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Duval School Board tensions simmer as charter fight escalates

The Duval County School Board continued its work this week looking at proposed boundary and program changes for a number of Jacksonville schools proposed by Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

Vitti (so far) has not followed through on threats to sue after public records revealed board member Connie Hall sent controversial text messages about him to a district staffer.

The records were first sought by Miami attorney Robert Fernandez, who was deputy general counsel to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Fernandez and one other attorney represented Bush in Florida’s landmark school voucher case, Bush v. Holmes. The Holmes case ended Bush’s plan for tax dollars to be used for private school vouchers.

He had requested only the communications, including texts, of three members of the Duval County Board who cast a “no” charter school vote: Hall, Becky Couch, and Paula Wright (more about the possible motivations for the records request here, from Context Florida’s Julie Delegal).

Fernandez is not returning calls about his Duval records request.

Meanwhile, the state’s League of Women Voters and Sen. Bill Nelson spoke out in Tallahassee Wednesday against a bill that critics say would create a statewide charter school district, removing authority to vote charters up or down from local school boards.

The Duval text tussle can be seen in the context of this larger statewide (and nationwide) debate over the growth and influence of charter schools.

Meanwhile, tensions simmer among Jacksonville education advocates, notably as School Board Member Scott Shine left this comment on the blog of local teacher and anti-charter advocate Chris Guerrieri.

“Just an FYI on the social media policy, this was proposed as a policy addition from Dr. Vitti and was taken up by your liberal friends on the board in the policy review subcommittee (against my wishes)a month ago. They were unanimous in moving it to next years employee professional standards. So, you only have a few months to add to your resume of false and reckless statements. Sadly, I did not even get a chance to vote on it. So, give your thanks to Hall, Wright and Couch for the “anti-Guerrieri” code of conduct addition next fall. While I am highly disappointed I did not get in on the action, and still want to bring it forward as a policy addition as originally submitted by the superintendent, so it can take affect in before the end of this school year.”

Guerrieri returned in kind:

“The first thing that stands out is ‘your liberal friends’. The school board positions are supposed to be non-partisan, it shouldn’t matter if you are liberal or conservative or whatever, because what’s best for our schools should trump all political leanings. The fact that Scott sees fit to call Hall, Wright and Couch ‘liberal’ is telling. Furthermore was he name calling there? I get it calling somebody ‘liberal’ isn’t like calling somebody retarded but I get the distinct impression he was trying to belittle and marginalize when he wrote that, as if liberals are somehow less worthy of respect.”

Shine tells FloridaPolitics.com, “Chris Guerrieri routinely makes false and misleading comments in his blog that he knows or should know are false. Citizens often see things differently and I welcome that discourse. All I ask is that Chris do this in a truthful manner and stop lying to the public.”

Written By

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at m.ross66211@gmail.com.

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