Two articles in The Citizen today (keysnews.com) caught my attention.
One article is about the resurrection of the channel-widening study for much bigger cruise ships, which makes no mention of the environment and focuses on the business side of it and conflicts of interests three city commissioners seem to have because their businesses receive considerable revenue from cruise ships. Also, City Commissioner Tony Yaniz is quoted as saying Chamber of Commerce members have told him they fear speaking out against the channel widening because of threats of retaliation to their businesses if they do so. The Chamber was reported in a recent article in The Citizen as strongly in favor of the channel widening. The fear some have stated is, if the channel is not widened, when the much bigger cruise ships come online, Key West will lose its cruise ship business because the new ships will be unable to get into Key West’s harbor. On behalf of Mother Nature and her citizens, I simply offer this photo as proof Key West should not entertain even the small monster cruise ships now calling there:
Here is the other article that caught my attention:
Jara: Booker is target of second probe
Administrator says she’s being singled out by the district
BY GWEN FILOSA Citizen Staff
The superintendent of the Monroe County School District said Friday he is further investigating the work of 11-year-veteran employee Sunny Booker as part of a review of whether high school students received more make-up credits than allowed.
“We can’t tolerate relaxed behavior around this process,” said Jesus Jara, who said the inquiry into Booker’s handling of a June graduation party for at-risk students is over — but that a second investigation that involves Booker is weeks under way.
“This is a bigger issue,” Jara said of his questions about the administration of EdOptions, an online “credit retrieval” program that allows students who have failed a course to make up the credits via the computer.
Jara said the district is looking into EdOptions use at several high schools, but that the alternative school where Booker was principal until a few months ago raised the first red flag.
In response, Booker said the district is singling her out after failing to find any wrongdoing over a graduation party she put on for her students at the alternative school.
“Why are they trying to destroy me?” Booker asked rhetorically on Friday, the first time she has spoken publicly since the School District leveled formal administrative charges against her in September. “I am a year-to-year contract person. There is no reason for all of this. I’ve worked 12 years with exemplary evaluations.”
Booker, whose career spans 21 years, including a decade before she came to the Florida Keys, said, “I’m a very hard worker. I have brought in a ton of money for the district.”
Since the initial complaints by the district accused her of misconduct, Booker has referred all questions to her attorney, Robert Cintron. But on Friday, she spoke out, questioning the motives behind Jara’s investigations.
Booker said she was written up for following the direction of the district’s auditors, who confirmed that she took their advice of not opening a personal account for the party.
The now-dispensed allegations, over the financial handling of a $1,200 graduation party luncheon Booker organized for her students at the alternative school, Academic Connections for Excellence, ended with a written reprimand by Superintendent Jara, dated Nov. 15, and not released by the district.
The June luncheon for ACE students was attended by School Board Vice Chairman Andy Griffiths, a keynote speaker for the program, board Chairman John Dick, along with then-superintendent Joe Burke.
ACE at the time had no internal accounts, preventing the school from holding fundraisers, Booker said. So she sought guidance from the district auditor and internal auditor Ken Gentile, and had luncheon guests pay $23 a plate, while accepting a total of $600 in donations from the Rotary Club and a colleague, and ponying up $500 herself for the rest of the lunch, decorations and certificates.
“I’m out $800,” Booker said Friday, adding that she has paid back $300 to teacher Sandy Ashwell, who provided a replacement check after Booker told her she had lost the first one, which was made out to Salute and deposited in the restaurant’s account after Booker endorsed it.
Jara said Friday that he had intended to release the Nov. 15 reprimand when the entire investigation was complete. For a month now, he said, the district has been reviewing whether students at the ACE school received too many credits in a year through EdOptions.
“We can’t use credit retrieval as the savior,” said Jara. “Why are kids not succeeding in the regular classrooms and sitting in front of a computer?”
In essence, the credit retrieval process is costing taxpayers double, he said.
The district’s investigation into possible extra credits cropped up from another investigation into why administrators signed off on a contract with EdOptions before receiving the required approval from the School Board.
“We are not going to go back and penalize students,” said Jara. “I want to know how they did it.”
Booker said the credit retrieval investigation will turn up nothing, and is a post-Salute attempt to paint her as a wrongdoer.
“It’s going to be the next thing, a big storm in the beginning,” said Booker. “Then they will allow me to find out what happened. Then it’ll be quiet and then they won’t tell you.”
“All of my spending money last year went to that school,” said Booker, who remains the director of Safe/Healthy Schools but has been reassigned since October as an assistant principal rotating at elementary schools.
