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Child Abuse By Teacher Brushed Aside By Port St. Lucie Public School System

On Friday, May 23rd, at Morningside Elementary school in Port St. Lucie, teacher Wendy Portillo, decided to punish her autistic student Alex Barton for his annoying behaviors by parading him in front of the class, instructing every student to tell Alex what they don't like about him and then organizing a student vote to determine whether Alex may continue with the class or should be voted out of the class. Alex listened to his classmates describe him as "disgusting" and "annoying" and then by a 14 to 2 margin, Alex watched his peers vote him out of his class. After the class vote, Alex was asked how he felt, to which he responded, "I feel sad." Alex was then escorted by teacher Portillo to the principals office, however, due to mental anguish he was soon thereafter taken to the school nurse station where he remained for the rest of the day. At no time during the day were his parents notified. In fact, Alex's mother only learned of the incident when Alex spoke of the ordeal in the car on the way home.

Alex is in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism. Alex began the testing process in February at the suggestion of Morningside Principal Marcia Cully. While teacher Wendy Portillo initially did not acknowledge she was aware of Alex's condition, documents have since been recovered showing she attended several of Alex's autistic evaluation sessions.

Ms. Portillo's action of parading Alex in front of his peers was nothing short of an act of pure humiliation to embarrass Alex in front of his peer group, embark every other 5 year old to chastise and disgrace Alex for her purpose and impose pure shame upon Alex for a disease he cannot control. Portillo's acts constitute clear and undeniable abuse.

Alex's mother Melissa Barton filed a complaint with Morningside's school resource officer. However, according to Port St. Lucie Department spokeswoman Michelle Steele, while the teacher did confirm the incident took place, the state attorney's office concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed. As can be expected, the teachers union sides with and defends teacher Portillo, further continuing the theme of carte blanche placement of teacher interests ahead of student interests.

Alex hasn't been back to school since. His mother indicates he begins screaming when she brings him with her to drop off his sibling at the school and she has heard him repeating the phrase "I'm not special." She believes he is reliving the incident.

St. Lucie School's spokeswoman Janice Karst said the district is investigating the incident, but could not make any further comment. Vern Melvin, Department of Children and Families circuit administrator, confirmed the agency is investigating an allegation of abuse at Morningside but said he could not elaborate.

If this incident inspires you to take action so that these types of bullying and child abuse activities do not repeat themselves unchallenged, I suggest you consider reaching out to the below sources.

Office of Governor Charlie Crist
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Citizen Services Hotline: (850) 488-4441
Executive Office of the Governor Switchboard: (850) 488-7146

Morningside Elementary School Principal:
Mrs. Marcia Cully
(772) 337-6730

St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent:
Michael J. Lannon
4204 Okeechobee Road
Ft. Pierce 34947-5414
Phone: 772/429-3925
FAX: 772/429-3916
e-mail: lannonm@stlucie.k12.fl.us

St. Lucie County School Board Chair:
Carol Hilson

Vice Chair:
Judith Miller

Alex's mother, Melissa, can be reached at supportalex@treasurecoast.com.

As well stated by the ASAN (the Autistic Self Advocacy Network), any communication or contact should be polite yet firm, pointing out the unacceptability of such actions when aimed at any student and the need for this school to adopt policies to prevent this from happening in the future. Remember that abusive messages hurt the cause so please be respectful in your writing.

boca raton

Posted: May 28, 2008 | Permalink

Keywords: Morningside Elementary School, Port St. Lucie, Teacher Abuse
Categories: Public Education System

Boca Politics 2008 | Same Old Faces

Further supporting the theory that the Boca City Council is an incestuous group which merely recycles the same deep seated members between term limits pauses, the just elected City Council includes the repeat members of Susan Whelchel, Peter Baronoff and Susan Haynie.

Councilwoman Susan Whelchel went unchallenged and will take the helm as Mayor to replace the term limited Steven Abrams, who for the record did an admirable job in the post for the prior seven years. Peter Baronoff was also unchallenged in the election so he will assume his second three year Council term.

In the only contested race for the Boca City Council, former councilwoman Susan Haynie edged out former councilman Al Travasos by about 54% to 46%. Approximately 11% of the city's 56,257 registered voters cast their ballots. Haynie, 52 and a licensed contractor, previously served on the City Council from 2000 to 2006 until her term limit was reached. By comparison, Travasos, 63, served on the Boca City Council from 1984 to 1992.

This was yet another competitive race where the strategies employed seemed to focus more on placing signs in yards and less about giving the voters something new to think about. Neither Haynie or Travasos did a respectable job of differentiating themselves or offering any new or creative strategies for the voters to consider.

Haynie and Travasos both made revitalization of the North Federal Highway Corridor a top campaign theme. Travasos also said the city's code enforcement department should crack down on the multiple families residing in single family homes along the corridor. Other campaign promises from Haynie included the following:

  • Public safety. Haynie says "I want to provide our residents with the highest level of public safety in the most cost-efficient manner. You do that by maximizing the resources and with the current employees that you have." In addition, money can be saved by "utilizing the available technologies, such as global position systems or remote surveillance or the laptops in the police cars. The city subscribes to the Code Red System, which is currently used for hurricane evacuation and boil-water alerts. It could also be used for crime alerts citywide."
  • City finances. "The common objective here is to provide the highest quality of service in the most cost-efficient manner. That's done by reviewing each department from the bottom up to achieve maximum efficiencies. Privatization should be looked at for certain services, like sanitation, building inspection, code enforcement and golf course management."
  • Redevelopment. "We had the successful charrette for North Federal Highway. We have a vision that was the consensus of the neighborhood and the property owners. And we need to see that vision brought to fruition. The city can spur that by seeking funding to do an entry feature and a corridor enhancement on North Federal Highway, using enhancement-funding funds through the [Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization]."

