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Conklin: Time to End the Legislature’s
Betrayal of Florida’s Promise to Our Children

| May 15, 2011

Wyatt Christopher Hansen, a first grader at Belle Terre Elementary, at last March's demonstration in Palm Coast by teachers and other school employees and supporters against projected cuts in education. Wyatt is the son of Katie Hansen, leader of Flagler County's teacher union. (© FlaglerLive)

“The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

Article IX, Section 1, Florida Constitution

By Colleen Conklin

Public schools in Florida have endured five brutal years of budget cuts.    Year after year legislators have abdicated their duty to comply with the state Constitution. They have violated local control on every level.  Florida politicians have passed unfunded mandate after unfunded mandate—costly laws and regulations passed down to local governments without a dime to pay for them.

Gov.  Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature boast non-stop about how they have applied a business model to public education.  By almost any standard, they should earn an F for failing the people of Florida.  It’s fiscally irresponsible and fundamentally dishonest for them to pass bills without funding.  It’s the equivalent of writing a bad check.

Colleen Conklin (© FlaglerLive)

Colleen Conklin (© FlaglerLive)

Local school boards have been forced to make painful decisions that now include massive layoffs across the state.  After five years of “cut the fat,” there is no fat.

A sense of fear and retaliation is rampant in our Capitol. Good people on both sides of the aisle are fearful of standing up for what they believe, worried about losing a leadership role, a committee placement or being outcast by their party.  These vengeful tentacles reach far and no one is immune.

Just weeks ago, after I recommended that our own school board discuss legal options regarding Article IX, I was reprimanded at my other job—I was the Chief Operations Officer of the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates—, asked to resign and then terminated. Why? The foundation receives funding from the state and several of my board members were legislators. While I believe the concern over lost funding took priority over my position and value to the organization, I believe the response was disproportionate and indicative of that state of fear, which trickles down to local decision making: you’re either in lockstep with the state’s ideology, or you’re out of luck. Literally.

Being fired and degraded for recommending a discussion with our school board to get taxpayers money back and demand that the state live up to  its paramount duty was my responsibility as a local elect official.  We must send the message to the lawmakers that they cannot write a check they know will bounce on the back of our children.  I don’t regret making my recommendation, or now pressing forward with it.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Districts across Florida are turning to virtual 7th period classes because they can’t afford teachers, decreasing the amount of days students are in school, possibly cutting back to a four-day week, eliminating programs that help students, electives that keep kids in school and abandoning advanced programs that prepare students for the future.  K-12 school quality is a key factor for businesses deciding to relocate.  Where will Florida be with an underfunded education system and under-prepared workforce?

Talk is cheap and I’m sick of watching every politician stand up and say they care about kids or education and then create a budget that says the exact opposite. Yes, we get it, state revenue is down but how about looking for solutions to our problems instead of simply cutting essential services and education year after year? Flagler is returning to 2006-07 funding levels while the district has grown by 1,100 students, or 10 percent.  Don’t be fooled.  The difference will be paid by increasing the property taxes of hardworking Florida property owners.  In August government employees, including teachers will see their salaries cut by 3 percent, taking $1 Billion dollars out of the economy in one broad sweep, as the requirement that they contribute that portion of their salary to the Florida Retirement System kicks in.

The Live Commentary

To some, the idea of forcing government employees to pay toward their own retirement sounds reasonable.  Remember, the Florida Retirement System is not a typical 401k with contributions matched by employers.  This “contribution” is a pure reduction in salaries.  Our employees will take home far less now than they did last year.

This isn’t the first time Florida public employees have paid into their retirement.  Prior to 1974, public employees contributed to their own retirement.   At the time, legislators decided that they couldn’t afford to have employees pay into the system.  As it turns out, the longevity of most public employees was less than five years. They were leaving the system and taking their money with them.

The system nearly went broke.  So, legislators chose to have the state make the contributions for the employees.  If employees quit, the state could keep the money.  Today Florida’s retirement system is one of the three healthiest systems in the nation.

Known for predatory raids of trust funds and cutting off money for special projects, legislators couldn’t resist going after the money accumulating in the thriving, stable Florida Retirement System.   It’s a temporary fix to a major problem.

