September 03, 2014

TaxWatch honors three South Florida principals

For the second year in a row, South Florida was well represented on the Florida TaxWatch list of top school administrators.

The latest list of six principals, released Wednesday, included two from Miami-Dade County: Kelli Hunter-Sheppard, of Leisure City K-8 Center, and Benny Valdes, of Miami Senior High School.

Cassandra Robinson, of Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, also made the cut.

TaxWatch, a fiscal watchdog group, partnered with the Florida State University Learning Systems Institute to choose the principals. The selections were based on student achievement gains in reading and mathematics. No nominations were accepted.

To be considered, the principals had to have spent at least three years in a school serving mostly at-risk children.

"These six principals are breaking down barriers to achievement for high-risk students by creating the best learning environment for their success," TaxWatch Chief Research Officer Robert Weissert said.

The principals will be honored in Orlando on Oct. 16.

Each will receive a $5,000 stipend sponsored by the Florida Lottery, Kyra Infotech, J.M. Rubin Foundation, State Farm, Wells Fargo, and Brighthouse Networks.

Last year, five of the six award recipients were from Miami-Dade.

Those principals — and the principals honored Wednesday — will participate in a study to identify the traits, habits and practices of top-performing school leaders.

"Our aim is to understand which leadership and staffing practices are associated with these phenomenal outcomes," said Kristina Lavenia, of the Learning Systems Institute.

Career academics line up to challenge Thrasher for FSU presidency


State Sen. John Thrasher may not be the only front-runner for the Florida State University presidency for long.

Several people who have served in top jobs at universities across the nation waited until just before a midnight deadline to apply to become FSU's next leader.

It was just as the school's new search firm had predicted, contradicting advice from the first search consultant that Thrasher's candidacy was scaring off others from vying for the job.

Among the 12 14 (two names were added later in the day) candidates who applied shortly before Tuesday's deadline are the chancellor of the Colorado State University System and the University of South Carolina's provost. But the name that is most familiar is FSU interim president Garnett Stokes, who served as provost under former President Eric Barron.

She had long been rumored as a being interested in applying for the permanent job.

Stokes now becomes a front-runner alongside Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a powerful FSU alum who has never worked in higher education. It ultimately may boil down to the Board of Trustees and if they decide on a more traditional candidate like the career academics who applied Tuesday or a non-traditional president in Thrasher, a politician who says he can help the school raise half a billion dollars. Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston is also likely to make the short list and would be another non-academic candidate.

Many members of the FSU faculty and progressive student organizations have been critical of Thrasher and said they felt he has been given an unfair, inside track to the top job. In her cover letter, Stokes said that she was heavily recruited to apply for the position. 

Continue reading "Career academics line up to challenge Thrasher for FSU presidency" »

Former DJJ secretary joins Ballard Partners

Former Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters is joining Ballard Partners, the lobbying firm announced Wednesday.

Walters will focus on youth and justice issues.

"Wansley is a highly-respected voice in Florida government and she's a proven leader with a track record of success," President Brian Ballard said in a statement. "We are excited to bring her level of expertise and knowledge to our clients and their issues."

Walters served as Department of Juvenile Justice secretary from 2011 until her retirement from state government in 2014. Before that, she was director of the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department for 14 years.

"It is an honor to join one of the most prestigious governmental affairs firms in Florida," Walters said in a statement. "I have been an advocate for Florida's children and families my entire career and I look forward to continuing that work with Brian, his team and the clients at Ballard Partners."

Climate scientist David Hastings: What I told the governor

Despite the headline in the Tampa Tribune that got it wrong, here's an op-ed by climate scientist David Hastings of Eckerd College about what he told Gov. Rick Scott during their meeting two weeks ago: 

I recently joined fellow climate scientists in a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott to discuss the threat climate change poses to our state. We appreciated the opportunity to have a dialogue with the governor, but we left the meeting with concerns about his willingness to take meaningful action to address this problem. This is a leadership moment for Scott, since Florida is ground zero for the impacts of climate change.