Haynie also suggested something must be done with the Eden condominium project (yawn) and claimed she would fight for the long overdue I-95 interchange at Spanish River Blvd. These campaign promises will be scored as Haynie's term proceeds.

Because the Haynie and Travasos campaign offered little in a creative or stimulating message, the only entertainment came when Haynie went negative on Travasos and the Boca Chamber of Commerce. Haynie distributed a mass mail campaign showing pictures of the two council members Bill Hager and M.J. 'Mike" Arts along with her opponent Travasos and the phrase "Do we want the Boca Chamber of Commerce to Take Control of Our City?" Boca Chamber President Troy McLellan responded with a statement citing "It is unfortunate that Haynie is resorting to negative attacks on good public servants who aren't even on the ballot, even a former colleague, and the small business people of Boca Raton in a desperate attempt to get back on the City Council."

Haynie asserts the mailer wasn't a negative piece and instead positions it as a "humorous" message. However, its clear that after she accepted the Chamber's endorsements during three prior campaigns between 2000 and 2004, she had little reservation in attacking the Chamber when it chose to endorse her opponent. The Chamber as well as former council members Steven Abrams, Susan Whelchel and M.J. 'Mike' Arts all backed Travasos.

In addition to alleging Chamber imperialism, Haynie portrayed herself as a lone crusader determined to offset an alleged City Council Chamber-heavy influence. Perhaps this balance is true, or perhaps Haynie is just an obstructionist unable to work in a team environment. In the end, painting the Chamber as a dominating special interest group and Travasos as a puppet of a lobbying organization seems to have proven effective.

boca raton

Posted: March 12, 2008 | Permalink

Keywords: Boca Raton City Council
Categories: Boca Raton Politics

Constitutional Amendment 1 Homestead Exemption Makes History

Today Florida voters overwhelmingly endorsed Amendment 1 to upgrade the Homestead Exemption and continue the push for property tax reform. This constitutional Amendment grants several benefits:

  • Increases the Homestead Exemption from $25,000 to $50,000
  • Grants homestead owners a portability right to take their Save Our Homes (SOH) benefits to a new homesteaded property when they move; this permits residents to transfer up to $500,000 in value exempt from taxation (owners can transfer up to $500,000 in property value sheltered by their old house and apply it to their new tax bill)
  • Grants businesses and mobile home owners a $25,000 tangible personal property reduction, and
  • Limits increases for non-homesteaded properties to no more than 10 percent annually (beginning in 2009)

The annual 3 percent per year valuation cap for homesteaded properties continues to apply.

Governor Charlie Crist has spearheaded and personally advocated Amendment 1. In an around the state promotional tour just before the vote, Crist argued that the property tax amendment will give homeowners more financial freedom and limit unnecessary government spending. Crist believes that the many years of large tax increases paid by the people are often not being wisely spent by local government leaders and lowering the peoples' tax burden can be matched by local governments by implementing greater accountability, more judicious spending and a greater emphasis toward efficiencies.

The four-part constitutional amendment, which required and received a 60 percent approval vote for passage, cuts about $9.2 billion in property taxes over five years. County, city and special district governments would take a $7.7 billion hit while public school budgets would lose $1.5 billion. Supporters claim the amendment will help ignite a sluggish real estate market and provide much needed tax cuts to all of Florida's residents. Labor unions, firefighters and some schools and local governments have opposed the amendment.

Amendment 1 Presumed Advantages:

  • Save-Our-Homes portability enables many homeowners to upsize or downsize without losing their tax exemptions. Estimates show that the average homeowner will be able to take approximately $83,000 in Save our Homes tax benefit with them when they move, saving about $1,500 a year on property taxes.
  • Amendment 1 provides a definitive tax relief to homesteads, landlords, and businesses.
  • The Amendment places caps on assessment increases for landlords and commercial property owners over the next 10 years.

Amendment 1 Presumed Disadvantages:

  • This legislative act cuts revenues to all levels of government except the school districts. 
  • It arguably promotes tax liability inequities by rewarding long-time residents and long-term property investors with lower taxes while charging increased taxes to short-time residents, investors newer buyers. 
  • The political groups against this amendment claim it would cause apocalyptic type service cuts and layoffs in police, fire, rescue, parks, and similar services. (School districts are exempt from almost all of the tax cuts and caps.) These claims seem to be an alarmist call for gloom and doom without much basis. While taxes would be reduced, the prior 7 years of tax revenues have grown dramatically (nearly doubling in many jurisdictions) and the proposed tax cuts are relatively minor in comparison to the increases.

The Florida legislature has also eased the implementation process. Homestead owners don't need to apply for the increased exemption as the new $50,000 homestead amount will automatically be applied beginning this year. Any homestead owner who moves within the state after January 1, 2008 can apply for the SOH portability benefits and the transfer will be implemented in their 2009 tax effect.

Amendment 1 must still clear some judicial challenges. A legal argument largely based around the portability element is currently being crafted. Lawyers warn that the Save Our Homes portability component may violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause by increasing the disparity between the tax liabilities of Floridian residents and people who just moved to Florida from out of state. The groups Florida TaxWatch and Florida Ballot Initiative are leading the charge to get a judge to void the voters mandate.

boca raton

Posted: January 29, 2008 | Permalink
Keywords: Amdendment1 , Homestead Exemption, Save our Homes (SOH)
Categories: Florida Legislation


Alex Barton
5 Year Old Alex Barton
(photo provided by his mother)































Boca Raton Susan Haynie
Councilwoman Susan Haynie

Boca Raton Al Travasos
Councilman Al Travasos






















Charlie Crist
Governor Charlie Crist

Key champion, advocate and supporter for Constitutional Amendment 1 property tax relief


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