I asked a legitimate question that the city deserves to know the answer to.

I will also say the district is usually fairly good with answering my initial question but often initial questions lead to follow up questions and its there where I am stopped in my tracks.

It makes me wonder how many stories are out there right now that we will never hear about that the district has insulated or protected itself from by charging a fee and a steep fee at that?

The statute says they can charge, it doesn’t mean that they have to.

If the media and no I don’t include myself in that category or ordinary citizens have to pay to have questions answered then transparency is destroyed and our schools cease to be truly public.