In many ways we have ourselves to blame.  We didn’t push back.  We accepted what Tallahassee shoveled out.  Every year, education professionals quietly struggle to “make it work.”  Why do they try so hard?  It’s simple.  Each year, the children pass through the doors of schools all over this district.  Teachers, principals and support staff stand waiting, arms open, ready and eager to serve our children.

Our legislators cry foul and warn us about a so-called $3.6 billion dollar shortfall. Yet, they insist on giving away $5 Billion dollars a year in loopholes and exemptions to out-of-state corporations.  Florida has one of the friendliest business environments in the country.  While presiding over some of the deepest cuts in state history, Governor Scott succeeded in passing an additional $300 Million in new tax exemptions this session.

As a Flagler County school board member, I believe I was elected to advocate on behalf of our students, parents, teachers and administrators.   We should be proud of the changes that have taken place in our district over the last decade. Much of what we have is due to the generosity of local taxpayers who supported the 2002 half penny sales tax, which enabled the district to be on the cutting edge of technology, and the .25 mill voters approved last fall, which helped keep jobs in one of the counties hardest hit by unemployment.

Relentless attacks on public education and devastating funding cuts must stop. We ignore the important link between high-quality early childhood education and success in school.  Legislators have made it clear that they no longer view teachers as experts.  Micro-managing politicians mandate expensive, unproven reforms for teachers and students.

Each child in our great state is precious.  My sons attend our public schools.  As a parent, I’m outraged that our legislators have wasted our time with partisan politics and “reforms of the month.”  Legislators need to remember their “paramount duty,” stop micro-managing our professional educators and stop conjuring ways to funnel public dollars to friends in testing and test-prep conglomerates like Pearson, the company that administers the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

As a school board member, I was elected to protect our children and be their voice.

This is a sacred promise shared between moms, dads, teachers, superintendents and school board members.  It isn’t in me to betray that pledge.

Above all, Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature need to honor the promise our state Constitution makes to every child in this state. It isn’t a choice. It’s the law.  Every  citizen deserves a governor and legislators who respect Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution.  Nothing less will do. The children are listening.

Colleen Conklin is a Flagler County School Board member, representing District 2. She was elected in 2000. Reach her by email here.

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30 Responses for “Conklin: Time to End the Legislature’s
Betrayal of Florida’s Promise to Our Children”

  1. Jojo says:

    Well said. This is a Governor who is putting fear, not only to the citizens of this Great State but to the heads and commissioners of State agencies. Do as I say or else….

    The hypocrite himself is now suing his own State of Florida to recoup taxes from a company he ran and was fined. And, he is one of the four board members for the State agency he is suing. Who’s he going to attack or put fear into next, our judges. This is one guy I would throw out with the bath water.

  2. Butch says:

    There is fat, they just aren’t cutting in the right areas. Leave the teachers alone and start looking into the adminstrative levels of government. The administrators need to start analyzing ways to make cuts without impacting level of service. Start asking teachers for help cutting the fat – they will help you!

    We must face it. We cannot keep running large inefficient public services but to make high level cuts across the board is not a good solution. The devil is in the details of the buget.

  3. Jim Guines says:

    I found out years ago that Colleen Conklin is one hell of a school board member who is committed to kids first, but also teachers and all employees of the school system. I have made her angry a few times and I would suggest to people that when she gets her temper up do not mess with her. I plan to do everything in my power to support her and I would encourage her fellow board members to do likewise. This is a time to stand together for the students.

  4. seaturtle33 says:

    Hallelujah! Finally someone willing to take a stand for our schools, most importantly our children who so deserve-and need-a better education. I stand by Ms. Conklin 100%. It is high time our legislators be held accountable to our Constitution.

    Ms. Conklin, is there a call to action here? What do you need from those of us in our community who support you and your efforts?

  5. J.J. Graham says:

    When we rob our youth of the opportunity to grow, we shame our legacies. The “great” Scott should know this. Colleen is right. We need to get angry and fight back.

  6. Kendall says:

    Colleen, I’m on board as well. Maybe it’s time to organize a revolt and make them listen.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Go ahead Colleen! What do we all can help you with, on your fight for education against these crooks in Tallahassee with Rick Scott at the helm? These witch hunt and attacks to our education system its workers and the middle class, by GOP Tea Party elected officials lately, has to be done away with as well as do away with them all, as soon as we can. We need to battle these dudes now and keep these memories for 2012.

