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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Otto: End efforts to dismantle Hillsborough schools

Someone said the value of public education is for the country as much as it is for the individual student. It was our investment in a strong public school system, especially after World War II, which helped grow the American middle class. If that’s true – and I think it is – then it was another bad week in Florida. Of course that seldom comes as a surprise in Florida when the Legislature is in session. The almost daily attack on public schools, usually in favor of private interests, is endless. The Florida House was at it again last week when it passed a piece of legislation known as the “Parent Trigger Bill.’’ That sounds good on the surface, but it is one more slap at funding public schools in favor of using your dollars to feed private interests.
The idea is to allow parents to petition to have more options for their students who are attending “failing’’ schools. Critics contend that instead of working to improve these schools, it is a scheme to turn the facilities over to private companies more interested in turning a profit than in educating children. Considering the heavy-handed nature of the current Legislature, chances are the bill that failed last year will make it through both houses into law. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, your local Hillsborough County School Board is apparently less interested in the machinations of the Legislature than in its own self-interests. Most of you have never had the experience of attending one of the board’s meetings downtown at Fortress Elia, where administrators and underlings operate one of the largest school districts in the country. The public meetings of the board usually go on for hours, giving board members a chance to babble on about the wonderful things they are doing and why the world stares in wonder at the innovations coming out of our district. They tend to be a tad on the thin-skinned side, and it finally blew up last week when board member Candy Olson decided she had had enough of frequent critic Michael Weston, a Freedom High School math teacher, who it just happens has filed to run for Olson’s District 2 seat. The anonymous letter claimed that Weston was creating “a hostile and stressful work environment.’’ Weston is a third-year instructor whose contract was not renewed by the district. Olson’s decision to read the letter came at the conclusion of a session where the topic had been protecting the privacy of teachers accused of misconduct. She defended her reading by saying, “I think people need to know what kind of people are standing up and making charges.’’ Unfortunately, the board has apparently decided that everything is now running smoothly in the system. The school year is over a couple of months early and they can get on with their own personal problems of getting elected. I think if the board wanted to do something useful for a change, it would get some torches and posters, pack some school lunches, take one of their school buses, drive up to Tallahassee and maybe have a sit-down strike in front of the Legislature demanding it stop dismantling the schools.
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