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Scott linked Times and School District

You probably saw the lead story in the Times today, Friday February 28, titled “Scott linked ally, School” suggesting that there was an inappropriate relationship between the governor, Charter Schools USA, and the Florida Education Foundation. It is written by Times reporter Marlene Sokol who often seems more like a spin doctor for the school district frequently giving them the last word so we thought we would run our own report that explore the relationship between the Times and the school district. In this case “Scott” in our title refers to Scott Adams.

You’ve probably seen those stacks of the Tampa Bay Timesnewspapers at our schools in Hillsborough County.  They are part of the Newspapers in Education Program. The Newspapers in Education Program is a “cooperative effort” that provides newspapers free of charge to schools upon request so that the newspapers can be used in the schools.

This “cooperative effort” between Hillsborough County Public Schools and the Tampa Bay Times has been going on for years. The Principals receive the Times paper and have their teachers distribute them throughout the schools. The Tampa Bay Timesenjoys it because it boosts their circulation numbers and they have a captive audience of children to be trained to read theTimes. In the Tampa Bay area, teachers order more than 5 million newspapers for their classrooms every year. 5 million divided by 180 days of instruction yields 27,777 papers per instructional day canvassing our schools.

Hillsborough County Public Schools probably also enjoys it for much the same reason- they have a captive audience of staff and students to hand out the Times’ campaign recommendations to. Case in point- on school day October 17, 2012 the Times ran the article “ Kurdell for Hillsborough School Board” in which the Times overtly recommended incumbent board member Carol Kurdell. The Times had previously recommended 3 of the incumbent Board members in its paper, Carol Kurdell was the only one that had to advance to the General Election. The principals and teachers handed out these campaign recommendations throughout their schools.

Quite a system- within the span of a single day area schools were blanketed with thousands of copies of the Times’ campaign recommendations for board member Carol Kurdell thanks to this “cooperative effort”.  

In juxtaposition, many school staff have been selectively terminated for “campaigning” on school grounds. Cases in Point: George Olmo and Carl Kosierowski. Kosierowski was a 2012 candidate for school board. Other school board employee candidates have ‘coincidentally’ been let go or been reprimanded, such as Mike Weston or Dave Schmidt. Previously, Representative Mark Danish, who is also a teacher at Benito Middle School, is being  investigated by the School District for campaigning.

One particularly disturbing situation is that of George Olmo who was accused of  campaigning by handing out blank ballot petitions on school property on January 26, 2012. Many of you may recognize this date; it also happens to be the day that Isabella Herrera died after suffering respiratory distress that began on a Hillsborough County School bus.

So these 2 events happened on the same day and we can compare/contrast how they were then handled by Hillsborough County Schools and the Tampa Bay Times. George Olmo was promptly investigated by and later terminated by Hillsborough County Schools. Meanwhile, neither the School Board nor theTimes managed to report the Isabella Herrera Tragedy to the public for 9 months until after the death of a second student Jenny Caballero on October 22, 2012.

But 5 days prior to this second tragedy, on October 17, 2012 HCPS and the Times managed to systematically recommend board member Carol Kurdell for re-election on school campuses throughout the County. Student Jenny Caballero drowned on her Rogers’ middle school campus. Arguably the failure to act for 9 months in the form of training and procedures after the death of Isabella Herrera led to the death of Jenny Caballero. 

Then, just 3 weeks later at the General Election on November 6, 2012 Carol Kurdell had a safe ride to re-election.

Elections Kill.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, 2 days later on Thursday, November 8, 2012, the School Board honors the Times in their recognition meeting as if to say “Thank you for missing some issues while helping the 3 of us incumbent board members get re-elected”.

A reasonable person might think that it was kind of crooked that while the Times’ incumbent school board candidate recommendation was systematically handed out on school property, other issues are systematically ignored, conceivably resulting in death, and still others, like George Olmo, are simultaneously being terminated based on a different interpretation of campaigning.

Is it possible that the School District and the Times were both overtly campaigning and covertly campaigning (campaigning by omission)? Overtly campaigning by distributing the Times’ endorsement and covertly campaigning by omitting and ignoring the Herrera tragedy during a campaign year. That the school district’s failure to disclose or pursue the Herrera tragedy was an intentional campaigning strategy for the School Board?

It would appear that Olmo, Kosierowski, Schmidt, Weston, and Danish, etc. were selectively investigated by the school district. Every staff member (e.g. Professional Standards, etc.) who covertly failed to disclose or pursue the Herrera tragedy should be investigated, if for no other reason than covertly campaigning by omission. And every principal and teacher who overtly distributed the Times’ campaign endorsement on school property on October 17, 2012 should likewise be investigated.   

These other staff members, principals and teachers should all be investigated and disciplined equally, but then that would depend on the District’s own Department of Professional Standards who also ignored the Isabella Hererra tragedy so there is no confidence that the Department of Professional Standards can investigate itself or the school bureaucracy downtown. They only seem to focus on school level staff.

Some would think that Representative Danish- as a lawmaker who represents northern Hillsborough’s district 63 in the State House, should be investigating the school district; not the District investigating him. This is a call to action. The state attorney and the Florida State Commission on Ethics, among others should be investigating these events but apparently, like the School District, they are not inclined to do so. Danish should demand their action. Interested persons and the public-at-large are entitled to no less than a thorough, deliberate and just review of the information provided, along with any other evidence that may or may not be developed in the course of the review process.

I’d like to close with an ironic quote from Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO, Times Publishing Company

“Democracy depends on all of us. We have to be willing to play our part as citizens. HONEST AND INDEPENDENT journalism and debate is vital to that process. At the Times, we take that responsibility seriously, and put it first among all our purposes."

The operative word here is “independent” There is not much independent about this arrangement.

Remember- We have to be willing to play our part as citizens. The next Board meeting is Tuesday, March 4 at 5:30 p.m., please govern yourselves accordingly. 

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