  8. Val Jaffee says:

    Thank You Butch! There’s plenty of fat still left to cut, but going after things that directly affect/impact kids is a sure fire way of getting the parents worked up and do their bidding to maintain the status quo. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise – higher property taxes will/might produce several positives, and I certainly don’t mind paying for these! This is the first school district I have lived in where the parents didn’t run the schools, and it shows!

    1. transparency and accountability to taxpayers/parents (we want to see what we’re getting for our $$$)
    2. professional, ethical, and effective district/school management (remove tenure/nepotism/cronyism)
    3. school choice / vouchers (our $$$, our choices)
    3. hands on parental involvement (actions speak louder than words)
    4. realisitc salary and staff structuring/needs (remove paper shufflers and reduce unjustifiable salaries)
    5. volunteer school board (SAC does this wonderfully well)
    6. get rid of zero tolerance (help our kids rather than shove them out the door)
    7. respect and tolerance for all persons

    As things stand now I feel we are continuing to throw more good money after bad. Also, if the business community wants the taxpayer to help fund their initiatives (hint to Flagler Enterprise, etc), the business community should support and invest in the education of the citizens of this community.

  9. BW says:

    First, a huge applause to Colleen for not only standing up for her principles and the students against a system that many would have caved under. But also for having the courage to even write this very informative and eye-opening article.

    Second, I agree that we are treading in dangerous waters today with some of these political agendas. We saw Governor Crist stand up against his party for what is right and the backlash he saw. Now we see the same thing locally of Colleen Conklin. I stand firm in saying that the far-right and the Tea Party is one of the most dangerous movements in our country today. Not because they are right, but because they are wrong on so many fronts while using fear to move people to back some of the most radical and damaging agendas in our nation’s history. It’s time to stand up to them and say “No” to everything they say or want. Business and the business model is not the solution to everything. The one’s backing that and every fear-based effort to promote that always end up with the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Make no mistake, these movements are not about “the people”, “the constitution”, or the middle class. It is time to stand up for what is right and time to change Tallahassee with a very new regime that is truly for the people.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    To Val Jaffe; please do not believe that “the business community is in support of the Entreprise, Chamber and County Commissioners pressure to rise our taxes for Economic Development”
    We are about 9,000 businesses combined in the County and all its cities and only about 800 to 1,000 are Chamber of Commerce Members. Sure they do not speak for this business community being us 9 and them 1. Even many of their members are against supporting this charade, but can stand the witch hunt if they openly express their opinion against the big few honchos…get it?
    Of course all those high paid VIP’s like Ottati head of Hospital Flagler, Page head of Intracoastal Bank, deVore head of local Lowe Developer, Baxter head of Flagler Chamber, and Rawls head of Enterprise, all tax revenue hungry for funding programs that will not create one job but will secure their handsomely paid elbow rubbing positions. What a conflict of interest! So please don’t believe that the local business community is behind tax funded Economic Development, because most owners reside here and will be forced to pay for it as well. Not, most of what is told is the truth….Hope these commissioners start walking the line and look for other ways than taxes, to fund this playground.

  11. Mike says:

    I Overwhelmingly support you, Colleen! What Scott is doing is ILLEGAL! It is way past time to take action; the longer this clown is in office the more damage will be done! Please let us know how we can help, either through Flaglerlive, facebook, whatever. It is time to motivate the troops! FULL SPEED AHEAD!

  12. Val Jaffee says:

    @ Palmcoaster.

    Thanks for the info. I get what you’re saying.

  13. Jojo says:



    YOU CAN DO IT. This guy Scott has a lot of baggage, 74 million dollars worth of it. You have a lot of support in this County. Give it some serious thought???


  14. Bob Z. says:

    Gov. Scott says he wants to reduce government spending and regulations; however, here is one example of him not doing so: He signed an executive order that requires State employees to be drug tested randomly 4 times a year – he could have allocated the millions of dollars that will cost the State towards education instead.

  15. mattys_mama says:

    You have no idea how lucky you are to have a School Board member like this. However, I think maybe it’s time she left the school board and started working her way toward higher office. Like the Governor’s Mansion. Common sense would go a LONG way toward fixing what’s wrong with Education, and there hasn’t been any common sense used in years. Rick Scott is the worst of a terrible lot though.