We explained to Scott that the fundamentals of climate science are not complicated. Global temperatures are now at record highs. Sea level is rising. Oceans are more acidic. We are responsible.

That said, global air temperatures have remained more or less constant for the past 15 years. Yes, it’s true! They haven’t changed much since the record-setting year of 1998. And skeptics, including Tampa Tribune columnist Tom Jackson (“Climate professors and Rick Scott’s sphinxian agenda,” Aug. 24, Metro), are eager to discredit the overwhelming majority of climate change scientists and the vast troves of data indicating the severity of human-induced climate change.

Their underlying message is that if the Earth isn’t warming as fast as we think it should be, we can continue our carbon-guzzling ways. 

So what’s going on? More here. 


Tampa Bay Times/Graham Center Poll: Rick Scott leads Charlie Crist by 5


Scott received support from 40.9 percent of those surveyed, Crist drew 35.7 percent and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie 6.3 percent. When asked to choose between only Scott and Crist, Scott's lead grew to 6 points over Crist, 43.7 percent to 37.6 percent.

An overwhelming seven in 10 voters said the governor "can do a lot" about the state's economy, while 48.7 percent said Florida's economy is recovering and another 25.2 percent said it will recover soon.

"If I were Rick Scott, I'd be playing up the economy as he has been. I would take this poll result and I would run with it," said Dr. Christopher McCarty, director of the UF Survey Research Center and director of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

More here

September 02, 2014

Who will compete with John Thrasher for FSU presidency? Applications due at midnight


Tonight is the deadline for anyone who wants to apply to become Florida State University's next president.

The search firm and conventional wisdom say that the most qualified applicants emerge at the ninth hour whenever Florida's state universities look for new presidents. We will be checking the FSU website in the morning to get the final list of applicants and see if that rings true once again.

For now, the list is pretty short on high-ranking academics -- think sitting or former presidents, provosts and chancellors -- that some students, faculty and alumni say they would prefer.

Instead, two names continue to dominate the list of 25 applicants: state Sen. John Thrasher, a powerful alum who has been considered the front-runner for the job, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston.

The presidential search advisory committee will meet Friday to review the applications and select finalists to interview next week.

Click here for a list of all applicants thus far.

Lee County School Board reverses decision to opt out of tests

The Lee County School Board on Tuesday rescinded a controversial decision to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

The board reversed course after Lee County schools Superintendent Nancy Graham said the district could lose as much as $280 million in state funding. The Florida School Boards Association had also warned that thousands of high school students might be unable to graduate.

It was School Board member Mary Fischer who had a change of heart.

Fischer, who had sided with the 3-2 majority last week, called for the vote to be reconsidered Tuesday.

"It is not easy to sit up here and say I want to change my mind," Fisher said, adding that the board's initial vote "[had] multiple consequences that are not in the best interest of the students, the teachers, the district and the community at large."

The two other board members who voted against testing last week, Thomas Scott and Don Armstrong, remained unmoved.

"What we chose Wednesday the 27th was the right decision and I'll stick by that decision," Armstrong said.

More than 60 members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting. Many dressed in red to show their opposition to the state tests and Florida's new education benchmarks.

Emma Jane Miller, a former private-school teacher from Brandon, urged the school board to maintain its earlier position.

"Your decision to opt out of the testing was not rash, but necessary," she said.

Judd Cribbs, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said the state assessments had made public education in Florida "nothing more than fact regurgitation."

"Here's your chance to do what's right if you truly have students' best interest in mind," Cribbs told the board prior to the vote.

But some parents, including Stephanie Bloch, made the case for testing and accountability.

"While the Florida Standards may not be perfect, accountability is necessary," said Bloch, herself a graduate of the Lee County school system. "We should want for our children to achieve the highest level of which they are capable."


