I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

School District Publicly Discusses Teacher’s Union Contract Negotiation Objectives

Not here, though. This is happening in Suburban Detroit, Michigan.

In Escambia County, Florida, these contract negotiations are super top secret affairs done behind closed doors, with pomp, ceremony, district board appointed “bargaining teams” and very little visibility by the public. Everyone is warned about discussing these negotiations to include duly elected School Board Members. The board is forewarned and admonished to not speak at all about any facet of district/union talks---- period, break, and end of text.

I find this to be quite odd, although I know it is the way things have always been done around here. I happen to have a different take on this. Even within the constraints of respecting every law, rule, and regulation surrounding bargaining—there has got to be a way to make the process more open. There has to be a way to lay out the facts and let the public decide, to the extent permissible under the law, because continued open dialogue can lead to solutions.

Sometimes—most times—when two parties to an issue get hung-up, a good thing to do is to increase transparency so that maximum exposure to all sides of a problem can be shown to the public. This is especially applicable when taxpayer money is on the line, in my opinion. When open, public discourse and debate occurs-- often times this sort of transparent dialogue can spur progress between two sides of an issue, even when the chasm between two opposing sides seems insuperable. The court of public opinion is strong and can often times efface even the most stubborn gridlock.

I like the way the chief negotiator from the Southfield Public School district in suburban Detroit, Michigan does it. From the Sunday, December 21, 2008 Southfield Observer and Eccentric:

“Any settlement of Southfield Public Schools union contracts will likely have to wait until the New Year, though the district's chief negotiator has clearly spelled out his side's positions. Those positions include lump sum annual increases, rather than raises, caps on health care payments to union members and greater flexibility in hiring and laying off staff. Floyd Allen, the district's chief negotiator, said that Michigan's uncertain economy and the district's continual loss of students weigh heavily in its bargaining positions. The district seeks to freeze wages at 2007-08 levels, he said, with lump sum increases to be awarded only if student enrollment increases. The wage freeze, Allen said, is "reasonable given student enrollment declines.”Unions, he added, have asked for 5 percent raises. Allen discussed negotiations with district teachers, secretaries and support staff at the Dec. 9 school board meeting, the last regularly meeting of 2008. Ted Peters, chief negotiator for the Southfield Education Association teachers union, said he was surprised Allen was both so public and so specific in his comments. "These are things that usually stay at the bargaining table," Peters said.”

I’m sure Ted Peters likes these things to “stay at the bargaining table”—I, however, like the idea of a more open process, because taxpayer’s (read: BOSS’S) dollars can be unnecessarily at stake if negotiations get strung out. Whether we’re talking about Oakland County, Michigan or Escambia County, Florida—parties to public school contract negotiations are making decisions about how public taxpayer dollars are spent and should be mindful of this fact. The avidity for Pyrrhic victories at the bargaining table, by either District or Teacher’s Union, serves no good purpose—but rather is a disservice to STUDENTS and TAXPAYERS.
Read the full article on the Southfield, Michigan issue here:

Blogging School Board Member Called Out by Local Teacher's Union

This is an interesting story, about free speech and how some people fight against it when it does not suit a particular agenda and/or point of view.

My thought is that Mrs. Day is right--free speech and The Constitution must prevail. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Day is seeking assistance from the ACLU in her scuffle with the local Teacher's Union. That's interesting. A balanced article on this same issue from the Detroit Free Press is published in today's edition. From the Detroit Free Press:

"The principle of freedom of speech trumps privacy rights, said Wayne State University constitutional law professor Robert Sedler. "She has the First Amendment right to comment to other people," Sedler said. "If the lawyer would try to get a court order to stop her from circulating this, the court would refuse to intervene." Writings published on a private listserv aren't protected from disclosure, Sedler said. "The listserv is public enough. It was circulated," he said. "The First Amendment encourages a robust exchange of ideas."
Howell Board of Education President Ed Literski said the school board has no authority to order Day to stop publishing material on her blog."

Full article here:

Friday, December 19, 2008

School Board Votes to Cut Teacher Pay, Saving District 3.3 Million Dollars

Not here, though. This is happening in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the largest school districts in that state, From the December 19, 2008, Washington Post:

"The Fairfax County School Board paved the way for employee salary reductions last night, voting to suspend a policy that would have protected many from pay cuts next year..The School Board voted 11 to 1 to suspend the benefit starting Jan. 1 and extending to June 30, 2011, when they plan to revisit it. James L. Raney (At Large) voted against the change.
"In normal times, it's a very nice benefit for our employees, but these are far from normal times," said Kevin North, assistant superintendent for human resources.
School officials estimate that the change could save $3.3 million in fiscal 2010 as they redesign programs, eliminate positions and offer some employees shorter or lower-paying contracts."

Escambia County is quite a bit different than Fairfax County,Virginia, but both counties share similar budget woes. The State of Florida recently announced a special session of the legislature to address a continuing, unprecedented budget shortfall. Everyone who does not have their head planted in the sand has to be reminded that this year's budget in Florida will be reduced, and next yer's budget will more than likely be even smaller. It is time for everyone to get back to reality and understand the severe economic hardships at hand.

As a School Board Member for Escambia Couty Florida, in the midst of this economic reality, I believe that we have to work to find how to continue to best provide for our STUDENTS. This has to be the number one priority, followed by finding the best way to work within our budget constraints to continue to work toward improving our educational system overall--providing the maximum return on scarce dollars for the "boss"--The Taxpayers. Taxpayers are all of our boss--they foot the bill, provide everything we have, and deserve an organization that runs efficiently, effectively, and with the least amount of friction (labor union vs district) as possible.

While we can all look at statistical charts and graphs that show how Florida ranks, funding wise, compared to other states, we must not get in the weeds over this issue. We should not look at this problem negatively, as the be all end all of our success. After all-- some of the lowest funded schools in the nation per FTE (Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota) are some of the best Public Schools in our Nation. Also, some of the highest funded districts in the nation per FTE, (Washington D.C., California, New York) struggle mightily. It's not always about dollars, and anyone who is truly being honest knows this.

It is not always about money because intelligent people know that throwing money at issues does not automatically equal a solution. In fact, a 50 year look at Student Achievement compared with per student governmental spending in U.S. pulic Schools clearly illustrates that as expenditures have grown, statistical per student achievement has not kept proportionate pace with the spending increases. I truly believe that every expenditure (including, locally, $45K in Title I money for parents of kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders to receive the Monday PNJ paper--a less-than necessary expenditure in my humble opinion) MUST be examined carefully. I think in the near future the priority needs to be working within the constraints of EXISTING budgets during the recession to find ways to cut spending, save money, and hold STUDENTS harmless. Employees of this district (including Administrators, Board Members, and Teachers) are here to serve Students and Taxpayers---NOT VICE VERSA !

I believe it is imperative for the Escambia School District to work with the Escambia County Teacher's Union Employees to create a less divisive, more student centered atmosphere, and that is what I intend to do for as long as I am on the Escambia County School Board.

For more information on Fairfax county Virginia issue, read the entire Washington Post article here:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Minutes of School Board Meeting, 12-16-2008

Minutes of Board Meeting12-16-08
I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Meeting convened at 5:36 PM

All Board Members present.

Pledge of Allegiance led by 5th Grade Student Shelby Warner from Ferry Pass Elementary School

PTA Presentation—given by Cindy Gerhardt

Stellar Employee Recognition—Lana Teague, Admin Clerk II, Jim Allen Elementary

Public Forum: 2 Speakers total

1 Speaker wants district to roll the steps on the teacher pay scale and also he wants teachers from out of state who come back from retirement to teach to be treated, pay scale wise, the same as Florida teachers who retire and come back to teach.

