Cool Topic: Education in Palm Beach County

Watch the archived live stream:

Noteworthy comments by LWVPBC President:

Reviewed by Marsha Vinson

The Palm Beach Post Auditorium was a packed house on Saturday morning, February 3. League members, local educators, county residents and families listened attentively to the panel comprised of Palm Beach County School Board members and our own committee chairs: Christine Campbell Gabor, Civics Education, and Kimberly Spire-Oh, Education.  Attendees received insights regarding pending legislation in Tallahassee and issues facing the Palm Beach County schools–with emphasis on charter/private schools.

EDUCATION IN PALM BEACH COUNTY-1

Moderator Debra Chandler stands on left with panelists (l.to r.) Marcia Andrews, Karen Brill, Chuck Shaw, Christene Campbell-Gabor, Kimberley Spire-Oh, and Erica Whitfield.

Pending Legislation: Florida House Education Bills & Public Education

  • HB 7055: An Education Omnibus/School Choice Bill including private school vouchers to students who have been bullied, harassed, or assaulted.  This pending legislation has been criticized for encouraging bullied students to leave Palm Beach County schools while the bullies remain in public schools.
  • HB 7069: Palm Beach County School District will lose hundreds of millions budget monies to charter schools, considered public schools but the majority are operated by for-profit, private management corporations.  When these private corporations close charter schools, they are sold for profit or leased to other businesses.  Taxpayers who funded the construction or upkeep of these charter schools will probably never have access again.  Opponents of HB 7069 seek public ownership of charter school properties. Click here to view the School District’s statement on HB 7069.

What You Should Know about Palm Beach County charter schools…

  • Florida has the highest rate of charter school closures in the US
  • A real attack on public education in Florida and US was noted by the panel
  • The School Board seeks: oversight, transparency in purpose, management (operations/budget), identify conflicts of interest

Comments by School Board Members &  League Chairs

  • Chairman Chuck Shaw introduced Andrew Watt, Palm Beach County Schools Legislative Director/Lobbyist.  Chuck Shaw reflected that the school board offers a balanced perspective with respect to opinions and experience.  Issues facing the school board include teacher certification, growing enrollment vs less money allocation per student, and local control vs increased, intrusive state oversight.
School Board Members

School Board Chair Chuck Shaw (center) speaks to a packed house at the Palm Beach Post Auditorium on Saturday, February 3, with Kimberley Spire-Oh (left) and Karen Brill (right).

 

  • Karen Brill spoke about being the mother of an autistic son and her current role as the ‘Sunshine Police’ for the school board. Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law pertains to the right to public records and meetings.  Karen’s priorities include human trafficking, mental health, civics education, childhood hunger, and homelessness.  
  • Erica Whitfield whose child attends a Palm Beach County school spoke on equity – every child deserves an education, the Palm Beach County jail school, and teaching CPR to students.
  • Marcia Andrews focused on the opening of new, modernized schools and the reopening of West Tech in Belle Glade.  Marcia lobbied and succeeded in establishing Academic Advisory Committees comprised of parents and educators.
  • Christine Campbell Gabor emphasized the implementation of civics education for all grades through college to assure responsible citizens, the lifeblood of democracy, and optimum voting participation.
  • Kimberly Spire-Oh, an attorney who advocates for students with disabilities, stressed the importance of educating legislators on the implications of their legislation on students.

The panel commented on how critical capital improvements can be accomplished with taxpayer support: the penny sales tax, which the League fully endorsed, has resulted in new school buses and needed school renovations.

School Board panelists

School Board panelists (l.to r.) Chuck Shaw, Karen Brill, Erica Whitfield, and Marcia Andrews.

Steven B. Grant, Mayor of Boynton Beach, was recognized in the audience as an example of a partnership between local municipalities and Palm Beach County Schools.  Mayor Grant has been a proponent of career education and after-school programs.

48 hours after the Cool Topic panel presentation, the resignation of Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa was made public.  On September 27, 2017, Superintendent Avossa tweeted “We wouldn’t need to spend money in a courtroom if Florida invested in the classroom.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida Education Action team is monitoring all pending educational developments.  Readers are urged to watch the Cool Topic video accessible through the League website and view the League Statewide Study on School Choice in Florida and LWVUS positions on vouchers and tax credit scholarships