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.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In This Budget Crisis Let's Put Students First

With respect to our current Budget Crisis, Escambia Schools have gone beyond Survival Mode, and are now in Triage Mode. This analogy may seem macabre, but it is regrettably true. It is programs and positions—not severely wounded patients--which we are attempting to save.

My deep concern is that we may not be properly conducting our triage. Classroom students are the priority. I firmly believe that any budget savings prioritization process should be thoughtfully considered and publicly vetted, but these proposals must also unconditionally put our students first! Tallahassee promised to hold education harmless. They didn’t, and the fiscal reality of the economy precluded this; however, we must do what we can locally to lessen the impacts on our children.

My own process in decision making can be summed up in one word. Priorities. The top priority is protecting students and holding them “harmless”. We as district employees are here to serve the children, not vice-versa.

Priority number two is to serve the taxpayers and to be a good steward of their money. Taxpaying citizens are our boss. The boss wants his money used effectively and efficiently.

Priority three is our employees and former employees. We should strive to nurture and protect current and retired employees. While there may only be a razor thin difference between these three groups with respect to priority, a priority order must be made.

I’ve been asked a lot of questions recently on the subject of the Superintendent’s proposed budget cuts. I’ve also been given a lot of suggestions. I am listening to everything. I have also developed some suggested proposals of my own to achieve savings while holding classroom students “harmless.”

My first proposal is to have all district employees earning more than a living wage accept a voluntary, temporary wage concession in order to make up the budget deficit. This proposal is not unprecedented, will keep any employees from losing their jobs in this recession, and will hold our students “100% harmless.” This idea met stiff resistance and has been roundly criticized by many, to include my being lampooned by the Pensacola News Journal...

My next cost saving initiative, the streamlining and expediting of our school closure and consolidation process, has also been met with “We cannot do anything on this until 2009-2010” by the current administration.

I’ll continue to push for savings in operations by getting behind the Superintendent’s recommendation to “compound” our busses. I’ll continue exploring the possibility of a 4 day week, and/or staggered start times.

To achieve overhead savings, I suggest a temporary suspension of the automatic step raise increases. I also suggest that we have a volunteer committee comprised of local business leaders audit and/or make recommendations on our proposed final budget. Furthermore, I’m asking that the district budgets for this and the last ten years be posted on the district web page. The public should have easier access to our budgets.

Decisions are hard, money is tight, and we all have to think creatively and work together constructively. Pre-conceived notions, agendas, and political ideologies need to be checked at the door. Before the Board and Superintendent arrive at a consensus on how to move this budget forward, I would advise us to use an abundance of caution. Most importantly, and no matter how we get where we are going, let’s make sure we don’t leave our students behind.

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