1 Speaker extremely upset about a bus issue, wants district to do a better job communicating with upset parents

Rule adoptions:

1. Revisions to School District Chapter 3, School Operating Procedures, adopted by 5-0 vote.

2. Revisions to School District Chapter 4, Instruction, adopted by 5-0 vote.

3. Addition of School District Rule 6Gx17-7.18-Policy Against Bullying and Harassment, adopted by a 5-0 vote.

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. Revisions to School District Chapter 2, Human Resources Services, approved for advertisement by 5-0 vote

2. Revisions to School District Chapter 7, Student Affairs, approved for advertisement by 5-0 vote

Administrative Appointment—Mrs. Shelly Cox promoted from teacher, N.B. Cook Elementary School, to Assistant Principal, N.B. Cook Elementary School.
Approved by 5-0 vote

4 sets of November Board Meeting Minutes Approved

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Purchasing items approved

(I pulled item 19, “My Kid Scoop”, and a discussion ensued about the merit of this program compared with the $45,000.00 price tag. I lobbied against this purchase, as I felt that $45,000.00 could be better spent on other more beneficial educational items-- rather than being spent buying newspapers for the parents of Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students. I also voiced concerns about this program being up and running for 4 months without board authorization, with a vote to pay the vendor coming to the board only after the fact. Item 19 passed with a 4-1 vote, with me being the lone “no” vote.)

All Operations items approved(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during a thorough 4.5 hour board workshop held during the morning/early afternoon of 12/12/2008)

Board voted unanimously, 5-0, to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

Student recommendations

10 Students Expelled

1 for sexual misconduct
1 for an armed robbery off-campus during non-school hours
4 for possession of dangerous objects (knives/razor blades) on school premises
1 for possession of alcohol on school property
3 for possession of drugs on school property

Employee recommendations

1 Employee terminated
1 Employee suspended

Meeting adjourned at 6:16.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Incorrectly Correcting Fellow Board Members

“You want to learn the first'd know if you ever spent a day in your never open your mouth till you know what the shot is.”

I tend to agree with the above quote from Al Pacino’s character, Ricky Roma, in the excellent movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”. I’m not always able, but I try not to open my mouth unless I “know what the shot is”. I definitely try to never correct a peer on an important issue in public—particularly if I don’t know the answer and am winging it.

This past Friday morning at the School Board workshop I asked what I felt was a fair question on a $45,000.00 district expenditure, and was cut down by a fellow board member who said, condescendingly, “You voted for this in August”. I knew I hadn’t voted for this item, but I did not make a public issue of it. I did, however, lean over to Mrs. Linda West, our school board assistant, and mention to her that I had never voted for this and to please look into the issue.

Over the weekend, I looked at previous board agendas online and did not find this particular item in any of our past meeting agendas. Fast forward to Monday morning and, lo and behold, I hear from district staff that this particular issue never came before the Board for a vote in August (as I suspected). The issue is coming before the Board this month so that a contract can be worked out and the vendor can be paid. This is problematic for a couple of reasons which I will explore later.

First, an overview of the $45,000.00 program in question.

Currently, the school district is spending $45,000.00 per year to send the Monday edition of the Pensacola News Journal home to the parents of Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade students of Title I (economically disadvantaged) Schools. The logic behind this expenditure is that the Monday edition of the PNJ contains a special “Kid’s Section” that the district actually compiles and sends to the PNJ staff. The PNJ Staff then incorporates this “Kid’s Section” into the Monday edition and sells the papers, with this section included, back to the district. Apparently, the rationale behind this is that because the Monday edition has a “Kid’s Section”—the parents of the students who receive this paper will spend time reading this special edition to their children. This sounds like a good program in theory, and I’m sure that it is. However, I’m not sure it is worth $45,000.00 dollars. I would like more information, metrics, and background-- etc., before I vote in favor of continuation. As it sits now with what I know-- I’m in favor of cutting out the middle-man! If we are developing the content, then why do we send it to PNJ so they can turn around and sell it back to us? Why do we not just print the “kid’s section” ourselves and distribute it directly to the students to take home? Another idea--tremendous amounts of information are available all over the internet---for free! Why not download the best free educational stuff off of the internet, print it, and send it home with these same Title I students every Monday? This would undoubtedly save the district a large sum of money. Perhaps enough money could be saved by eliminating this current program as it exists to expose district developed content to exponentially more students? I believe this is possible.

The bottom line is this—in these austere budget times we live in, we have to scrutinize every expenditure. This particular program is an expenditure that I believe we can live without-- and re-direct the financial resources to better uses. And this was the reason for my questioning of Agenda Purchasing Item 19 in the first place at last Friday’s workshop.

I also would like it if a cogent explanation could be given regarding why this (and other similar expenditures) seem to continually be approved by the district prior to a vote by the School Board—tantamount to an unauthorized commitment/expenditure by district staff.

If we (School Board) are truly the policymakers for our district, then we deserve the courtesy of approving expenditures before district money is expended.

Also, and finally, when individual School Board members ask questions of expenditures at open workshop meetings----other board members ought to be careful about correcting their peers on the board---particularly if the corrections are erroneous. I’ve been inappropriately corrected by the same board member publicly twice now, and two times I have bitten my tongue and said nothing. (Previous issue was “Safe Harbor Provision”) see:

I understand that the issues we deal with as board members are voluminous, and it is unrealistic to expect that one board member can remember every issue he/she has ever voted on; however, it is both arrogant and supercilious for one board member to presume to know what another board member voted on months or years ago.

As previously mentioned, I’ve been chastised and corrected publicly twice now by the same board member—both times incorrectly. If a third occasion arises, I will not bite my tongue; I will correct this individual. After all, the quote at the top of this entry rings true “You (should) never open your mouth till you know what the shot is.”

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Three Escambia Elementary Schools to Share $148,606 in State Academic Awards and Cash Performance Bonuses

Senator Don Gaetz will be visiting each school personally this coming Tuesday, December 16th, to announce these awards as part of a day long visit he is making to the Pensacola area.

From an Email sent to me by Senator Gaetz's office:

"This Tuesday, three Escambia County schools will receive state academic awards and cash performance bonuses totaling $148,606 from Senator Don Gaetz. Gaetz, who represents Northwest Florida in the Senate, will hold "Neighborhood Day" on Tuesday, December 16th in Escambia County. From early morning until well into the evening, Gaetz will meet one-on-one with citizens, talk with civic organizations, walk door to door and visit Scenic Heights Elementary School, Cordova Park Elementary School and A.K. Suter Elementary School. All three schools earned "A" ratings from the Florida Department of Education this year."

Full Email Here:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Teacher"s Union Employees Make Huge Wage Concession--Saving District 89 Million Dollars!

Not here, though. This is happening in Montgomery County Maryland, the largest school district in that state. From the Washington Post:

"School officials said it was the first time since the early 1990s that Montgomery school employees had given up a contractual pay raise, a sign of the magnitude of the economic challenge. School board President Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) credited unions with "tremendous sacrifice during these tough times." "Budget constraints have prompted Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to consider requiring unpaid furloughs for more than 67,000 state employees and contractors"

The socio-economic demographic is quite a bit different in Montgomery County Maryland than it is in Escambia County Florida. The average teacher salary in Montgomery County exceeds $70,000.00. The area is affluent and the cost of living is much more expensive than Escambia County. Even in a growing school system in an affluent community--sacrifices still are being made to make the budget ends meet.
Hopefully our budget scenario locally will not become as bleak as Montgomery County Maryland's. Hopefully our district's bargaining groups (district and union) will not dig in their heels and force drastic measures like the Santa Rosa County lay-offs.

We'll have to see what shakes out locally in the midst of these uncertain economic times.

Full Article on Montgomery County compromise is here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Escambia County Teacher's Union 1, Escambia School Board 0

One of the largest pieces of the savings puzzle hobbled together by the School District last spring (in the face of an unprecedented budget shortfall) was the 3.2 million dollar savings to be garnered by having High School Teachers teach 6 of 7 classes versus what they had been teaching (5 out of 7 classes).

The Escambia County Teacher's Union, the EEA, felt that this was an item that needed to be bargained-- and filed a ULP against the district with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

This past Friday afternoon, the PERC website posted the Hearing Officer's Recommended Order. Here it is:

The question now is---where are we going to get the savings achieved by this action if we have to reverse the policy?

This will become a big issue going forward, and the budget impications are huge.