  16. Jojo says:

    Not only that, transferred medical testing company to wife’s name. I read they are also doing the testing for welfare recipients and for Commercial Drivers’? Some of the actions of this Gov are borderline, if not, unethical – maybe criminal. I mean, come on! Suing your own State as Gov for taxes relating to a criminal enterprise and one of the four board members of that very same State Agency (is it Dept of Revenue)? That’s a clear “conflict of interest” if there is ever a classic case – this has got to be it. Is Scott using State employees, namely attorneys, to pour over legal issues related to his prior business. Is anybody paying attention to this guy’s antics. We need to start a petition to be able to remove a Governor of Florida from office because Scott is headed in that direction with no fear.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Bob Z., Rick Scott signed in total conflict of interest and executive order that benefits his and his wife’s medical and lab testing business in Florida. Recall this guy.

  18. Rob says:

    @Jojo says,

    Unfortunately Florida HJR 785 and HB 787 are dead.

    Here is an informative link.

  19. Jojo says:

    Thanks Rob,

    Quite a number of States have recalls for Governor. It’s a shame. What happened, “for the People”?

    Also, I want to correct myself, Gov Cuomo was running for a 4th term. He served 12 yrs

  20. Serge Small says:

    I live in Broward County where Jim Notter hasn’t given teachers a raise in 2 years and we are suffering. You views are a breath a fresh air to me, and I don’t even know where Flagler County is! However, you have my vote whenever you decide to run for statewide office, that is if I can stand living under this crooks and his Republican cronies that long

  21. Paton Place says:

    You go girl. I would vote for you in an instant! You have the most common sense of anyone I have listened to lately. Scott is a crook. He knows it and is proud of it. Let’s impeach him!

  22. DGFla says:

    It is amazing with such disgust for this governor ~ how he was even elected!!! Not one person I talk to voted for him…now how do we get him out!!! How much more can our children take??? and how are we going to organize against it?

  23. Jojo says:

    It is hard to fathom DGFla how he was elected but listening to Bill McCollum, FL Attorney General talk about Scott was enough for me. McCollum was furious that Scott walked away with over $300 million after the scandal with his medical company and bilking Medicare. As the head he claimed no knowledge. During the election for Gov he refused to answer any questions from the press calling them ridiculous. He spent over 70 million dollars (estimated $74 M) to get elected w/support from the idiot tea baggers. When he declared winning the race, the big joke on stage was he spent some of his children’s inheritance. He spent our money, tax payers money from ripping off medicare. He bought the election and people voted for his, ” LET’S GET TO WORK PLEDGE” pledge.
    There must be good cause to have Scott removed. But first, a referendum needs to be placed on the ballot for Floridians to vote for a recall of a sitting Governor. Right now Florida does not have one. There should be one for the citizens of Florida to insert in the Florida Constitution anyway. There are a number of States that have it. Why not in Florida??? If you ask me, in Florida it’s backwards, the People work for the Legislature not the Legislature works for the People.

  24. palmcoaster says:

    Lets remember all the GOP legislators in Tallahassee that voted down the proposal to place a Governor recall in our Florida constitution for 2011. We need to take them all out of office…Same to all our Federal Congressmen that voted down the proposal to take away all tax exemptions to the oil companies including the 3 or 4 Democrats like Louisiana Landreu that voted in co huts with the GOP one’s.
    Right after their shameful vote today, oil futures trade high again in the stock market and sustaining the gouging at the pump.
    We are being attacked in all fronts by conservatives; education, our homes, our jobs, our taxes, our health insurance and at the pump.

  25. dlf says:

    Here we go again; blaming someone who has only been in office for less then one year, how long has the author been in office? May be Scott should share some of the blame but Colleen much more. How did she stand there and watch all the things happen and just now wake up, where was she the last three to four years. This is nothing but a plan that she can say I told you so when she comes up for re-election, she is protecting her job, since it is the only one she now has after being fired from her other job. Which, by the way the true story of her firing has never been reported. It is time to hold her feet to the fire for lack of performance and may be recall her along with Scott.

  26. Thinkforyourself says:

    dlf are you serious? The school board of which she is 1 of 5 have planned for this funding cliff and thank god they did since the state hasn’t planned for it at all. The school board has worked to build up their fund balance and cut costs in anticipation of this funding cliff for the last three or four years. IF they hadn’t done that things would be much, much worse. Where have you been? They’ve been talking about this for the last few years, planning and working on it. You should really know what your talking about before running with a sound bite. If you don’t like Conklin then just say so but the Board has done the responsible thing here in preparing for the worst. Do you ever have anything nice to say – ever??

