You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” dominate the headlines during the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency, but it looks like Miami might be getting its own little dose of government spin if the Miami School Board gets its way and takes direct control over our local broadcasting station WLRN.  As if the School Board’s monthly usurpation of NPR’s “All Things Considered” wasn’t bad enough, they want to control every program and every news story about Miami Dade Public Schools that airs on the network.  The Miami Herald (another media outlet who’s reporting is heavily influenced by the School District), reported this morning that the district wants to extend their control over the network in the interest of student safety http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article133698704.html. According to school district Chief Communications Officer Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, “WLRN’s news staff has not undergone the full criminal background checks required of all public school employees —.”

Are you friggin’ kidding me? We have bullets flying outside of public schools in Miami on the daily and we’re more concerned about protecting our students from some nerdy WLRN public radio reporter?

This was a rather lengthy article by Herald standards so let me deconstruct some of the highlights:

1.The school district wants to force all current WLRN employees to reapply for their jobs and they want the discretion to hire and fire all journalists. As someone who has worked for the Miami Dade School Board for over 13 years, ya’ll better watch the *bleep* out! You’ll be looking at $40,000 geez for life with no job security and if your forte is not sycophancy you’ll no doubt find yourself on the chopping block. Can they make a VAM for journalists?

Never one to approve of high salaries (other than his own), the Superintendent is eager to apply his skills at whittling down employee pay at WLRN as well, “Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the Friends group have grappled for years over finances, leadership and salaries. Carvalho has publicly criticized Friends’ salaries, calling some of them exorbitant. Reported staff salaries have been significantly reduced, but in 2014, former chief underwriter Michael Peyton’s compensation was listed at close to $400,000 a year — including commissioned sales bonuses — a bigger paycheck than Carvalho earns.”

I can just imagine how irked the Superintendent must be that another public servant in Miami has a salary higher than his own. Though I agree that a $400,000 salary at a public radio station that is begging for funds every other month is not befitting, neither is a public school Superintendent dressed in Armani suits. Even people outside of Miami have taken note of our Superintendent’s best dressed fashion icon status as a blogger in Saint Petersburg described last week, “Superintendent and Fashion Plate Alberto Carvalho can afford to dress like Rico Suave on his $345,000 salary. Teachers making $40K are lucky if they can keep up with their student loans.” http://saintpetersblog.com/florida-abuses-teachers-cant-figure-theres-teacher-shortage/

2. Some fear that WLRN will become more of a a PR machine than it already is, “Hill warned that the proposals could undercut community support and undo years of efforts to produce high-level local journalism if they were to meld the news staff into an extension of the district’s already sizable public relations operation.”

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of sitting through a School Board meeting has witnessed the dog and pony show for themselves. Imagine if the School Board had complete control of WLRN! What would become of the public hearing portion of monthly School Board meetings? Would they suddenly cut the tape as soon as an unscripted public speaker went off the rails? Would the screen go black and they claim it was due to technical difficulties? Would they suddenly have audio problems? Would they run the monthly test of the Emergency Broadcast system as soon as the public hearing session of the meeting began? One can only imagine…

Here is just one example of how the School Board uses its monthly meeting as Kabuki theater. Last week the School Board went on and on and on about the success of its “Students Success” centers. Even UTD’s President actually managed to show up and speak at a School Board meeting to praise the miracles being performed at the district’s “Student Success” centers. You know when the UTD President shows up to speak at a School Board meeting something fishy is going on. After reading the Herald article this morning, I had my answer.

“In recent months, WLRN has aired stories critical of school district programs, including one that questioned whether the district had followed through on a promise to end out-of-school suspensions, and a high school intern’s piece entitled “Why Is School Lunch Gross?

Here is the link to WLRN’s article about the fallacy behind the district’s elimination of outdoor “suspensions.” http://wlrn.org/post/school-suspensions-continue-spite-miami-dades-no-suspension-policy
Our Superintendent, like President Trump, seems to have an obsession with controlling the media. As reported by the Miami Herald,
“Under Carvalho, who has been honored as the nation’s top schools superintendent, the district communication staff closely monitors media coverage, sometimes pushing back against stories deemed negative, slanted or unfair. The communications staff has made late night calls to argue for changes in Herald stories after they are posted online.”
I can confirm the district’s over zealous tactics in controlling the local media because a Herald reporter actually told me I was on a list of teachers not to interview when they wanted to come to my classroom and observe me using the tablets with students. They offered a name of another teacher at my school who was on the “approved” teacher list instead. The great irony of this naughty and nice list is that the approved teacher refused to use the tablets in his classroom at all. Now that would have made for a great headline, “School District Spends Billions on Tablets that Teachers Refuse to Use.”
I almost find it quaint that in the Digital Age, when any idiot like myself with a keyboard and an Internet connection can disseminate information to thousands with the click of a mouse on a few social media outlets, government entities feel like they can control the message that the public receives about them. Do they think WLRN and the Miami Herald are people’s only two sources of information? Do they think that people would actually watch or listen to the monthly School Board meetings if they weren’t forced to? According to the Herald article, WLRN actually chose to air the School Board meeting the day after the September 11th attacks rather than provide much needed news coverage. If the School Board has their way and gains even more direct control over our public airwaves we can anticipate that WLRN will rebroadcast the monthly school board meetings as frequently as BRAVO reruns episodes of the Housewives.
The School District’s tight control over the local media was one of the reasons I started the Kafkateach blog in the first place. If the Miami Herald didn’t want to cover stories that might not be all sunshine and lollipops about the reality of teaching in Miami Dade County Public Schools, fine, we could create our own news sites and tell our own stories exactly how we wanted them told. Of course, today I run the risk of being categorized as “fake news” and  being permanently banned from posting on Facebook but we need to question what exactly constitutes “fake news.” Is it the news created by people who experience issues first hand and use technology to expose their reality to the masses, or is it news carefully crafted to portray only a positive image at the expense of excluding “alternative facts” that might run counter to spin of the dominate power?
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