Revised Interlocal Agreement Passed by Board by 4-1 Vote

Yesterday's special meeting of the Escambia County School Board ended with the revised interlocal agreement being approved by a 4-1 vote. I was the lone "no" vote, as I had numerous concerns with the document as revised. I documented my concerns here:

The document that we voted to approve will be finalized and presented to the county commission this Thursday for their approval--which is expected. The document, with revisions noted, is here:

The silver linings involved with the passage of this agreement are:

1. We will have to address our lingering need to close and consolodate some of our schools with excess capacity---if we ever have any hope of receiving ay mitigation funds from any developments. (We should have been doing this all along--but closing schools is difficult and extremely unpopular)

2. Nobody will ever be able to accuse The Escambia School Board of not being "developer friendly" ---as the Home Builders and County Planning Staff essentially got every concession that they requested in this document from the Scool District.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

School Concurrency the Subject of a Special Board Meeting Today

Concurrency is simply the method by which local governments mutually cooperate in the management of planned or contemplated construction/development that impact levels of services (fire/rescue, water, libraries, schools, etc.) within a given geographical area. Although relating to Alachua County in particular, an excellent essay on School Concurrency complete with history and examples can be found here:

This afternoon the School Board of Escambia County will be having a special meeting to approve revisions to the School Concurrency plan that was initially approved by the board back in September.

I supported the initial concurrency plan, as I felt it addressed the school district’s interests adequately with respect to managing growth.

The County and the Home Builder’s Association have called for edits to the document, and these edits have been incorporated into the latest iteration of the concurrency plan on which the board will vote this afternoon.

If approved as edited, the Escambia Concurrency plan has some significant issues that differ from what many other Florida Counties are doing in their plans.

Most of the other Florida Counties’ plans that I have seen have a mandatory upfront requirement that at the time of initial application, developers submit a School Impact Analysis (SIA) report. Many counties charge a fee for concurrency review at the time of preliminary review.
The latest Escambia draft does not mandate this.

Most of the other Florida Counties’ plans that I have seen call for concurrency service areas (CSA’s) that are less than districtwide. The original Escambia draft I voted for in September called for CSA’s that are less than districtwide. This has been changed and taken out of the current revision by the county and the Home Builder’s Association.
The Escambia draft now has districtwide concurrency service areas.
(Theoretically, this would allow a developer to build, with no mandatory mitigation required, new residential units in an area that has schools already over capacity [like, for instance, in the Lipscomb attendance area] if the school district has ANY excess capacity anywhere else in the county) This change does not favor the district, and I'm concerned about this revision.

A large number of the other Florida Counties’ plans that I have seen call for the formal/final determination of concurrency to be made at the time of final project approval.

The latest Escambia draft calls for the concurrency determination to be made at the time of preliminary application.

I have spent my weekend surveying what 22 other counties have put into place in their respective concurrency plans, and I have some reservations with the current revised Escambia County Plan. I've voiced my concerns with the Superintendent and also with the Superintendent for Operations.

I have other issues with the draft plan that will be voted on this afternoon, and my hope is that the board will take the time necessary to fully flesh out all of these issues before voting on the current draft, which will be a document in force for the next five years once approved.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Merit Pay for Pensacola Teachers--A Balanced Article From the PNJ

The PNJ article on Merit Pay in today's edition was fair and balanced. from the piece:

"About 340 Escambia County educators have opted out of the merit pay program, about 160 fewer than last year. The Legislature appropriated around $38 million for the Merit Award Program, which gives bonuses to high-performing educators and administrators"

I'm glad that the very important statistic (fewer teachers opting out) was a centerpiece of the story. This statistic in and of itself is important, but the other statistic that is equally important will be where the score cut-off point is this year, delineating the statistical top half of teachers (who will receive merit pay) from the statistical bottom half of teachers (who will not receive the award) Fewer people opting out combined with a higher score to win the award will solidify the view that the overall goal of the program--to improve overall districtwide performance--is being met.

I disagree with Gail Husbands' assessment in the article that the reason that more teachers are participating this year is simply due to the poor economy. I think this view is an oversimplification.

I don't understand the reasoning behind publishing the names of the teachers that opted out, either. With this list of 340 opt-outs, it would be interesting to drill down the statistics to know how many are EEA Union Members--my hunch is that it is a high percentage on this opt-out list. Typically, Organized Teacher's Unions nationwide have been wary of any sort of Merit Bonus System that rewards fewer than all teachers equally. The important points to know locally as they relate to our Florida Merit Award Plan are that Gail Husbands, the EEA, Andy Ford, and the FEA have all endorsed the Merit Awrd Plan. The other important data point to be aware of (that did not make it into the article) is that a majority of Escambia County Teachers are not Union Members.

Overall, to have only a hair over 10% of Escambia teachers opt-out is encouraging, because this means nearly 9 out of 10 teachers are "in" this year. I'd like to see the participation rates cotinue to increase as the program continues to move forward.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Michelle Rhee: The Education Reformer to Watch in 2009

Michelle Rhee, the maverick chancellor of Washington D.C. Public schools, is gaining a lot of momentum in her quest to reform her district. She is also getting a lot of national press coverage of her unfolding reform agenda. I picked up on an article in The Economist earlier this year which highlighted some of Rhee's strategies for reforming the D.C. Schools, and I included this article in an earlier Blog entry.

I hope Rhee is successful in her very tough endeavor, and I am also hopeful that she continues to receive fair and positive media coverage as she begins to tackle some very unpopular issues.

From the US News and World Report Blog:

"If you want to quickly become the most unpopular person in a city, close down a school. No, make that 23 schools. Then, fire 34 principals, offer buyouts to 700 teachers (while pressuring hundreds more to leave), and fire 98 employees from the school district's central office. That's what Michelle Rhee . . . has done since she took control of the district in the summer of 2007.”
“Teacher unions have been a major stumbling block for Rhee, who is seeking to win support for proposals that would make it easier for her to fire incompetent teachers and give bonuses to the best ones. She has introduced two compensation plans, one that strips teachers of tenure but allows them to earn up to $130,000 if they meet performance goals based on student test scores, and the other that lets teachers keep tenure but gives them a modest raise. So far, the unions have chosen not to hold a vote on either proposal, leaving Rhee frustrated.”

Full article here:

Rhee is also featured on the cover of the December 8th Time Magazine:

Rhee is also featured in a short piece in the December 4th CNN Fortune Blog:

“Rhee has hit walls and earned the ire of unions, but that doesn’t discourage her. “You always have to lead from the front,” she told me yesterday when I asked her what is the best advice she’s gotten along the way. Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, gave her that advice last year, and he told her: “Don’t feel the need to bring everyone along with you. If you do that, you’re not going to get anywhere.”

full article here:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Florida Media Coverage of Charter School DCA Opinion

Several major Florida newspapers have covered the District Court of Appeals opinion handed down yesterday affirming the exclusive authority of local school boards to establish charter schools at the local district level.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

From the Miami Herald:

"A three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal struck down a 2006 law that lets applicants sidestep the state's 67 county school boards by getting their charters instead from a state commission"

from Florida Today:

From the Jacksonville Times Union

WEAR TV pensacola did a 6.25 second piece on this issue, PNJ did not cover this story.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Victory For Local Government Control

In 2006, the Florida Legislature enacted section 1002.335, Florida Statutes, which created the mechanism by which a State Level Entity, The Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, wrestled away from local district school boards the exclusive authority to authorize charter schools. Several District School Boards, to include Escambia County, challenged this law in court. Fast forward two years, and today the local school districts unanimously won the exclusive authority appeal in the district court. The court agrees with the dozens of Florida School districts in that local district school boards, under title IX section 4 of the Florida Constitution, should have the exclusive authority to authorize charter schools within their respective districts. Read the entire decision here:

This decision, a vindication of sorts for the local control purists, brought to mind some interesting “pop culture” quotes. As I thought about this issue, I thought about a couple of quotes relating to organizations and the importance of “control”.

Bill Parcells, one of the greatest coaches to ever walk an NFL sideline (In my opinion), once famously said:

“They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries”

What did that mean? The quote was made after the 1996 NFL Football season of coaching that saw Parcells take the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl. The Patriots lost Super Bowl XXXI to the Green Bay Packers, 35-21 and Bill Parcells resigned as the Patriots head coach five days later. Three days after his resignation, Parcells was hired as head coach of the Patriots’ arch-rival, the New York Jets. Asked about his abrupt departure from the Patriots during his first official New York Jets news conference, Parcells wryly stated:

“They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries”

Parcells-- frustrated at having several of his decisions (particularly draft choices) second guessed and in some cases overruled by the Patriots team owner-- knew that if he was in charge of an organization, he needed to have decision making control. His move to the Jets allowed him control.

