Becki Couch raises grave concerns about the direction of the district.

The following I a transcript of what she said on the 23rd at the meeting to discuss the future of the district. She brings up very important issues especially about the hap hazard way the district has done budgeting under Vitti. As his cabinet expands school needs are going unmet.

Recently there has
been much discussion regarding the board and superintendent and the future of
this district. Allegations have been made that were based off of an emotionally
charged, knee jerk reaction from my fellow board member, fueled an interpretation
of a private meeting between the superintendent and Board Member Smith-Juarez.
Several members of the community who have been avid supporters of the
superintendent have portrayed the action of female board members as “emotional”
or “personality conflicts”. I have to ask, would this be said to my male
counterpart who very unprofessionally made public, unfounded allegations about
board members to the media? My fellow board member said comments like, “I heard
the rumors”, “ASJ has been using coercive tactics to intimidate Dr. Vitti
into resigning his position”, “personal issues… unrelated to his actual work
performance. He said Monday he doesn’t know what those issues are”, the list
goes on and on. Is this not a glaring example of acting out of emotion and not

Nevertheless, if
the leadership in this community has to result to feeding the public a
narrative about my actions of reviewing data and setting goals to improve the
lives of children as “emotional”, if caring about the children of this district
is deemed as “emotional”, then I guess I can wear the label with pride.   

I can assure you
in my six years on this board I have always tried to exhibit a level of
professionalism that the children of this district deserve from their elected
officials. This could be why the public claims any criticism of the progress or
lack thereof is simply out of “emotion”. Unlike Mr. Shine and the Superintendent,
I have not gone to the media with my concerns. I have tried to handle them
privately and during noticed workshops. I understand the public may not know
all of the issues because they unfortunately get the story from the latest
headline or TV blurb. The public wouldn’t know that I have grave concerns about
the seemingly lack of concern by some of the leadership team that children of
color are significantly behind their peers. That we have made significant
changes to the curriculum, staffing of schools, resources allocated to schools
and professional development and have yielded very mixed results. We have had
three conversations as a board and superintendent on targets two of which some
board members did not attend. While I will acknowledge we have had some
successes, I am expecting true transformation. The graduation rate has been in
a steady incline since 2012 but of the 8.9 % increase in the graduation rate
over the last 4 years, over half of the increase occurred during the year of
transition between the previous superintendent’s leadership. Recently, a
constituent said we have always been plagued with an achievement gap and it is
not all of the blame of this superintendent for the gap. I can agree that the
achievement gap is nothing new but, we hired Mr. Vitti to make significant
progress in a short amount of time to challenge the status quo. We made a bold
move to hire someone who said in his interview, “In one and a half years we
will see dynamic improvement in student achievement”. Well, it has been twice
as long and we have seen the same incremental growth as years past,
particularly in literacy.  How much
longer do these children have to wait for someone to believe in them? We have
the responsibility today to make these decisions. It is always…wait. These
communities have been waiting too long, these families have been waiting too
long, these children have been waiting too long and deserve someone who
believes in them, today.

The community
wouldn’t know, during this media frenzy that was created by my colleague there
was something else taking place that drew little attention, the budget was
deferred.  This was the first time ever
the budget was deferred due to concerns from the board. Recently, the board
discovered the budget had $20 million in unfunded cabinet add on positions. A
matter of concern I have brought forward over the last three years. In years
past there were a large number of cabinet add ons but the budget had an
unrestricted funding source, this year there was nothing. This is a dangerous
budget practice and the board was once again backed into a corner to make a
decision that they were uncomfortable making because as we were told by our
attorney, we would be penalized by the state withholding FTE if we did not
approve the budget on Monday. Thus, we were required to use 2% of the 5% fund
balance we set aside and “borrow” $8.3 million from the maintenance budget.
This money will have to be paid back through lapse salary which the board has
given direction before that they wanted to avoid this practice. It is not good
budget practice to approve positions at the beginning of the year based on what
you hope to get back in lapse salary. This can lead to the appearance of not
filling school based positions in order to pay for the cabinet add on positions
approved at the beginning of the year (after the board approved the tentative
budget). The board requested a one page document during the budget process
which included cabinet add on positions. While we received a document, it did
not reflect this exorbitant amount.

Finally, the
community wouldn’t know that with the current narrative the public may have also
missed the concern that has been addressed in workshops about the instability
of personnel in the district. In the last three years we have had nine
Executive Staff leave the district. Most of these employees were people the
superintendent brought with him. Several other key staff have also left the
district. The argument that was recently made as to why losing the
superintendent would be “tragic” was the need for stability, yet this amount of
instability has created a significant gap in long range planning and succession
planning to the extent that the superintendent has had to dole out two
contracts to previous executive staff just to keep the flow of work from
falling behind. This has also been discussed in the last three evaluations of
the superintendent.

All that I have shared with you this
morning is evidence that my concerns are not based on “personality conflicts”
and they have been communicated for three years. It is easier to go to the
media and cry foul in order to divert attention from the key issues and instead
make it about the relationships of the board. Make no mistake, it is the
avoidance of these key issues that have caused the strained relationships.

For the last three
years every time I have left meetings with the superintendent I left with hope
that things will get better.  I am
starting to lose faith when the focus continually gets placed on relationships
and not on factual information that needs to be addressed. The superintendent
and board have made significant changes to the district in the name of reform.
We have had some success but in my opinion we have to acknowledge both success
and failure and work diligently to resolve the failure. I desire a board and
superintendent team that functions out of respect and honors all of the
communities that elected each member. I welcome the opportunity to work
together on behalf of children but I will not compromise my beliefs that we
have to move our most vulnerable students forward in a transformational way nor
will I stop questioning budget practices on behalf of the tax payer. We must do
better for the children of Jacksonville.

At some point we have to look at the direction the district is going in. They approved another charter school this past week, while at the same time issuing 7 improvement plans for other charter schools and fewer and fewer neighborhoods have their own schools. It to me is disheartening. Teacher moral and attrition, discipline, Engage NY, add in the budgeting issues and the superintendents massaging of data and in my mind we have a district heading in the wrong direction. 

3 Replies to “Becki Couch raises grave concerns about the direction of the district.”

  1. So, if we could just get rid of a couple of cabinet positions we could have classrooms that are in compliance with the class size amendment, full time librarians in every school, paraprofessionals and other support staff? I vote to get rid of a few! I find it ironic that one of the first things the superintendent did when he came in was to lighten the load downtown.

  2. Lighten the load? He just replaced people with higher paid people from Miami and the region 2 DA team. Then he replaced them or reassigned them again. (Depending on whether or not ot he liked you and you kissed the ring) if you go against anything he says start counting the days until he finds a way to get rid of you.

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