Christie: Palm Beach County Schools officials defend school police, tax hike in video interview

Palm Beach County Schools leaders meet with the Post Editorial Board on Monday and discuss issues ranging from school safety to a proposed property tax increase. (Tabitha Bavosa / The Palm Beagh Post)

The issues facing the Palm Beach County School District are myriad, as you would expect with a large urban school district employing 22,000 people, and charged with educating 192,000 students across 183 school campuses.

And in a district with that many employees and stakeholders as well as billions of dollars in revenue to account for, the most pressing issue can change on a daily basis.

RELATED: Editorial: District should continue to take the lead on school safety

Donald E. Fennoy II

On Monday, The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board met with three top officials from the Palm Beach County School District — Superintendent Donald E. Fennoy II, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke and Board Chairman Chuck Shaw — to talk about some of those more immediate pressing issues.

It was the first time that three of the county’s highest-ranking public schools officials sat together to answer questions from the media since Fennoy took

Mike Burke

over from Robert Avossa in March.

We talked about the need for better teacher pay and a different approach to the ongoing effort to raise third-grade reading levels, and challenged them to defend a maligned district police force and make the case for a property tax increase.

And we video-taped the meeting so that you could hear their answers,

Chuck Shaw

unedited and unfiltered.

We’d like to know what you think, so please share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Christie: Parkland students getting a hard lesson about #thoughtsandprayers in Tallahassee

Buses pick up the kids to take them back to West Boca. West Boca High School students walked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Palm Beach Post Editorial Board quickly published an emotionally raw piece aimed at political leaders’ typically empty statements following such a tragedy.

The editorial focused specifically on the well-worn, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of this tragic shooting,” or something to that effect. From the White House to the U.S. Senate to the Florida Governors Mansion, the tweets came fast and furious.

Feeling much the same emotion, the Editorial Board told them, “With all due respect, save it.” What we need is action, not thoughts and prayers.

RELATED: Scott holds Parkland shooting meetings; House rejects assault gun ban

Well, in the ensuing week, the Editorial Board was criticized by a handful but lauded by many for saying, as one reader put it, “what needed to be said.” And it appears that sentiment has become part of the anthem of Stoneman Douglas High students as they’ve made their way to Tallahassee to meet with state lawmakers today.

Sarah Lopez, a tenth grade West Boca High School student who walked to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Tuesday cries as she stands in front of a memorial. She said it took her 4 hours to walk there and “there was nothing to compare to the feeling that you can change things”. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

They will rightly demand action. But as the House of Representatives showed them on Tuesday, they likely won’t get the action they want. The chamber, by a resounding 71-36 vote, said “no” to even discussing a proposed bill to ban the deadly AR-15 military-style assault weapon reportedly used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz to kill 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14.

But whether the students are successful at turning a Legislature that is culturally and financially in sync with the gun lobby is not the point.

This is an eye-opening experience for them (and the parents of the state’s other 2.8 million students) about how Florida politics works. This is better than anything they could have learned in a Civics class. And what matters is what they do with this experience. Starting today.

Following is the Post’s Feb. 15 editorial in its entirety:

Editorial: Thoughts and prayers won’t stop these mass shootings

Save the thoughts and prayers. We need action. Now.

There was another mass shooting in the United States Wednesday afternoon. This one was at a school. The 18th shooting at a school this year, a year that is not yet 7 weeks old, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Law enforcement authorities said 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student, terrorized Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and shot and killed 17 people, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Cruz, who was apparently expelled from the high school last year, is in police custody. But why he committed this heinous act is still a mystery.

It could have been far worse if not for the textbook way in which law enforcement — including Parkland Police and Coconut Creek — handled this horrific incident, according to various experts. That was likely due to the sad fact that police nationwide have run this drill so many times since Columbine and Sandy Hook.

On Wednesday, as then, our political leaders were quick to send their thoughts and prayers to everyone involved.

Gov. Rick Scott tweeted: “Just spoke with @POTUS about shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. My thoughts and prayers are with the students, their families and the entire community. We will continue to receive briefings from law enforcement and issue updates.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam tweeted: “Prayers for all the students, teachers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. And to our first responders, be safe and godspeed.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement: “Praying for everyone involved in today’s shooting … I am on the way with my victim advocates and we will be available in full force to help all victims and their families with any services they need.”

With all due respect, save it.

What these grieving parents and students need is for you to finally enact some common-sense gun control legislation, rather than continuing to loosen gun laws and make these terrible shootings more likely.

You can stop trying to allow guns on Florida school and college campuses. You can stop gutting the state’s concealed weapons laws. You can pony up the money for more school police.

No fewer than 150,000 American public school students have gone through one of these tragedies. Even if they weren’t physically wounded, they now carry the psychological scars of watching a classmate bleed out in front of them.

“I thought this was a drill we were supposed to have,” teacher Melissa Fallowski, told CNN’s Jake Tapper, her voice still shaking. “Society failed us today.”

Yes. Yes, it did.

Crosses and flowers hang on a fence outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Friday in memory of the 17 people killed in a shooting. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Reader Point of View: Broward school shooting lifts suburban affluence’s veil of safety

A father kisses his daughter after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

As grieving parents, and former classmates and colleagues of those who died during Wednesday’s mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland struggle with the aftermath of the horrific event, dozens of Palm Beach Post readers have been weighing in with their thoughts.