Similarly, Robert Di Nero’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein from 1995’s film Casino said: (about being offered the chance to run an organization) “You know if I did it, I'd have to run it my way, I'm serious, no interference.”

Parcells and Rothstein both had a valid point. Who would want a title, responsibility, and accountability for an organization’s operations/achievements--- without control?

School districts are nothing like NFL Football teams or Giant Casino Operations. School districts are, however, large organizations that should be locally controlled. Unfortunately, much of the autonomy of local boards has been eroded. Local boards are constantly being force-fed a seemingly endless array of mandates from the State and Federal Government. I am an advocate for local control, and when a district is held accountable for its success and achievement, that district should have the opportunity to “shop for some of our own groceries” with “no interference.”

Mobile School District on Notice from ACLU

Recently, Mobile public schools have been warned by the ACLU about allowing gender segregated classes in one of their public middle schools. from the Montgomery Advertiser:

"In a letter to school officials, the American Civil Liberties Union said the student body at Hankins Middle School was wrongly segregated by gender without notifying parents and that no coeducational option was provided as required by federal law.
Mobile County schools spokeswoman Nancy Pierce said the system's lawyers will review the ACLU letter, but she declined further comment"

full article here:

Escambia County does not have any such school-wide programs, with the exception of the Department of Juvenile Justice programs (Corry Boy's Base and PACE center for Girls). Tate High School has some 9th Grade classes that are gender segregated, and Carver/Century k-8 has some gender segregated classes, but neither of these small programs is an "all-day" program. If more of these types of programs are put forth I would support the implementation, because these programs work.

Many districts around the country have begun gender separate education, because it is widely believed that boys and girls learn differently and that separation of boys and girls leads to greater student achievement. In 2006, Federal Regulations were codified to permit gender segregated education in U.S. Public Schools. Some school districts, like Greene County, Georgia, have gone all Gender-separate.

For many struggling districts that are trying desparately to improve achievement, gender-segregated programs are one of the tools in their "toolbox." If this concept works, and the facilities and programs are equal, then why would the ACLU object to this?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fl. State Sen. Paula Dockery Drafts Legislation to Exempt Agency Minor Dependents from Public Records Requests

The recent public records request made of all 67 school districts by a Polk County man, Joel E Chandler, has revealed several problems with the Florida open records law.

One large problem, of course, is how Florida Law seems to contradict Federal Law (HIPAA) with respect to the release of certain personal information about health plan participants--particularly in districts like Escambia County that self -insure. This issue will likely be settled in court and the outcome could be precedent setting. This one aspect, in and of itself is newsworthy--- however, the other major problem that this particular public records request has revealed is the vulnerability of information on minor dependents who are not employees of a State Agency.

The privacy of information about minor dependents of State Agency employees needs to be exempted from public records requests, in my opinion. Anyone off the street should not be able to walk into a school district and request the addresses, telephone numbers, ages, and names of the dependent children of employees. This is potentially dangerous for many reasons, and this obvious problem needs to be corrected.

I am extremely happy to know that Senator Paula Dockery of Florida Senate District 15 is tackling this problem head-on, and has drafted a bill to address this issue. I'm told that Senator Dockery will be submitting this bill for consideration during the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Dockery's office forwarded the draft, and I have posted it at the following address.

I cannot imagine any lawmaker opposing this bill, and I certainly hope that it will sail through the house and senate to become law. I intend to email our local elected delegation to urge their support for this bill as well.

Grim Budget News from The Revenue Estimating Conference

I received the below email late yesterday afternoon from the Florida School Boards Association Director of Legislative Relations, Ruth Melton. As expected, K-12 Education funding may be cut again for this fiscal year and again next fiscal year. Mrs. Meltons Email:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

When the Legislature crafted the $66 billion budget for this year (FY 2008-2009), they expected that the state would receive about $40 billion in federal and local revenue and that the state would earn the remaining $25 billion from general revenue. In August, the Revenue Estimating Conference announced a general revenue shortfall of about $1.7 billion. At that time, state agencies were subjected to a 4% holdback of funds (2% for school districts) -- which covered about $1 billion of the revenue shortfall – and Governor Crist exercised the authority granted to him by the legislature to cover most of the remaining shortfall from state reserves. This move avoided the need to call a special session prior to the November elections.

In recent weeks, preliminary forecasts indicated that an additional shortfall was looming. State agencies were advised to develop a budget that reflected a 10% reduction in funding. True to expectation, today the Revenue Estimating Conference projected that there will be an additional general revenue shortfall of $1.5 billion in addition to the $1.7 billion shortfall in August (for a total of $3.2 billion LESS than expected to support the 2008-2009 budget). Although Governor Crist still has the authority to use state reserves to help offset this shortfall, sufficient funds are not available -- the funds in the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund (Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund) are invested and, therefore, have been diminished by the current market conditions. This fact makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid a Special Session of the Legislature. It is unlikely that such a session will be called before January 2009. At that time, if there is no new influx of revenue, it is expected that K-12 education will be cut by AT LEAST $500 million -- and this does NOT include reductions that may occur in local funding due to reduced property tax revenue. In general, school districts are advised to brace for an ADDITIONAL 2-3% budget cut for THIS fiscal year.

Although legislators are still shy of discussing the possibility of establishing any new revenue sources to offset these shortfall, it is worth noting that Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Ray Sansom have jointly announced that the 2009-2010 budget will not include any of the popular "member projects" that usually grease the appropriations process.

As of this writing, the official report of the Revenue Estimating Conference has not been published and it is difficult to report what the Conference has projected for next year’s budget. We will provide you with that information, and any other details, as soon as it is available.

I regret that I am unable to report better news. Please let me know if you have any questions.


Ruth Haseman Melton
Director of Legislative Relations
Florida School Boards Association

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Official Response to Joel E. Chandler Public Records Request

The Escambia County School District has officially responded to the huge public records request made of our district. A Polk County Man, Joel E Chandler, is requesting The public records regarding the health insurance policy of the Escambia County School District and the name, addresses, gender, age, title, and telephone number of all employees and dependents covered by the policy. I have issues with this request which I have discussed at length in previous entries to this blog. The main issue I have, aside from the potential HIPAA violation (s) that would result from release of this information, is that Joel E Chandler wants the name and addresses of dependents, which will include my three children. What will he do with this information? Who is this Joel Chandler?

I've been forwarded a court document I'm told is attributible to Mr. Chandler, which I have posted:

I'm not trying to demonize this individual, but I believe this issue raises valid points that need to be addressed by our legislators in Tallahassee. Should anyone off the street be able to waltz into a local school district and request detailed information on minor dependents? What about conflicting State vs Federal law--The informal AGO opinion did not address applicability of HIPAA to self insuring districts like Escambia.

The information on our dependent children needs to be private and off limits to public records requests, in my opinion.

Many districts are complying with this request, no questions asked. See the following articles from Gainseville and Alachua:

Our attorney has wisely pointed out that there may be potential Federal laws which could prevent Escambia County from providing this information. The district's response, crafted by Donna Sessions Waters, is here:

Big city papers from around the state are abuzz with this story. Pensacola media?---silent on this story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Minutes of Board Meeting(s) 11-18-08

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Two meetings were held-the first was a special installation meeting for the newly elected Board Members and the newly elected Superintendent. This meeting began at 6:05.

Linda Moultrie installed as Board Member for district 3.

Bill Slayton installed as Board Member for district 5.

Patty Hightower installed as Board Member for district 4.

Malcolm Thomas installed as Superintendent of Schools for Escambia County.

After the installation ceremony, the organizational meeting took place.

Patty Hightower voted Chair for the third straight year (nominated by Bill Slayton.)

Gerald Boone was voted Vice-chair (nominated by Patty Hightower.)

Regular meeting times were set and regular workshop times were set, no changes to current schedule.

Organizational/Installation meeting adjourned at 6:42 for a reception sponsored by the Escambia Education Association.

7:05 regular meeting begins

All Board Members present.

Public Forum: No Speakers

State Winners from Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention, Lynsey Meharg and Austin Courson recognized for their achievements.

