As The Teachers Go…

In a few weeks, we will elect School Board members, choose gubernatorial candidates and judges and determine who will represent us in Tallahassee.

Sadly, few of us will vote.

I sure hope I am wrong on that account because voting is hugely important (even if often times the choices seem limited or uninspiring).

This year, the August elections dovetail with the start of a new school year in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.

The beginning of school is always a good time to look forward but also to reflect on where we are as a community.

Education is a core component of a healthy community. It drives economic development, impacts investment decisions and often determines where people decide to live.

In Boca Raton, education is a strength; a competitive advantage. The public schools have historically been largely A-rated, parental involvement is usually very high and city and business support through the Chamber of Commerce’s Golden Bell Foundation is enviable.

As a result, schools operate at or above capacity and some are calling for the building of new schools to accommodate the growth and demand.

Across the border, in my hometown of Delray Beach, the story is a little more complicated and the challenges more complex.

Since the late 1980s, the City of Delray Beach has been involved in education despite it not being a “core” city responsibility. The School Board is in charge, but that has not stopped Delray Beach and its leadership from caring deeply and doing a lot in the education space. In fact, millions of dollars in city money has been spent in support of public schools in Delray Beach.

There have been notable achievements as a result, and I would argue that they would not have happened without the city leading and putting real skin in the game.

Examples include: hiring the first city education coordinator in Palm Beach County, creating an Education Advisory Board, adopting and driving the completion of an educational blueprint entitled “Sharing for Excellence”, leading the effort to build a new high school with career academies, advocating for a new S.D. Spady Elementary School, supporting a grass roots effort to build and grow the Village Academy, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and the list goes on and on.

It’s a lot to be proud of, but the challenges are very complex and ongoing. While Boca schools are at capacity, many Delray schools are under capacity, which is something that deserves some serious analysis.

What’s beyond debate is the value of good schools and how it drives economic development and quality of life.

In my capacity as a “PIP” (previously important person, i.e. a former elected official) around election time I often get approached by candidates seeking endorsements. A few even ask for advice, which I don’t give unless expressly asked.

I have had the occasion to talk with two of the five Democrats vying for governor: Mayor Phillip Levine and Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

But I’ve known Mayor Andrew Gillum since he was a rookie Tallahassee commissioner with huge potential a decade ago and I’ve met Jeff Greene and seen Chris King speak in West Palm Beach. All seem to be good people. I’ve never met or talked to the Republican candidates Adam Putnam or Ron DeSantis. I’d like to.

But the two I met with—Levine and Graham—I offered one piece of advice after being asked: Make Florida the best place to teach in America and you’ll solve just about every problem the state has and create untold opportunities.

We are far from being the best place to teach in 2018. Our educators are vastly underpaid, the pressure to teach to the test is intense and while we say we value education, our budgets don’t reflect that. I don’t know of any teachers who enter the profession thinking they are going to get rich, but entering the field shouldn’t require a vow of poverty either. We need to invest in teaching talent, it’s just that simple. And apparently that elusive too.

But until we do, we can expect the same old results. And in a very competitive world the same old doesn’t work.