Friday, October 28, 2016

Susan Valdes: Caring for Kids, or "Pay-to-Play" Politician?

Though it may be last week’s news that School Board member Susan Valdes from District 1 is jet-setting all over the U.S. for business she claims is related to helping students in our district, she’d be hard pressed to produce any evidence. If you haven’t seen the eye-opening report from ABC Action News’ Adam Walser that debuted a week ago, the video clip of his investigation is below.

 To say that this news report irked me would be the understatement of the year.

I’ve always heard rumors about Susan Valdes, so after seeing the video and reading the article, I decided to do some digging…

First I began by contacting the supervisor of elections office now run by Craig Latimer. Though I didn’t hear back from him directly, a lawyer contacted me and sent me the county statute on how to conduct a recall election. I find it absurd that Susan Valdes will be officially reinstalled into her post after beating Bill Person by barely 1% (just over 250 votes, I believe) when only 19% of the electorate turned out for the primary. A true travesty of democracy if I've ever seen one.

I also wanted to know how to search through campaign contribution records, and she sent me another email for directions. If you are as curious as I am, you can click here and it will take you to the page if you’d like to look for yourself. Simply put, what I found was astounding.

Charter Schools, Construction Companies, and Collusion? Oh my!
Ms. Valdes sure gets LOTS of money from very curious places. For instance, why would a dentist from Chicago, Illinois want to write a check for $1000 to a local school board politician half way across the country? What could he possibly want with our school district?

Granted, before I get too deep, let me be clear in stating that I fully understand that correlation is not causation, and that perhaps I am reading between the lines a little too much. But the rational side of me can’t help but see there are dots to be connected here and ask these questions in the process:

  • Why are Susan Valdes’ biggest contributors all charter school and construction companies?

  • Why would real estate developers be so interested in funneling massive amounts of money into her coffers? In fact, on a single day, July 20th of this year, she received three $1000 checks from a real estate political action committee.

  • How much would it affect Susan Valdes vote on charter school contracts if she receives $1000 donations from both Jonathan K. Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, and Ignatio Zuleta, the co-founder of Academica, two of the largest for-profit charter school companies in the entire country, and certainly the biggest players in Florida? 

I could keep asking questions, but I don’t want to belabor the point, so I’ll let you ponder this final one: the single most lucrative day for her campaign was May 25th of this year, the day on which she amassed $9,000 from various construction companies, charter school management firms, and various LLCs, many of which, no doubt, are probably shell corporations from the aforementioned charter school giants, CSUSA and Academica.

Add these facts to the rapid rise of charter schools in the Hillsborough County Public School system during her tenure on the board, along with the ridiculous amounts of rent/lease fees these charter schools pays these entities (usually $1,000,000 or more per site, per school year), throw in some hefty management fees that typically end up also coming out of the the money that the state gives directly to these schools rather than our district, and you’ve got one heck of a recipe for bilking the taxpayers and robbing money from the public schools to which it rightfully belongs.

I don’t know what you’re cooking, Susan, but it sure smells like collusion to me.


Wave goodbye to your tax dollars, folks!

P.S. – We need to keep asking questions of those in power, people. We might only get dodgy, shifty politispeak, but at least we can watch them squirm in their seats. Let your voice be heard this coming Tuesday at the next School Board meeting! You can sign up by clicking this link and then pressing the button that says “Speaker sign-up” just below “Audience Comments” in the upper left.

P.P.S. – If these questions trouble you, too, please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media. It seems that few voices are trying to hold these politicians accountable, and the more we can get to join the chorus the quicker change can come!


  1. Please keep up the good work! The more attention given to issues stated, the better the chances that some kind of corrective action begins. Many of us supporters of public education are greatly concerned about the strong attempt from outside forces to eliminate public education as we know it. This all started in Tallahassee and now it has reached local level school boards and individual school board members. Bill Person

    1. Thank you for your support and encouragement, Bill! We need people like you and Mrs. Edgecomb--educators who worked with children for decades--to be on our school board. It is people like you who truly know what is best for our kids, not practiced politicians who simply want to stay in power for perks and prestige.

      Also, I am currently doing a bit more research for a follow-up post on charter schools, mainly because I don't think the public realizes how these institutions truly work here in the state of Florida. While I have nothing against them in principle (who wouldn't want the best education for their children?), it is the sneaky schemes that effectively siphon off millions of taxpayers' dollars to pad the bottom lines of these for-profit corporations that I have a problem with, especially when it significantly reduces the revenue stream for our public schools.

      Definitely more to come soon!