PTA Presentation—given by Cindy Gerhardt

Stellar District Employee Recognition goes to Warehouse Employee Brian Tracy.
Board adopted the resolution recognizing “Education Staff Professionals” ESPs

Rule adoptions:

Revisions to School District Rule 6Gx17-7.09 Student Progression Plan (semester credit) approved 5-0

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. Revisions to School District Chapter 5- Business Services, approved for advertisement 5-0
2. Revisions to School District Rule 6Gx 17-7.09-Student Progression Plan
approved for advertisement 5-0

2 sets of minutes from October Board meetings approved

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved
All Finance items approved
All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

(Entire Consent Agenda was thoroughly covered and discussed at length during a meticulous, deliberative 4.5 hour board workshop held during the morning of 11/14/2008)

Board voted to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

3 Employees Terminated
1 Employee re-assigned with pay
Note: One Speaker (Daisy Proctor) addressed the board on behalf of one of the employees recommended for termination by the Superintendent. Mrs. Proctor asked the board for compassion and a second chance for the employee in question. Board listened to Mrs. Proctor and then voted 5-0 to accept the superintendent's recommendation for termination.

14 Student recommendations submitted by the Superintendent and accepted by board.

11 Expulsions
2 Suspensions
1 recommended hearing order adoption

Meeting adjourned at 8:08.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Potential Response to Pubic Records Request from Joel Chandler of Polk County

An excellent response to the recent public records request from Mr. Joel Chandler of Polk County is in the works. I'm told that the response may be sent out as early as Monday. Mr Chandler, fresh off of his circuit court victory in his public records request in Polk County, has requested of the Escambia County School District the following:

The public records regarding the health insurance policy of the Escambia County School District and the name, addresses, gender, age, title, and telephone number of employees and dependents covered by the policy.

Many within the district are apprehensive about providing this requested information to this individual, Joel Chandler. I share this concern. Our Board attorney will be sending the district response once it has been approved by the Superintendent, which should delay the dissemination of the information for at least a few weeks. Our draft response will request of Mr. Chandler a deposit of several thousand dollars prior to the district staff beginning the process of going through all of the records to separate those that are exempted from those that are not.
It is my understanding that this records separation process will be an extremely tedious, labor intensive effort.

Hopefully, our local media will pick up on this story, because it is important and relevant. Also, I hope that the media will look into the background of the individual who is making the request for detailed information from our district employees and their dependents.

I have been forwarded a public record that exists on this individual. This public record is available on the Hillsborough County clerk of the courts website, and a detailed analysis of this individual's record ought to be undertaken, in my opinion, prior to the release of any sensitive information to this person regarding names, ages, addresses, telephone numbers, etc. A link to Mr. Chandler's Public Record is here:

The thing about public records is that they cut both directions; If you want information from us, we are entitled to look up information about you.

But I want even more information on THIS person before ANY information is sent to him from us regarding Escambia County School District Employees and their Dependents.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Huge Public Records Request Made of The Escambia County School District

For background see:

Since this initial blog post, the plaintiff in the Polk County public records request detailed in the above link, Joel Chandler, has made the identical request of information from the Escambia County School Board, i.e. the Disclosure of public records regarding the health insurance policy of the Escambia County School District and the name, addresses, gender, age, title, and telephone number of employees and dependents covered by the policy.

This is a lot of personal information--and people (specifically employees and their dependents) should be aware that there is a possibility that this information may be

To bolster Mr. Chandler’s case, the Assistant Attorney General of Florida has issued an informal opinion on the matter in favor/support of the plaintiff’s position.

My issue with this records request is that to release such information would seem to be a violation of Federal Law; specifically the Protected Health Information (PHI) outlined in detail in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). See Privacy provisions of HIPAA here.

I do believe that Federal Law would trump state law if HIPAA is applicable and also if The Escambia County School District meets the definition (as a self insuring institution) of a health care provider under HIPAA. Is the ECSD a health care provider? I've asked the question but have not received an answer as of yet. The issue is being worked.

The previously mentioned AGO from the Assistant Attorney General specifically does not address the applicability of HIPAA to the Chandler issue, which is, in my opinion, weak. The applicability/non-applicability of HIPAA in this case IS the crux of the issue. Sidestepping this vital component is a dodge, a punt. My sense (and hope) is that this request will be held up until a thorough review and analysis can be done to ensure that if the (Escambia County) district were to release this information we would not be in violation of Federal Law. (See the complete AGO on this matter below)

Number: INFORMALDate: November 10, 2008
Subject: Records identifying participants in health insur. plan
The Honorable Paula Dockery
Senator, District 15
Post Office Box 2395Lakeland, Florida 33806-2395

Dear Senator Dockery:

You have asked whether sections 112.08(7) and 119.071(4)(b), Florida Statutes, preclude the release of information that identifies school district employees, their dependents, and their health insurance plans. The issue arises in light of a recent circuit court order requiring the Polk County School District to disclose public records regarding the health insurance policy of the Polk County School District and the name, addresses, gender, age, title, and telephone number of employees and dependents covered by the policy.[1] There is also concern that the release of such information may be inconsistent with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). The following discussion will not comment on the application of HIPPA to this matter, however, as this office does not generally interpret federal law.

Section 112.08(7), Florida Statutes, provides that all medical records and medical claims records of current or former county or municipal employees and eligible dependents enrolled in a county or municipal group insurance plan are confidential and exempt from section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes. Such records may not be furnished to any person other than the employee or his legal representative, except as authorized in the subsection. Public school system employee medical records are also recognized as confidential and exempt from section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes.

In News-Press Publishing Company, Inc. v. Kaune,[3] the court reviewed whether certain medical physical examination reports and related documents pertaining to a city’s firefighters were public records subject to disclosure. The court was primarily concerned with the applicability of the Public Records Law to personnel matters. However, the court also considered the extent of confidentiality provided by section 112.08(7) and (8), Florida Statutes. In Kaune, the newspaper had asked to inspect medical physical examination reports and related documents on city firefighters. These records were requested of the Fort Myers Fire Chief, the doctor who had done examinations of the firefighters, and the City of Fort Myers. The appellant, News-Press, argued that "the exemptions of section 112.08(7) . . . apply solely to medical records filed in conjunction with an employee's participation in a group insurance plan." However, the court determined that the Legislature intended the exemption to extend to all medical records relating to employees enrolled in a group insurance plan. Thus, according to the Kaune court, the exemption in section 112.08(7), Florida Statutes, applies broadly rather than being related solely to medical records filed in conjunction with an employee's participation in a group insurance plan.[4]

Section 119.071(4)(b), Florida Statutes, exempts from disclosure medical information pertaining to a prospective, current, or former officer or employee of an agency which, if disclosed, would identify that officer or employee. Such information may be disclosed if the person or the person's legal representative provides written permission or pursuant to court order.[5] Moreover, every employer who provides or administers health insurance benefits or life insurance benefits to its employees shall maintain the confidentiality of information relating to the medical condition or status of any person covered by such insurance benefits. Such information is exempt from section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes.[6]

Clearly, information relating to an insurance program participant’s medical condition is protected from disclosure. However, there is no clear statement that such protection extends to the name, address, age, or other non-medical information of such participants. When doubt exists as to whether a particular document is exempt from disclosure under Florida’s Public Records Law, the exemption is to be narrowly construed and any doubt resolved in favor of public access.[7]

Due to the lack of clarity in this matter and in light of the recent decision by the Polk County Circuit Court, it may be advisable for the Legislature to clarify its intent on this issue.


Lagran Saunders
Assistant Attorney General

Friday, November 7, 2008

Escambia County Schools— The Cutting Edge Nationally on Career Academies/Workforce Training

Not long after I took office as the Escambia County School Board Member for district 1, a three-part series of articles came out in the Wall Street Journal on Education. I remember that at that time (January 2007) I discussed these articles on a number of occasions with several people within the district, including Superintendent Jim Paul. The three part series contained some thought provoking (some might consider controversial) ideas on the state of the Education Industry in America, and how intelligence plays an important role in students’ success. (One reason for the controversial nature of this series of WSJ articles was that the author, Charles Murray, was a co-author of the lightning rod 1994 bestseller “The Bell Curve.”)

Part two of this contentious three part WSJ series dealt with the idea of vocational/workforce education as a valid alternative for some students. From the article:

“The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India”

The complete article can be found here:

I have long believed that the cookie cutter mentality on educational success, i.e. every student must go to college, is fundamentally flawed; America is a great country, with opportunities for success available by more that one avenue----to include learning a trade or a career that can be utilized throughout one's life. I think some students are extremely well served by learning a trade and starting their own businesses--in lieu of College.