  27. Val Jaffee says:


    According to your post, your say that the school board has been planning for this “funding cliff” which I take to mean they were aware of it happening. Has the school board really worked to build up their “fund balance” or was it the ‘stimulus money’ they received along with every other district/state?

    How have they cut cost? In Flagler, a relatively POOR county judging by the number of Title 1 schools, school board members are paid $30,000+ per year whereas in relatively WEALTHY counties, school boards members are paid less, if not the same amount. FlaglerLive has the link posted somewhere on their site.

    Of course, I’m not an accountant or economist but I would surmise that cutting the overbloated salaries of part time school board members who really do not contribute meaningfully to the everyday education of our students would have been the first cut this district should have made. And in good conscience too! Of course, I don’t know if this is the right thing to do for sure since I don’t rightly understand the thinking of those who so diligently have ‘our children’s best interest at heart’!

  28. dlf says:

    Thinkforyourself; I did not say they did nothing I said they are,she is just now waking up. Whatever they/she did was either the wrong thing or it did not work. The good thing I said is Conklin is laying the ground work for her next election when she can tell us all what she did and how she warned us of the problems, after the fact. it is not that I like or dislike Conklin I don’t think she or the other members of the board did their job. They are now trying to blame everyone else for the mess they were part of, that’s as nice as I can get when it comes to someone trying to cover their ass for the next election. Just do the job you are being paid to do and don’t try to blame everyone else for your short comings.: I agree with you they did try to do something but it did not work and they are still trying the same thing hoping for a different outcome, I think someone had a name for that, was it stupid?

  29. thinkforyourself says:

    Jaffe you’re like a broken record. In Florida they pay their constitutional officers just like the pay the County Commissioners. Let’s put this in perspective – even if they rejected their salaries which I believe they can’t. They can donate whatever they like from their salary. Maybe some of them could donate all of it but at the end of the day we’re talking about millions of dollars in budget cuts. And yes, if you’ve been really paying attention it seems our board has done a pretty good job trying to do the right thing. The budget has been cut for the last 5 or 6 years you can’t keep doing that without it hurting. It appears to me that they’ve tried very hard to build up there fund balance to lessen the blow of this cliff. They should never have given the 3% last year and maybe they wouldn’t have had to lay anyone off this year but looks like legally they had no choice when they went to impasse. I can’t decide if it’s sad, pathetic or silly that Conklin who has been talking about this for years is now the target. Maybe you’re right she should just be quiet and keep her mouth shut and go with the flow. Stupid girl!

  30. Val Jaffee says:

    “Let’s put this in perspective – even if they rejected their salaries which I believe they can’t’

    School board officials vote to have salary increases; increases are not mandated by any contract or provision.

    However, teachers increases were part of their contract which they have been denied for several years. I fully support anyone being paid what they have been promised. Whether some deserve it or not is another matter.

    “And yes, if you’ve been really paying attention it seems our board has done a pretty good job trying to do the right thing.”

    Obviously, I havn’t been paying attention – what is the right thing? Does the board put together the budget or simply vote on it. Anyone can run for elected office – even a John Doe with/out a HS diploma – I seriously hope that balancing a school budget is done by qualified individuals with the experience and know how, and not elected officials! So again I ask, what is the right thing that they did? Vote to approve/keep their raises while screwing over the teachers/paras/support staff etc, who are in the schools contributing to our kids’ education?

    “The budget has been cut for the last 5 or 6 years you can’t keep doing that without it hurting. It appears to me that they’ve tried very hard to build up there fund balance to lessen the blow of this cliff.”

    Of course we can’t do that without it hurting, yet the wrong folks are getting hurt! “The budget has been cut for the last 5/6 years”. Again, they were aware that these cuts were coming, but it appears to me that the cuts were aimed directly at the wrong folks and the students, and not at those who are irrelevant and redundant.

    You are correct that I ‘sound like a broken record” and I will continue to ‘sound like a broken record” because I am skeptical of those who purport to have our “children’s best interest at heart”. Now every time you agree with someone else, which by the way most of your posts do, I’m dubious of your capability to “thinkforyourself”!

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