BACK TO SCHOOL WITH BUBBA THE GREAT

Here We Go

Pre-planning week was gone in a flash. Tomorrow, legions of kids will file off buses and climb out of their parents’ cars to begin ten months of scholarly growth and refinement.

Their teachers, behind well-rehearsed smiles and pre-canned, welcoming catch phrases, will begin an equal duration of bureaucratic bludgeoning and legislative encroachment.

Kurt Browning will surely be in his own spotlight, attempting to mollify the downward curve that he has orchestrated and overseen for the last four years. Of course, that’s fodder for another post altogether.

Video Vagaries

By now, Pasco teachers have grown accustomed to Kurt Browning’s periodic video spiels. We know the drill. In his latest video soliloquy, a few seconds less than half a minute into a four-minute pitch, Bubba says, “You have no idea how much I appreciate our employees, and the things that you do every day to support our students.” Well, he’s wrong. By now, after four years of enduring a superintendent who has absolutely no idea about what he’s doing, a superintendent who is quite content to allow a select few of his unqualified minions to steer the district toward organizational mediocrity, it’s safe to aver that Pasco teachers have a vivid picture of how much he appreciates them. It ain’t a pretty one.

Cooking Numbers

Unfortunately, Browning’s latest spiffily-produced video monologue is, as usual, replete with smoke and mirror-ridden discursiveness. Pasco county teachers would surely prefer brutal honesty to politico-euphemistic recitation. In Browning, a career politician, they’re just not going to get it.

Browning stated that “our tentative budget contains an average employee compensation increase of just over 3.5%.” The problem with his calculations is that he includes components in the increase that historically have not been included in characterizing salary increases. His choice of the phrase “average employee compensation” is an unnecessary elusion of fact. He continued, “That includes a salary increase, the district’s contribution to your health benefits, and increased Florida Retirement System contributions for all employees.”

Back at the beginning of August, Bubba shared the truth about salary increases with our good friend Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog in a piece titled, Pay raise proposal shrinking for Pasco school employees. He told ol’ Softball Solochek, “We’re probably going to end up, because of money being as it is, between 2.6 and 2.7 percent,” and then he passes the buck with, “The board had some serious concerns about using nonrecurring dollars for raises.” His pitch to employees a few days later was an obvious attempt to mitigate the disappointment district employees certainly felt upon seeing their raises dwindle. It would be nice if Browning could somehow shed the well-worn cloak of a seasoned politician while speaking to his employees. Veracity is a valuable virtue. A salary increase of 2.65% is far better than nothing at all. To borrow from one of my earliest posts, teachers will surely welcome a paltry raise, in the manner that starving prisoners of war welcome bowls of bug-infested gruel. Teachers just want to be treated as if they possess a measurable level of intelligence. Surely, some will feel as though I am splitting hairs here. I counter that Browning’s “average employee compensation” remark is illustrative of his seemingly innate propensity to equivocate.

Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say

A little further along in his performance, Bubba says, “The district feels a sense of urgency about getting in agreement with USEP on raises and other issues as soon as possible.” He sounded really sincere when he said it. He is, after all, extremely well-versed at feigning sincerity. The only problem with his statement is that it is patently untrue. That makes him an abject liar. If the district “feels a sense of urgency about getting an agreement,” then it would be dealing with USEP in good faith. It is not. Browning has yet to submit any economic proposal whatsoever to USEP at the bargaining table. Indeed, he has become obsessed with circumnavigating his contractual obligation to bargain with USEP, and has chosen instead to publicize his intentions without so much as communicating them to USEP beforehand. Browning’s pragmatically purposeful campaign to discredit Pasco county teachers’ professional organization by repeatedly shirking his responsibility to cooperate with USEP on any matter whatsoever, coupled with the fact that he flouts very clear contract language with impunity, points to the fact that he simply doesn’t care one iota about his teachers. His conduct in office is a marked departure from that of previous superintendents, including Heather Fiorentino, who we all know was no friend of USEP.

Fiorentino’s immediate predecessor, Dr. John Long, a superintendent who held a doctorate in education, made an obvious, good faith effort to maintain a positive rapport with USEP. Dr. Long recognized the value of a mutually beneficial relationship with his employees, and he readily acknowledged USEP’s cooperative leadership role in district policymaking.