I begin this blog entry with the above information/opinion to frame the discussion of what we in the Escambia County School District are doing with respect to career academies and vocational education as a supplement to traditional academic education. Locally we are way ahead of the curve, on the leading edge of a growing movement nationwide to train the next generation of American Workers. Our district has teamed up with The Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce to expand our career academies; Currently we have 31 different Career Academies in Escambia County High Schools, and 2 in our Middle Schools. In September, 2007, We received significant accolades and a $20,000.00 grant from the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company in recognition of our excellent Workforce Education Program. (We were one of only a handful of districts nationwide to earn this distinction. ) Since that time we have continued to move forward and make strides in Workforce Training. Just this week, our efforts were recognized in the national Chamber of Commerce Executive Magazine. The article can be viewed at:

In Escambia County, we are making great strides in many areas, career education being one. This above Chamber of Commerce article illustrates the type of recognition that we garner---and need to show the public. We are a progressive, forward thinking district with a lot to offer. We need to spotlight these types of achievements as a counterbalance to the seemingly endless negative coverage we receive from the local uninformed media. We do have areas that we need to continue to improve--- and we continue to aggressively attack areas that need improvement--- but those locally that are truly in the know realize that great things are happening in our district---and these great things continue to benefit all of the students in our schools.

Public Records Law Vs. Employee Right to Medical Record Privacy

I like some aspects of the Florida Public Records Laws, but I dislike others. Sometimes, boundaries need to be established. Recently a citizen in central Florida won a legal battle with a local school board which now is mushrooming into a major statewide issue.

This individual wanted names and addresses of all employees, family members, and dependents that receive medical benefits from the local school district. The district balked, asking what the information would be used for/why it was being requested.

This spurred a showdown which the individual requesting the records recently won in court. Now that he has won the battle locally, this individual has requested the same information from all 67 Florida school districts statewide--just to put an exclamation point on his victory.

And oh, by the way, this "individual" is also allegedly a medical field marketing consultant.

I have some concerns about open records laws as it pertains to this issue/purpose....

Full article on the subject is here:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Beachinandcruisn" has some concerns.....

I received the below email from an elementary school teacher. He/She did not sign the email, but I responded anyway. my response is below

>>> P T beachinandcruisin@

When is someone going to stand up for the elementary teachers and admit that changing our school time this year has cut out ANY planning time we have. Our teachers are tired and stressed more than ever this year. They've got new reading curriculum to learn, along with more paperwork (ok, it's all on the computer now, but it's VERY time consuming), we spend our "40 minute" planning time on the CIM model, and have no time to do anything. I don't know how much more we can take. How can this be "contractual", and even humane................along with teaching kids at an "inner city" school that are already 2 grade levels behind, we're expected to be "Graded" on the same level as teachers at Scenic Heights, Lipscomb, and Blue Angel?? Something is SERIOUSLY wrong in this county.I know teachers who want to just walk out, and many are suffering health problems. But we keep plugging along. I'd dare any of you to come to one of our "inner city schools", (except for Ms. Curry, she knows!!), and try to do what we do without a break each day. While you're at it, try to do everything expected of you in the TIME LIMITS...............120 minutes of reading, do SuccessMaker, get that Science, MAth, Social STudies in, don't forget DAILY PE/RECESS, special area, lunch, bathroom breaks, oh and add about an hour of disciplining in that also. Wait, I forgot language arts, the Focus Lessons, DIBLES OPM's, Technology lessons, and ...........well, try to fit that into your daily planner. Oh yeah, learning the NEW TEMS system, which still has many "flaws" in it. Why can't our county get a decent reporting system that parents can also log into to check daily grades. Even SMALLER districts have those.............but, not ECSD. Someone needs to take a long hard look at WHY we can't do things correctly in this county.Ms Curry, you get my vote!!

Dear Mr./Mrs. P T Beachinandcruisin,

Thanks for your dedicated service. We are working diligently to improve the pay and working conditions for all teachers in our district--In spite of unprecedented financial pressures that do not appear to be easing any time soon.

We do, however, appreciate your positive attitude, team spirit, and demonstrated leadership in the face of these tremendously difficult days in your elementary school.

I certainly wish to express my sincere apologies because it appears from your email that the current financial hardships facing the district and the associated remedies put into place to ease these financial burdens have severely impacted you.
Thanks for hanging in there!

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, District 1

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Minutes of School Board Meeting 10-21-2008

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

Meeting convened at 5:32
All Board Members present except Pete Gindl .

No speakers chose to address the board during public forum.

PTA Presentation—given by Cindy Gerhardt
Stellar District Employee Recognition goes to Tim Wadsworth, Carpenter with the school district, for his outstanding work as a volunteer at Helen Caro Elementary.

Half cent sales tax watchdog committee presentation given by Vice Chair Ashley Bodmer:

2007—21 Million Dollars raised
2008 YTD--11.8 Million Dollars raised

1998-2008--199Million Dollars raised
List of 19 schools provided that have received renovations in the last quarter from ½ cent sales tax money

Board adopted a resolution recognizing “mediation week”

Board adopted a resolution recognizing “American Education Week”

District recognized students from Workman Middle School and A.K. Suter Elementary School for outstanding participation/achievement in the
National Energy Education Development (NEED) project achievement .

5 September meeting minutes approved

Rule adoptions:

Addition to School District Rule 6Gx17-7.02 Code of Conduct: Elementary and Secondary Rights and Responsibilities Handbooks, addition of “Safe Harbor”
Provision-passed unanimously with a 4-0 vote

(See the following links for background on this)

Revisions and Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx17-7.09-Student Progression Plan, passed unanimously with a 4-0 vote

Revisions and Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx17-6.02-Eligibility for Transportation, passed unanimously with a 4-0 vote

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. Revisions to School District Chapter 3-School Operating Procedures, approved for advertisement 4-0

2. Revisions to School District Chapter 4-Instructionapproved for advertisement 4-0
Addition to School District Rule 6Gx17.7.18—Policy against Bullying and Harassment, approved for advertising 4-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during a thorough, tedious, and meticulous 4 hour board workshop held during the morning/early afternoon of 10/17/2008)

Board voted to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

Administrative appointments submitted by the Superintendent and Approved by the board:
Dr. Ruth Forrester-promoted to Administrator on Special Assignment to Warrington Middle School.
Teri Szafran—promoted to Coordinator I, Program Planning ESE
Troy Brown—promoted to Principal at Longleaf Elementary School
9 Student recommendations submitted by the Superintendent and accepted by board.

1 Student recommended returned to his regular school by Superintendent. (Previous off-campus felony charges dismissed by the court.)

5 students expelled---
3 for drug possession,
1 for alcohol possession,
1 for possession of a weapon (knife)
3 students recommended for extended suspension for felony charges off-campus with adverse effect

1 Employee terminated

1 Employee suspended without pay for (3) days
1 Employee suspended without pay until completion of investigation
3 Employees administratively reassigned with pay
2 Employees allowed to return to work

Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, Mrs. Hightower recognized that this meeting would be the last regular School Board Meeting that Jim Paul would attend as Superintendent of Schools. Mrs. Hightower thanked Jim Paul for his service to the district and Mr. Paul received a standing ovation and sustained applause from the crowd.

Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, I recognized that this meeting would be the last regular School Board Meeting that Claudia Brown Curry would attend as School Board Member, district 3. I thanked Mrs. Brown-Curry for her service to the district and Mrs. Brown-Curry received a strong ovation and sustained applause from the crowd.

