By Steve Bracci
The Collier County School District voted in November to join a lawsuit alongside other Florida county schools board, claiming that the Florida Legislature violated the constitutional rights of the school boards to “operate the free public schools.” Specifically, the School Board challenges the Florida Legislature’s right to create a system of “schools of hope” during the 2017 session, whereby failing public schools may now be converted into charter schools so that the students of this state have a better chance of receiving a quality education through new leadership. Apparently, the Legislature has found that “schools of hope” have actually worked elsewhere throughout the United States, and wants to give students of failing schools that same chance here in Florida.
In a carpetbagging Motion to Intervene, the Collier County School Board asserted a right to now join the lawsuit previously filed by the Alachua County School Board and other school boards, sanctimoniously regurgitating legal arguments already made by other lawyers. The Motion to Intervene is linked here:
The lawsuit pits a battle between the competing but co-equal constitutional authority of the school boards and the Florida Legislature:
Florida Constitution Art. IX, Sect. 4(b) empowers the various school boards to “operate the free public schools.” This has been construed to mean grades K-12.
Florida Constitution Art. IX, Section 1(a) empowers the Florida Legislature to create a “uniform…high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.” it also empowers the Legislature’s “establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.”
The battle before the court is whether the establishment of “schools of hope” intrudes upon the School District’s right to “operate the free public schools,” or alternatively whether the Legislature can critically analyze the various school districts’ failure to meet the educational needs of all students of this state, and thus legislatively create a statewide “schools of hope” option under its constitutional authority to create a “uniform high quality system of free public schools” so that all students have a chance to “obtain a high quality education.”
This will be an interesting legal debate, since the law provides that different sections of the Florida Constitution are to be construed “in pari materia,” meaning “equally.” The court will have to balance these overlapping constitutional powers. Expect this one to end up before the Florida Supreme Court.
“What is interesting to this author is the hypocrisy of the Collier County School Board.”
What is interesting to this author, though, is the hypocrisy of the Collier County School Board.
In its Motion to Intervene, the School Board argues that its constitutional rights are violated because the Legislature’s new “schools of hope” create a “dual or even multiple system of public education.” But nothing in the Florida Constitution or Statutes prohibits a dual system of public education. Rather, the Legislature is constitutionally empowered to create a “uniform” system of public education. “Uniformity” does not necessarily prohibit having a “dual” system, as long as that dual system is uniform statewide.
So here’s where the school board’s hypocrisy is on display…..One area of Florida’s Education Code where there is clearly a strict requirement for a “single system” of education is with Florida’s colleges. The Florida Legislature has provided that there shall be a “single Florida College system.” Fla. Stat. 1001.60. It then defines by name all of the 28 state colleges. Fla. Stat. 1000.21(3). For instance, for Collier County, the designated state college is Florida Southwestern State College. The Legislature then provides that the term “college” can only be used in those state colleges’ name if they meet certain criteria. Fla. Stat. 1001.60(2)(b). And lest there be any remaining doubt, the Legislature states that no other institutions may use the term “college,” individually or in combination with any other letters or words. Fla. Stat. 1005.03.
Despite these clear directives from the Legislature, in 2015 the Collier County School Board changed the name of its “institutes of technology” to “technical Colleges:”
Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology became “Lorenzo Walker Technical College.”
Immokalee Technical Center became “Immokalee Technical College.”
The Florida Legislature has the sole authority to legislate requirements for the establishment “state colleges” and “postsecondary institutions” because they fall within the Legislature’s constitutional authority to create “institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.” The Collier County School Board has no constitutional authority here because these are tuition-charging institutions and thus do not fall within the “free public schools” operated by school boards under their constitutional authority. Thus, the Florida Legislature alone has the authority to create a “single Florida College System,” and the Collier County School Board must abide by the Legislature’s statutory mandates.
The Collier County School Board — alongside many other school boards throughout the state — have effectively thumbed their noses at the Legislature, establishing an illegal “dual Florida College system,” by creating a statewide system of “technical colleges” which are not really colleges at all.
So note the irony here. The Collier County School Board wants to sue the Florida Legislature for creating a “dual or multiple system of public education” despite no specific prohibition against that; but the Collier County School Board is operating a “dual Florida College system” in direct contravention of the Legislature’s statutory prohibitions.
That, my friends, is hypocrisy.
“Might the Collier County School Board also be committing fraud?”
Might the Collier County School Board also be committing fraud?
Students attending these career centers may think they are getting a college education, but they are not. When the Collier County School Board voted to change the name of its technical centers to “technical colleges” back in 2015, it was with the specific stated intent to have postsecondary students now go to a “college.” The school district presented a Powerpoint showing how more students will enroll if it is called a “college.” They posted a video testamentary about a student who was pleased that her hard work at the career center is more recognized now that she is attending a “college.”
Steve Bracci, of B&B, has repeatedly placed the School Board on notice about this “technical college” issue, and thus the district cannot deny its knowledge and intent. These notices include:
- Public comment to the School Board on January 22, 2018:
- Powerpoint presentation to the School Board, asking by what authority the District is operating “technical colleges” [Click here for Powerpoint]
- Letter to District General Counsel Jon Fishbane: [Click here for Letter to District General Counsel]
It is the opinion of this author that the Collier County School Board may want to gird its loins for a possible class action lawsuit for “fraud” or “deceptive trade practices” when these students realize that they were deceived into paying tuition to the Collier County School Board for a “college” education at a so-called technical college, which is really no college at all.
Has School Board Member Erick Carter suddenly become a “college grad?”
Worse yet is the example of Collier County School Board member Erick Carter. Mr. Carter attended Lorenzo Walker Technical Institute in 1996, and received a cosmetology certificate to become a hairdresser. But according to the Collier County School Board’s website, Carter “graduated from our own local Lorenzo Walker Technical College, a division of Collier County Public Schools.”
Huh…so Erick Carter has now retroactively become a “college graduate?” Does that mean the Collier County School Board created decades-worth of college grads in one day, simply by changing the name of its career centers to “technical colleges” in contravention of Florida statutes?
What say you, Board?
And how about you, Mr. Carter? Are you now a college grad?