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Few in attendance at schools meeting in Lehigh

By Staff | Mar 1, 2010

Bob Chilmonik was the only member of the Lee County School Board who showed up to a meeting for residents and parents in the East Zone on Saturday at the East Lee County Library.
The meeting, which was brought up by Donald Armstrong of Lehigh, a candidate for Seat 4 in this year’s election, and was announced at the Feb. 9 school board meeting.
During the public comment period of the meeting, Armstrong had received positive responses from at least three members, Bob Chilmonik, Jeanne Dozier and Elinor Scricca that they would like to attend. Board Chairman Steven Teuber said he had other plans but would have like to have attended.
The meeting went as scheduled with around 20 people in attendance.
The meeting began with Chilmonik offering a brief presentation about the operations of the school district by saying it operates on a $1.5 billion budget and that the future didn’t look good this year financially because of the ailing economy.
Of the 20 who attended, only about half voiced concerns they had. Some became heated while others brought up subjects that included long bus rides, and problems in the schools, which included bullying. One of the visitors at the meeting shouted out that “it’s the bullying school system,” indicating the school board level.
Those who voiced problems didn’t identify themselves but often shouted their comments as Chilmonik tried to keep the meeting running smoothly. The meeting was loosely organized while people sat in chairs stretched around the meeting room.
One man said the new Island Coast School had cost the school system $60 million to build, but it couldn’t teach students to read. One mother who had problems in the school was told by Chilmonik she should talk to the teacher first and then, if not happy, talk to the assistant principal and “on up the line.”
Another suggested everyone in the system from the superintendent and board members take salary cuts to help solve the financial problems in the school system. And another suggested that capital money set aside for new schools be put into the operations budget. Chilmonik said no new schools were being planned this coming year due to the bad economy and that he favored looking into the possibility of transferring some capital money to the operating budget.
One man suggested the school board cut support staff and said that when he went to school, there were not so many assistant principals, guidance counselors and office staffers in his school.
Another noted that children in the third grade, some 71 percent of them, have passed their state-mandated reading FCAT tests, but by the time they reach the 10th grade, 78 percent of them are below their reading grade. He wanted to know why.
And almost everyone who spoke said they didn’t understand why parents don’t attend meetings like the one on Saturday. One person said most parents don’t even vote in the school district elections.
Overall, the group told Chilmonik that the transportation department was not working properly, that school choice doesn’t work and that the board is not efficient in the way it operates the school system.
Also at the meeting was Tom Scott who said he plans to run for the school board, District 5, against Elinor Scricca. Scott lives in Alva. Armstrong, who apparently planned the meeting, said he was a candidate for District 4. Chilmonik said he would like to see future meetings with parents in Cape Coral and Fort Myers. The meeting at the library had not been widely promoted and was not planned by the school board.
Prior to the meeting, Armstrong had sent an email on Feb. 25 to board members that read:
“Several weeks ago, I had extended an invitation to all school board members to attend the School District Town Hall meeting to be held on February 27 in Lehigh Acres. It was my distinct impression that all school board members, with the exception of Steve Teuber, indicated that they would attend. At the last board meeting, therefore, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the only board member who plans to attend the meeting is Bob Chilmonik. Several of the other board members implied that I planned to ‘set them up’ by having attendees ask them questions they prefer not to deal with.
“While I am pleased to see that some of the board members think I am so influential that I can stack this meeting with people to carry out my slightest whim, I want to assure all of you that I have no idea who plans to attend the Town Hall meeting nor have I tried to influence any prospective speaker. Accordingly, I am inviting you, once again, to attend the meeting. I would like to take this opportunity to mention that I have been approached by many people who have said that they find the four of you to be arrogant and out of touch with the community. I would think that your failure to attend this meeting might serve to strengthen that impression. Please be advised that your presence at the meeting will be very welcome.”