Meeting adjourned at 6:25

Monday, October 13, 2008

Congressman Jeff Miller Visits Jim Bailey Middle School

Congressman Jeff Miller paid a visit to Jim Bailey Middle School this afternoon. He spent some time with Mrs. Karen Yudiski's 8th grade American History class, where he answered questions from the class members on a wide range of topics. Representative Miller also gave the class an impromptu civics lesson on the three branches of government. The students were receptive, polite, and very interested in the current presidential campaign; many of the students asked about this election and Congressman Miller responded to all questions. Some of the interesting topics covered during the question and answer session were:

--Security arrangements when U.S. Congressmen visit Afghanistan and Iraq(Rep Miller has been to Afghanistan 5 times and Iraq 8 times)

--The layout and interesting features of Air Force One (Congressman Miller has flown on this plane on a few occasions as he has traveled with President George Bush)

--Who congressman Miller supports for President of the United States and why

--Who Congressman Miller's opponent is in the upcoming Congressional election

--How laws are written and the use of the veto by the President

After the initial class visit, Dr. Judy Pippen and her staff at Bailey Middle hosted a luncheon for the Congressman in the school's cafeteria. Congressman Miller sat at the faculty table and answered questions from teachers, media, and students while the entire table enjoyed our lunch of meatloaf, green beans, baked potato, roll and cake.

Thanks to Congressman Jeff Miller for taking the time to visit our District 1 school. Big thanks also are in order for Mrs. Yudiski, Dr. Pippen, and the cafeteria staff at Bailey for hosting this event. The visit by Congressman Miller made an obvious impact on the students and they clearly enjoyed having him in their class.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

PNJ on Merit Pay

I’m glad that the PNJ decided to do an additional piece on the Escambia County Merit Award Program—it covered the plan in a little more depth. Here’s the article

But why the negative, condescending title?

“Money Over Merit?—Controversial Teacher Bonus Program Has Some Faculty Crying Foul”

Why not-- “Money For Merit—Bonus Plan Has Supporters and Detractors”

The answer, it is much more interesting and salacious to create a sense of hostility.
The piece, disguised as an attempt to be balanced, was really quite negative, with much more commentary from those opposed than those in favor. Why not just do an editorial denouncing merit pay, PNJ?

The PNJ also requested detailed lists (of teachers who received the bonuses and those who voluntarily opted out) from the district via public records requests, to plaster these lists all over the internet by way of this article. The placement of this information on line will possibly create some resentment between teachers who earned the award and those who did not. Why do this? I could have requested the identical list and published it, but I know that to do that would be counterproductive. The PNJ probably knows this as well, but it seems that conflict and tension make for good material for the PNJ.

Some other details that keep being left out of these PNJ pieces on Merit Pay:

1. Nationally, both McCain and Obama support Merit pay
2. The number of teachers that opted out, as a percentage of the total number of teachers in the county, was small (17%) and a majority of those that opted out are union members.
3. The majority of teachers in our county are not union members. Yet, the PNJ always goes to Gail Husbands (EEA director) for the teachers’ perspective. Here is a newsflash—maybe a majority of the teachers in this county don’t share the same views that she has. She is a fine teacher and a nice person, but her opinions do not always translate automatically to a consensus majority opinion.

And I don’t even want to talk about the majority of the posters to this PNJ story, other than to say thank God “mytoocentsworth” is in there to keep the other posters in check with intelligence and facts to counteract the loads of garbage that’s being posted.

Here’s what is really important.

1. Merit Pay Plans are not perfect, but ours is pretty good.
2. Next year, we will be awarding Merit Pay just like this year, and I predict that fewer employees will “opt out” and also I predict that the scores for those teachers that are rewarded will increase—meaning those rewarded next year will have to do more and work harder to get the bonus again.
3. If more teachers are working harder to achieve these rewards, the students will benefit district wide.
4. Merit Pay is a good thing, and as long as I am on the board I’ll continue to advocate for this plan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

2 Candidates for Superintendent, 2 Important Issues

I read this past Sunday’s Pensacola News Journal articles on both of the candidates for Superintendent of Schools. Read the complete articles here:

One of the candidates is pro-merit pay, and speaks about the necessity to continue to find efficiencies in the district by closing and consolidating underutilized facilities.

On school consolidation: (from the PNJ)

Thomas also hopes to save the district money by closing some schools with small enrollments.

"We can't break even with elementary schools with fewer than 300 students," Thomas said. "Now, we have seven schools with fewer than 300 students. We're spending so much on the infrastructure to fund these small schools."

On Merit Pay: (from the PNJ)

Thomas said the system [Merit Pay] is a good way to reward high-performing teachers, but he said there were formulas in place to make sure that teachers in low-performing schools also had a shot at the merit pay, including adding additional points to the merit pay calculations of teachers in such schools.

"We had teachers in low-performing schools get merit pay," Thomas said. "We need to continue to grow the program. It's a source of money for our teachers, and I cannot ignore it."

The other candidate is against merit pay, even though previously this same candidate voted for the merit pay plan. This candidate also does not seem to have a clear, coherent, objective plan for closing our numerous under-utilized facilities.

On school consolidation: (from the PNJ)

"We need an objective measurement when it comes to closing and consolidating schools, but my main concern is what goes on inside of those buildings," she said. "We need to increase academic achievement and maintain some of those schools so that they don't lose students."

On Merit Pay: (from the PNJ)

"If I had to vote over for it again, I wouldn't," she said. "I thought it would be more fair to all teachers, but it favors teachers in certain schools."

This election is important. I want a superintendent who has passion, but passion in and of itself is not enough. Our next Escambia County Superintendent of Schools must have vision and a clearly defined plan. I want to work with the next superintendent to utilize our existing and well established SAZAC ("objective measurement") to identify underutilized facilities for closure, because I understand that there is a process for identifying schools for closure. I want to work with a superintendent who understands that merit pay is important, and that our Escambia county Merit Award Plan

does account for and gives bonus points to teachers who work in schools that struggle with achievement.

From reading these two articles, it appears that one of the candidates understands these things but one does not.

I want to work with a superintendent who will vote to do what is right, even if it is unpopular. I want to work with a superintendent who shares my views on these issues. I like both of the candidates as people, but I’m voting for and supporting the one who is clearly prepared to lead our district.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Board Deserves Time to Review Important Documents

Recently two events have taken place in the district that merit discussion. Both issues present what I feel is a systemic problem in communication between the Board and the Superintendent’s staff. I’m going to discuss the first issue at length here.

At a recent special meeting to approve the financial reports for the district, the board members were each given several large “books” of reports and financial narratives, graphs, etc. We were given this large volume of information the day these finalized reports were due to the State. My fellow board members and I all complained about being given zero review time by being hit over the head with huge amounts of information the day this same information had to be voted on and approved.

This is not the first time we have been given lots of information at the last minute and then been expected to vote to approve this same last minute information.

I’m confused as to why information, vital information, cannot be prepared and given to the board at least one week prior to the “drop dead” due date. I’m not talking about exceptional circumstances, or last minute adds that cannot be avoided—of course I understand that theses sorts of issues will come up. I’m talking about set reports with due dates that are known way in advance. Why can the board not get these sorts of reports from the Superintendent’s office with adequate time to thoroughly review? I asked the deputy superintendent if a policy could be established to institute a one week “cut off” date, meaning that prior to an item being voted on, the board must be given copies of such documents no later than one week prior to the meeting on which these items will be acted upon. His response was straightforward and succinct “We can’t do that, that’s just not possible” My response was just as quick—I said “I’m not buying that”.

I don’t buy the idea that there is no way the staff can prepare these documents in such a manner that the board can have these documents no later than one week prior to a vote. I’m not knocking the working level staff—I know the staff members are hard working dedicated professionals. If additional staff is required then my feeling is that additional resources should be brought in. The board will bring in temporary help if necessary, or allocate whatever resources are necessary for the superintendent to get these reports done in a timely fashion, so that the board will not be hit with document dumps the day of meetings.

Deadlines are not a new concept. We all deal with deadlines in our day to day lives. In many business and governmental environments, there are staggered due dates. Here is my example: If a drop dead due date of October 1st is known for “XYZ corp.’s” “widget report”, here’s the way the report would be crafted:

Lower level branch submits draft “widget report” to mid level branch by early September.
Mid level branch reviews and revises “widget report” then submits this report to upper level management by mid-September.
Once “widget report” is polished and finalized by upper level branch, CEO and Board of Directors are given copies of final draft of “widget report” for review/revision by last week of September.

In real life, there is no way a corporate board of directors would be given an important, vital, time-sensitive and lengthy report the day this same report would need to be acted upon/finalized/reported. It just would not happen, or should I say it would not happen unless one of three conditions existed within this hypothetical “XYZ Corp.”