One that stood out was a Letter to the Editor from a former long-time guidance counselor at the suburban Broward County high school who wanted to point up how the shooting shows that even supposedly safe, affluent schools struggle with students who have mental health issues.

And that’s why more financial resources are needed at Florida public schools to deal with this issue.

Following is the letter from Robert Kenner, who now lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, in its entirety:

This is my first letter to a newspaper. But in the wake of this week’s tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I’m motivated to share my thoughts and feelings.

I retired two years ago as a Broward County guidance counselor who worked my last 6-1/2 years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I am distraught over the carnage in my old school, but I’m not surprised. The commentators on television are oblivious to the immense stressors on our schoolkids, and the paucity of mental health resources they are offered.

My first five years at Stoneman Douglas High, my caseload was 800 students. My last year-and-a-half. my caseload was lower, but was still more than over 600 students. In addition, I was responsible for doing time-consuming Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. When I retired, we had five full-time guidance counselors and a (supervisory) Director for a student population of about 3,400.

The reason for the lack of master’s-degree level guidance counselor services was always budgetary. We guidance counselors, and our fellow teachers, administrators, social workers and family therapists did the very best we could sincerely do caring for each of our kids. But unless the funding paradigm for our public schools — and society, overall — embrace community mental health, we are missing the message that underlies our societal tragedies.

Yes, Stoneman Douglas High is a great school with terrific kids, and school staff that epitomizes excellence. However, it has not been immune from tragedy. When I was there, we had three suicides in a period of a year-and-a-half. These tragedies led me to write a brochure titled, “The Psychological Challenges of Affluence,” which I hoped would open parents’ minds to monitoring their kid’s mental health and the value of seeking therapeutic assistance when needed.

For example, the brochure points out: “Suburban, affluent youth are not seen as being at-risk, but they are; affluence does not guarantee emotional and mental health.”

Indeed, no public school or community is immune to mental health issues. We need to provide more mental health support for all of our students.

Editor’s note: Share your thoughts about this op-ed in the Comments section.

Christie: Lake Worth says medical pot stores, schools can live together in harmony

A Curaleaf representative opens the door and invites customers in for the very first time to Lake Worth’s second medical marijuana dispensary on Monday.
(Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s settled then.

Lake Worth officials have made their choice as the city’s medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors — albeit quietly — Monday morning. No fan fair. No hoopla. No comment.

A bit of a contrast to the opening of Knox Medical in a former bank branch at 1 S. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, back in November. Comparatively, that facility was welcomed with open arms by everyone. Then again, it’s located in downtown Lake Worth directly across the street from city hall.

RELATED: Marijuana dispensaries scout for locations in Palm Beach County

The new Curaleaf store is located directly across the street — about 180 feet away — from a school. The Academy for Positive Learning is the city’s only A-rated public school; a K-8, 135-student charter school. The school of predominantly low-income students has an impressive rating of 9 out of 10 on GreatSchools.org.

Curaleaf, formerly known as Modern Health Concepts, was supposed to open as early as last fall. But there was an issue highlighted by a basic question: Should an all-cash medical pot store be allowed to operate across the street from a school?

The city, and eventually the state, said yes.

Renatta Adan-Espinoza, principal and operator of Academy for Positive Learning, a Lake Worth charter school. (Photo provided)

The school’s operator, Renatta Espinoza, said no. And I agree.

Because this is not about whether people suffering from debilitating diseases or conditions should have access to medical cannabis to ease their pain. In fact, 78 percent of Palm Beach County residents rightly voted in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016.

This, Espinoza says, is about putting a medical pot dispensary so near a school full of children is inviting unnecessary risk for her students, some of whom have to stand outside to catch the PalmTran bus.

Espinoza is afraid that ultimately, the all-cash business will attract too much of the wrong element. Exaggerated fear or not, the question is a legitimate one.

Enough so that when the Florida Legislature finally got around to putting rules in place to implement the law approved by voter referendum, lawmakers decided that these dispensaries should not be sited within 500 feet of a school.

The slow-moving Legislature was apparently too late with regard to Curaleaf and other medical pot dispensaries around the state that smartly refused to wait on waffling lawmakers. They applied to open-minded municipalities like Lake Worth, and received approval to locate where ever those municipalities allowed.

RELATED: Editorial: Medical marijuana clinic, Lake Worth school a bad mix

Having, for some reason, allowed Medical Health Concepts to locate across the street from Academy for Positive Learning in the first place, city officials felt they didn’t have an out by the time the Legislature acted. And Modern Health Concepts, now Curaleaf, wasn’t walking away.

Academy for Positive Learning has been at 1200 North Dixie Highway the past 5 years. (Kevin D. Thompson/The Palm Beach Post)

What’s a little strange is that the city didn’t question the store’s owners more about their choice of location sans the Legislature. After all, the school has been there since 2014. Why risk making the city look like a bad guy bullying a tiny school lauded for its work with ESOL kids? (Espinoza, for example, is being feted in April by Florida TaxWatch Inc., a statewide non-profit, as one of its 2017 Principal Leadership Award winners.)

But Espinoza’s pleas — and full disclosure, the Post Editorial Board’s chastising — aside, Lake Worth officials say they had no choice.

To quote former Vice President Joe Biden, “that sounds like a load of hooey.”

There was indeed a choice: they city wanted either an A-rated public school at that location or a medical pot shop.

It looks like the city just made the wrong choice; which was to do nothing.

Take our poll, and let us know what you think in the comments section.