Wednesday, February 6, 2013

School Closure Protesters Get "Political"

MERRITT ISLAND, Florida - A parent organization that was started to protest school closures and budget cuts has transformed into a political entity, the group’s vice-president said.  The group plans on being active in future school board elections, said Michelle Speisman.
 “Save Brevard Public Schools” is registered with the Brevard County Supervisor of Elections as a Political Committee. 
Speisman said that Matt Susin is the committee’s president and treasurer.  Susin is a school teacher and also the point person regarding school closure issues for the Brevard Federation of Teachers, according to BFT President Richard Smith.  As of the publication of this article, Susin has not answered questions provided by Brevard Times through email. 
“We will continue to advocate for public education,” Speisman said.  “We will closely follow next year's Board elections and will identify candidates to support.”
However, Speisman said that current fundraising efforts will not go to the political committee, but to a foundation.  She said the group is using financial procedures outlined in the Florida Department of State Division of Elections 2012 Political Committee Handbook.
“We have also developed a county-wide fundraising strategy using the ‘Believe in Baltimore Schools’ campaign as a model.  Funds raised through the campaign would not go through the PAC.  We are looking into setting up a fund account through the Community Foundation. 
“Organizations and individuals would be able to designate a sub fund or grant program for their dollars (e.g. sub funds may be set up to support programs/interventions that benefit kids who are at-risk of dropping out, STEM, arts and music education and we may develop a grant program for small capital projects).  We are at the very initial phase for this, but have begun meeting with stakeholders to gain support.”
Baltimore’s campaign, which started in 2004, enlisted 100 businesses, civic organizations and faith-based institutions to contribute supplies, expertise, volunteer time and financial support.  Brevard Times was unable to confirm the current status of that program.
The president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Brevard, Sandi Scannelli, confirmed a conversation with Speisman. 
“We are fortunate in Brevard to have individuals who are passionate about improving our community and how wonderful that we have such energetic and caring citizens who want to engage our community in helping to support a quality education for Brevard’s children.  If Michelle Speisman and other individuals who are interested in supporting public education decide to establish a fund with us to benefit Brevard Public Schools, we would be delighted to help them do that,“ Scannelli said.
Speisman said that the committee believes that Brevard Public Schools should take another look at the proposed closures and listen to suggestions by other civic leaders.  BPS staff has recommended the closing of four schools: Gardendale Elementary, South Lake Elementary, Sea Park Elementary, and Clearlake Middle.
“Given the strong public outcry and new potential funding options available (e.g. refinancing, the Governor's recommended increases - which include $400/student or ~$27 million for BPS' students) the school closures should be taken off the table for the 2013-14 school year. 
“The Board can establish a blue-ribbon panel to identify alternative cuts with less impacts on classrooms and communities per the recommendation of Mayor (James) Tully (Titusville).  These two moves would set the stage for a successful county-wide campaign that could rally Brevard to support our schools,” Speisman said.
Speisman cited four distinct areas related to the purpose of the committee:
1. Demand the School Board work with the community and city and county officials to identify budget cuts with minimal impacts on classrooms, students, and communities.
2. Advocate for a balanced budget, establishment of a school's public oversight committee, and voter education through a 2013 special election and future elections.
3. Promote the election of board members who are receptive to community input and have a student-centered approach.
4. Coordinate with PTOs and other groups to represent public school advocate's voice to our state legislature to create awareness and change in Tallahassee and to educate Brevard voters on the position of state officials.
 “We are shifting gears toward advocacy and fundraising to demonstrate that there are many concerned citizens in Brevard who are willing to step up do what is necessary to save our high-quality schools, teachers and programs,” Speisman said.
“We have developed an advocacy letter that we are posting on our Facebook page to encourage folks to write to their Representatives and State Senators.    In order for a fundraising campaign to be successful however, we feel that the community would need to see the School Board and district change their current course and make an effort to work with community members who have clearly shown a willingness and desire to participate in decisions on the right course for our schools.”