Condition 1. Lack of leadership.------ lack of vision, lack of ability, and/or lack of will to utilize resources effectively and efficiently in order to ensure Board of Directors have the important report with adequate time to review.

Condition 2. Lack of Respect.--------- “this is the way we’ve always done things, this is just the way it is” mentality. Board of directors will get the report when the CEO’s staff get’s it to them. Period. “They’ll [Board of Directors] just have to deal with it and trust that we’ve got the information right, and just vote to approve it.”

Condition 3. Combination ------------ (Combination of Conditions 1 & 2 –see above)

Here’s the million dollar question:

What professional organization/corporation would treat their board of directors this way?

With a new administration coming into the Escambia County School District in just two short months, I hope that these last minute “document dumps” will quickly become a thing of the past. Treating the Board with respect will ensure reciprocity. Treating the Board disrespectfully will result in an atmosphere of uneasiness, mistrust, and tension.

Give Us All of the Information-Don’t Hold Back

I understand completely that the Superintendent is the CEO of the district. He is the Chief Executive Officer and is charged with the day to day operational responsibilities associated with running a district of 40,000+ students and more that 6,000 employees. I understand that the Superintendent of Schools has a difficult job that requires a lot of effort, stamina, and leadership. I happen to think that Jim Paul has done a good job in his tenure as Superintendent, and many of the things he has accomplished will continue to help our district continue to move forward in the years and decades ahead, even as Jim Paul leaves the district in the next two months.

This said, I do have an issue with the way a recent disciplinary recommendation came before the board for a vote. Although I recognize that it is the Superintendent’s responsibility to make hiring and firing recommendations to the board, it is ultimately the School Board’s job to vote and act upon these recommendations. The Board should not be put into a position where we are given incomplete or partial information on a punishable infraction. Give us all of the Information-don’t hold back.

When we look at student expulsion recommendations, we are given a thorough analysis of all past infractions, as well as a detailed narrative of the most current offense. This is extremely helpful to me as a board member. When I see that a student has a record of battery on peers, defiance, fighting, excessive unexcused absenteeism, destruction of school property, etc. etc., and a recommendation comes to expel such a student---The decision becomes easier.

With respect to instructional, ESP employee, and administrative staff level recommendations, the board should be given the same in-depth level of information if the recommended punishment is to be exceptionally punitive. I do not intend to get into specifics here, as that would be inappropriate and what is understood does not need to be stated. What I will say is this: I will not vote to go along with a recommendation that seems to be extremely excessive and overly punitive if the infraction presented as the impetus for the punishment seems non-egregious; I will not vote to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer. I’d also like to have time to consider recommendations—so please do not give us information in the last two minutes of the eleventh hour. Please. I agree with the majority of the recommendations the Superintendent brings to the board for action. (Actually, I have only voted against a superintendent employee recommendation once before. To this day I still feel that I made the right decision on that person’s case.):

But, back to this issue, trust is critical. Trust the board and I with all of the information and I will always vote to do the right thing. When I try to reach the appropriate personnel and nobody takes the call, expect that I will ask questions publicly before I vote to accept the recommendation. Communication is the key. A culture of secrecy does not foster teamwork and trust, but instead creates the opposite. Quid Pro Quo—answer Board Questions, take phone calls when you see a familiar number on your cell display, take time to explain your recommendation, and I as a board member will support your recommendation if it is reasonable. I do not bother staff with phone calls-- if I’m attempting to contact staff you can bet it is for a good reason. Answer the call and answer the questions if you want my support. I, in turn, promise to never call to shoot the breeze, talk about the weather, or to just see what’s happening.

And to the New Superintendent (Whoever it will be) I would (request) recommend that your cell phone have the ability to take a voice message. Hearing the message “This person is not available—call later” is not conducive to effective communication. Just one board member’s humble opinion.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Minutes of Baord Meeting (s) 9-16-2008

I am posting these minutes to expedite information dissemination. Much more complete and detailed minutes will be posted in 4-6 weeks on the school district’s website. In the mean time, these minutes are what I feel were the big “takeaways”, a macro look at my impression of the meeting. These are condensed, abbreviated, shortened, and to the point.

All Board Members present.

Norm Ross, Deputy Superintendent, sat in for Jim Paul

Note: Prior to regular monthly school board meeting, district conducted special board meeting to adopt millage rates and total budget for 2008-2009 beginning at 5:30.

Laura Schaud gave a detailed presentation outlining total budget, millage rates, and comparison to 2007-2008 budget. Total millage rate set at 7.720, same as 2007-2008 millage rate. Both Patty Hightower and I stressed the fact that we, as a board, asked the superintendent and his staff to lower the millage rate to last years level, so that we would not be increasing the tax rate on our local residents. Superintendent complied, and total levied mills remain the same as last year.

No Public speakers chose to address the board on the budget. (Amazing)
Tentative ECSD budget for 2008-2009 set at $638,141,743.18 (16.6 million less than 2007-2008)

Meeting adjourned, 6:05

6:10 regular monthly meeting convened

2 PTA Presentations—given by Cindy Gerhardt

Board adopted the resolution recognizing “September as PTA membership Enrollment Month”

Stellar District Employee Recognition goes to Bus Operator Linda Gionotti.

District recognized by American Cancer Society for raising more than $140,000.00 towards a cure for cancer via relay for life.

Multiple district schools honored for achieving “5-Star Status”

Public Forum:
7 Speakers total
1 Speaker wants school start time issue to be revisited—wants old start times reinstated.
3 Speakers extremely upset, vehemently opposed to closure of Carver/Century K-8 school.
2 Speakers want the district to treat 15 year Escambia County teachers the same way they treat 15 year teachers that transfer into the district, want the steps to be rolled.
1 Speaker feels that the Education Support Employees need to be treated more fairly with respect to their pay.

3 July Meeting Minutes Approved, 3 August meeting minutes approved

(Rule adoptions: none)

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. Revisions to School District Chapter 1-Administration of the District School System, approved for advertisement 5-0
2. Revisions to School District Chapter 2-Human Resource Services
approved for advertisement 5-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved
All Finance items approved
All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during a thorough, tedious, marathon 6 hour board workshop held during the morning of 9/11/2008)
Board voted to accept the superintendent’s recommendation regarding the following:

No administrative appointments submitted
14 Student recommendations submitted by the Superintendent and accepted by board.

1 Student recommended for expulsion by Superintendent for marijuana possession. Hearing was held, hearing officer sided with student (no credible testimony given by district or school based staff), board adopted finding of hearing officer—no action taken against student (note: 2 school deans and 1 school resource officer with firsthand knowledge of case failed to show up for hearing)??

13 students expelled--- 8 for drug possession, 2 for sexual misconduct, 1 for possession of a weapon (knife) 1 for battery on a peer, and 1 for disruptive behavior.
2 Employees terminated
1 Employee suspended without pay for (1) day
1 Employee administratively reassigned with pay

*1 superintendent recommendation rejected (suspension of employee without pay for ten days, plus reduction of one step on salary scale)

*I pulled this item because based upon what I have been told the punishment seemed to be excessive for the alleged infraction. This item was added to tonight's agenda at 3:30. I attempted to contact the superintendent for further clarification on what I felt was an excessive punishment--I was unable to reach the superintendent on his cell phone. Not having (apparently) all of the information on this employee, I made a motion that we amend the superintendent’s recommendation such that the employee would be suspended without pay for the 10 days, but that his salary level not be cut. My motion was seconded by Gerald Boone, however Mr. Boone stated his staff-provided backup information was contradictory and he wished to have more time and information on the issue prior to making a vote. My motion was subsequently not voted on and a motion was made by Claudia Brown-Curry, seconded by Gerald Boone, and approved 5-0 by entire board, to postpone action on this employee recommendation until a special meeting to be held Thursday, Sept. 25th. The Board also requested that more information be provided by the superintendent and staff to justify the recommended punishment prior to the special meeting.

Meeting adjourned at 7:28.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

HELP WANTED--ECSD has 142 Support Jobs Available

Find a list of these 142 jobs at this address:

The list of jobs was presented to the board at our monthly workshop meeting this past Thursday morning. I asked and was told by district administrative personnel that these are full-time positions with benefits with starting salaries of between $7.37 and $15.00+ per hour.

For Information on applying for one of these positions, call 850-469-6170, or visit the district's ESP employment web page at: