Scrutinize claims on School Board candidates

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Venice Gondolier Sun | by Cathy Antunes | August 17, 2020

Recent claims by former Sarasota GOP chair Frank Patti in his July 22 editorial warrant scrutiny.

It appears Mr. Patti doesn’t appreciate how a public official’s conflicts of interest, or varying standards regarding accountability for public dollars, can undermine the public interest. Both have bearing on the current school board elections.

Mr. Patti writes, in reference to school board candidate Eric Robinson, that “establishing PACs is a legal endeavor and part of the business of an accountant.”

Legal? Yes.

But Patti makes it sound like accountants routinely engage in the same work that Mr. Robinson does.

False.

Robinson is listed as treasurer for more than 90 political committees in the state of Florida. Donors to those committees include local developer Pat Neal (more than $500,000 in donations), corporate charter school advocate Gary Chartrand and his spouse (more than $460,000) with developers Carlos Beruff, Randy Benderson and others adding tens of thousands to advance their interests.

All told, Robinson has handled more than $23 million via PACs for such donors, and that number continues to grow.

Between the years 2013-2019, Robinson received more than $700,000 in consulting and accounting fees from the committees he administers. Are we to believe that this lucrative sideline doesn’t impact Mr. Robinson’s public policy views, or that it won’t in the future? C’mon.

Do most accountants manage scores of political committees? No. Is there any other school board official in Florida managing special interest money while making public policy decisions? I’m not aware of any, are you?

Patti claims that “if a student goes to a private school, the public school loses the student, but also loses the costs related to educating the student.The costs balance out for the schools, parents choose the best school for their children, and the public pays the same cost for the child’s education.”

Patti offers no evidence for his claim that “the costs balance out.”

Patti assumes that vouchers are a zero-sum proposition — that any gain to the private schools is offset by the reduction in expense to the public school. Is this true?

Costs to educate individual students can vary widely. Private schools can deny entry to whoever they choose, and the rights of private school students and parents to due process against unfair or discriminatory practices are subject to the particular private school’s policies.

On the other hand, public schools must accept all students, regardless of the costs of educating them. Public schools must conform to all local, state, and federal policy mandates, which provide students and parents with greater leverage and standing if they believe the school has failed them.

Do these conditions create incentives for private schools to leave the education of more challenging, expensive students to public schools? Of course.

Patti’s unproven assertion that “the costs balance out” is insufficient to lay concerns about vouchers to rest. Likewise, his claim that Robinson’s PAC management and consulting business is “part of the business of an accountant” is ridiculous.

The School Board manages our largest municipal budget, impacting our most important community resource: our children. Let’s choose wisely.