A (half) whopper about Burger King's taxes

When Burger King, the American fast-food icon, announced a deal to join forces with the Canadian coffee-and-donuts giant Tim Hortons, the reaction was swift. Burger King, it turned out, would become part of a Canadian parent company, potentially resulting in significant savings on what it pays in U.S. taxes -- a maneuver known as a corporate tax "inversion." Politicians, and ordinary Americans, cried foul.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged customers to bring their fast-food cravings to two companies that have long operated from Ohio -- Wendy’s and White Castle. "Burger King has always said ‘Have it Your Way,’ " Brown said in a statement. "Well, my way is to support two Ohio companies that haven’t abandoned their country or customers."

Meanwhile, hundreds of commenters took to Facebook to protest the move. "If Burger King goes ahead with the ugly, greedy, anti-American tax-avoidance ploy of this inversion, I will NEVER AGAIN set foot inside any of your restaurants," said one.

A reader asked us to check the accuracy of Burger King’s own Facebook message about the transaction. Here’s what the companyposted:

"We hear you. We’re not moving, we’re just growing and finding ways to serve you better.

"As part of the announcement made today, both Burger King Corp. and Tim Hortons will continue to operate as independent brands. We’ll just be under common ownership. Our headquarters will remain in Miami where we were founded more than 60 years ago and business will continue as usual at our restaurants around the world.

"The decision to create a new global QSR leader with Tim Hortons is not tax-driven – it’s about global growth for both brands. BKC will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes.

"We’re proud of the heritage of Burger King and will maintain our long-standing commitment to our employees, franchisees and the local communities we serve.

"The WHOPPER isn’t going anywhere."

We decided to check the company’s claim that after merging with Tim Hortons of Canada, Burger King is "not moving. … Our headquarters will remain in Miami" and "(we) will continue to pay all of our federal, state and local U.S. taxes." (Burger King's public-relations firm did not return an inquiry.) Turn to Louis Jacobson's full fact-check.

George Sheldon launches campaign PAC


Democratic attorney general nominee George Sheldon is stepping his campaign up a notch through the launch of his own political committee.

Called "Floridians Seeking Common Ground," the PAC will be co-chaired by former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Walt McNeil, the former Corrections secretary who is now chief of police in Quincy. Shelton said his goal is to use the pack to build a coalition of supporters unsatisfied with the Republican-led Cabinet, particularly Attorney General Pam Bondi, on such issues as the environment and restoration of rights for felons.

Floridians Seeking Common Ground is not yet showing up on the state's Division of Elections website as a registered entity.

During this mornings news conference, Sheldon also said he has been in talks with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and will embark on joint voter turnout initiatives. He also is pushing Bondi to more debates beyond the one that both have agreed to.

Truth-O-Meter says Crist's attack on Rick Scott and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein misleads voters

The Republican Party of Florida attacked former Gov. Charlie Crist in a TV ad alleging that he let Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein pick judicial appointments in exchange for campaign donations.

Crist’s campaign fired back with its ownad Aug. 18 that included a slew of attacks on Scott, including this one:

"Now he’s teamed up with a felon convicted of running a Ponzi scheme to smear Charlie Crist with false attacks."

The text on the screen states "Rothstein gets 50 years in $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme."

Crist’s ad shows a photo of a grinning Rothstein wearing luxury watches and attributes that to an ABC News story from June 2010 when Rothstein was convicted. The Republicans’ ad about Rothstein used the same image.

While the photo of Rothstein remains on the screen, the text of the ad says: "Scott Rothstein bought expensive things" and then the text on the screen says "FALSE ATTACKS." (The small print refers to a Sun-Sentinel article about an auction of Rothstein's possessions.)

That’s a whole lot of Rothstein mash-up going on for viewers.

For nearly five years, media reports have outlined how Rothstein donated generously to a long list of politicians including Crist. But this was the first we had heard of an allegation about Scott teaming up with Rothstein, so we decided to check it out.

In fact, there is no evidence that Scott and Rothstein have literally "teamed up" -- what Crist is referring to is the Republican Party using the Rothstein scandal to attack Crist. The evidence that Crist cited in his ad backup was simply a news report about Rothstein’s conviction.

"Ponzi schemer's words + Rick Scott's money = teaming up," Brendan Gilfillan told PolitiFact Florida in an email. Turn to PolitiFact Florida to see how we rated this ad.