Booker said that when the district didn’t provide a refrigerator for ACE, she brought in breakfast supplies for over a month and didn’t seek reimbursement.
The months of constant public scrutiny have taken a toll on her, said Booker. She has had people ask her if she had been arrested.
“I thought I was helping at-risk kids,” she said. “I chose not to have children. I chose to put my energy back into schools because that is what saved me. I know what it’s like to be homeless. I know what it’s like to grow up poor. I love working with kids who have those similarities.”
Booker’s principal job at ACE was handed off to a colleague in October. Jara has asked the School Board to combine three administrative jobs — ACE, adult education and dropout prevention — into one for 2012 to save money.
Booker said she is enjoying her assistant principal duties at various Keys elementaries, noting that some schools don’t even have counselors.
As for the proposed job crunch, which would eliminate her administrative job at ACE and be advertised as a new position, Booker said she understands the budget shortfall.
“I hope they do whatever they can that is best for the kids given the difficult circumstances we are in,” she said.
I followed the alternative school party articles in The Citizen. Looked to me like much to do over nothing, while the school district was burning down elsewhere.
In a recent article in The Citizen, Sunny Booker’s lawyer, Robert Cintron, whom I know quite well, was reported as saying Superintendent Jara and the School District had not furnished records Cintron had requested on Sunny Booker’s behalf, records having to do with the School District’s investigation of and censure of Sunny Booker. Failure to disclose those records smells like seriously rotten fish to me.
Now Jara is on Booker about online makeup courses at a special school of perhaps 40-45 students, some of whom are learning disabled and the rest are kids seriously at risk – “headed to jail,” some would say. Some already were in jail. The very kids, if any there are, who probably need online make up courses. Some of which kids, I heard, dropped out of that school after Sunny Booker was reassigned by Jara.
I was at the School Board meeting in Key West when the Ed Options online make up program was brought up because of irregularities in how the Ed Options contract had not been property processed and brought before the School Board for approval. I became convinced at that meeting that Superintendent Jara had tried to derail the Ed Options program by keeping it away from the School Board because Jara wanted to give the business to mainland friends who had a similar product. I was astounded the School Board and its lawyer and its Internal Auditor Ken Genitle did not put Jara under severe cross-examination after he admitted he had friends on the mainland who had a similar product, after the word already was out that Jara had kept blocking the Ed Options contract from going before the School Board.
At that School Board meeting, almost like an accident, it came out that 500 Key West High School students had used the EdOptions online program to make up courses they had failed in the classroom, and that Key West High School was where that was the biggest problem in the School District. Jara should have jumped on the Principal of Key West High School the very next day.
Ah, but the Principal of Key West High School, Amber Boscoe (spelling?), was Jara’s appointee to replace now School District Chief Operating Officer Teresa Axford (spelling?). Ah, but Boscoe and Jara were buddies. Ah, but Axford and Jara were buddies. Ah, but if Jara jumped on Boscoe about 500 Key West High School Students using online courses to make up failed classes, that also would reflect on Axford. And, but all of that would reflect on Jara for appointing Boscoe to replace Axford as principal, and for promoting Axford to COO. Ah, but that would not bode well for Jara getting the three-year contract extension he later would spring without notice on the School Board at the last School Board meeting, for which indiscretion Jara was eviserated in Thursdays’ Editorial in The Citizen. Can’t help but wonder if Jara is trying to get fingers pointing at any place but at Jara, and Sunny Booker is one way to go about that.
Jara should have charged straight into Amber Boscoe’s office and demanded to know why so many Key West High School students were flunking courses and being allowed to make them up online at no expense to themselves or their families in a time when the School District is forced to make budget cuts after budget cuts. Jara should have demanded to know what was wrong in Key West High School that resulted in 500 students flunking courses.
Why did not the School Board order Jara to march into Amber Bosco’s office the next day and get to the bottom of it?
What do Jara and the School Board think the public reading in The Citizen about 500 Key West High School flunking classes and making it up online did for the .5 mil referendum’s passing? Voters want to continue that .5 mil for school operations when they see they are paying for 500 Key West High School students to flunk classes and make them up online? Voters want to vote for the referendum when it is common knowledge Key West High School students, especially, have to take remedial courses when they enter 2- or 4-year colleges? Maybe voters would rather see students flunked out and gotten off the county taxpayers’ backs, instead of passing the referendum to keep in school students who don’t pass classroom courses?
School Board John Dick asked at the Key West School Board meeting where the 500 Key West High School students flunking classes and making them up online slipped out: How far is the School District willing to go to boost graduations rates? Nobody else said a word. The other four board members should have demanded answers then and there. I sat there astonished that such an opportunity had not been seized.
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