Bubba, on the other hand, is the absolute inverse of John Long. He says one thing, while he means quite another. He goes as far out of his way to disrespect the union as Dr. Long did in truly attempting to find common ground. I remember a red-shirt union rally at the district offices back in the late 90s. Dr. Long, to the cheers of rank and file teachers, donned a red USEP T-shirt and joined the protest. While in office, he made every effort to find money to pay teachers a competitive salary. He listened intently to teachers’ concerns, and made changes without regard to his own ego. Looking back at Dr. Long’s tenure is the easiest way to so plainly see that Kurt Browning is a fraud.

Self-Serving Subtleties

Kurt Browning’s video skits are so full of invalid assertions that an entire book could be devoted to correcting the distortions and rebutting the prevaricative nonsense he has become such a master at fabricating.

Now he pretends to be an educator. You have to listen carefully to what Bubba says in order to catch what he attempts to imply. In his latest video, in characterizing the state board of education members (“…who, for the most part, are not educators…”), he suggests that he actually is an educator. Again, forgive me for splitting hairs, but if Browning intended to lend a measure of authenticity to his own oratory, he would have said, “…who, for the most part, like me, are not educators…” You see, ol’ Bubba fancies himself an educator now. After some 30-plus years as a politician, he has developed an uncanny ability to exploit the art of nuance for his own benefit. About a minute and a half into the video, Browning says, “I learned a long time ago that the art of educating children is certainly not like building a widget.” I, for one, would like to hear what exactly Bubba knows about building “a widget.” I am not aware of any vocation he has undertaken during his career in politics that involved making “a widget.”

I know it’s kind of picky, but I think he should have said either, “…the art of teaching children is certainly not like building widgets,” or, “…the art of educating a child is certainly not like building a widget.” Call me picky. Our top “educator” should have at least a fundamental grasp of basic grammar.

But seriously, just how long ago did Bubba find that out? I mean, he’s only been superintendent for about four years, and as long as those four years have felt for his teachers, the timeline is still just four years. When someone says, “…a long time ago…,” a minimum of fifteen or twenty years comes to mind; not four. Does he mean that he unearthed that revelation within the last four years? Is he admitting that he went to the district office to “make a widget?” Is he saying that he knew all that long before ever becoming superintendent, and then acted as if he didn’t? What does he mean?

Who’s Responsible?

Toward the end of his production, Bubba appears to almost really take responsibility for something. Alas, I got all excited for nothing. It turned out to be a false alarm. In describing his appearance before the Florida board of education, he recalled, “They (the BOE members) were concerned about who was responsible for where Hudson Elementary School is today.” I will refrain from correcting his grammar (parallel structure, Bubba, parallel structure). Anyway, in an apparent bid at selflessness, Browning said, “I said that I am responsible. They asked about the principal, and I said, the principal is responsible. It rekindled that sense of urgency for me; not that I ever lost it, but it brought it back home.” Wow. Those few sentences tell us a whole lot about why education is such a (expletive-laden phrase deleted) big, rotten mess. Responsibility is quite clearly being allotted improperly. You see, Bubba is an elected superintendent, and Hudson Elementary School parents are voters. Therefore, Browning doesn’t mention the parents at all. He doesn’t mention the substandard culture of mediocrity that has annihilated many neighborhoods in Hudson. He doesn’t mention, that as he well knows, K12 education begins and ends in the home. That doesn’t mean he has the fortitude to say it.

Having just begun another four-year term as Grand Poohbah of the Pasco Fiasco, appearing to take responsibility for the failure of Hudson Elementary School’s parents and students is a safe bet. After all, Browning needn’t worry about doing the Marzano Dance. Poor Principal Dawn Scilex, however, is out on a dry, decaying limb. If she can’t get results from the families whose kids are failing, Bubba will surely sack her publicly. Of course, at that point, the responsibility will be hers alone, at least according to Browning.

This is the “leadership” we’re stuck with. An egotistical, self-important career good ol’ boy who has not a single clue about the nuts and bolts of classroom instruction. He is anything but an educator. Anything.

One could spend all day picking apart Browning’s deceitful assertions and thinly veiled distortions, but, as he so accurately supposes, few people have that kind of spare time on their hands. We’ll have to be content to pick out a few glaring examples here and there, in the hope that enough of that will finally convince a disinformed electorate that it’s had enough of him.

Watch the Video

For the masochists among us, I’ve posted Bubba’s latest video masterpiece below for all to enjoy. Keep a barf bag close.

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