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, May 10, 2008

A Great Email on Budgeting

I have been receiving GREAT emails, phone calls, suggestions, and ideas from citizens from around the county regarding our budget crisis. The email below was great, and had some really interesting ideas. I attempted to respond to the email point by point, thus the response was long--but some important ideas are being exchanged. The initiating email is on the bottom, my response is on the top.


Thanks for taking the time to write this very thoughtful email of budget cutting recommendations/observations. I have received numerous emails like yours from various community members, and I am taking the best ideas/suggestions from each one I get. I thought your email was exceptional.

Again, thanks for sending it in.

I can assure you that we are looking into every issue you mention, and then some. Although I may disagree with you on a few minor points that you raise, overall I am in agreement. Many of the ideas you express in your email are Ideas that I have been proposing since the beginning of this budget crisis. Because you took the time to go through the items on a point by point basis, I will answer your email point by point.

I, too, find the overall economic situation discouraging-- but the meetings to address the problem I find interesting. Slow as the progress may seem--progress is being made. Difficult deliberations often require many meetings to conclude, and I am grateful for the fact that you recognize that we are working on the issue and making sacrifices to get the process completed. When all parties to a negotiation are frustrated, this often signals that down-to-business, honest bargaining is taking place.

That's where we are with these budget meetings. We have a difficult task---but we will see it through to the end.

You stated: "It was disheartening to hear one government entity placing all of the blame
on another and then on the taxpayers."

I said, at this last meeting, that blaming the legislature for the current situation was naive. I've been saying that for awhile now. The budget last year was 72 Billion--This year just over 66 Billion. The 6+ Billion Dollars had to come from somewhere, and Education and Health Care are the largest State Budget Items. It was inevitable that given the economic downturn Education would take a cut. Now we just have to live within our means. The only thing I am critical about, with respect to our legislature, is that they are constantly usurping our local control of schools with their mandates. I wish they would not foist programs and mandates on us without fully funding them, and I wish they would let us, locally, decide the most appropriate way to educate in our local schools.

I am a "local government" control person.

Then you stated: "It was further disheartening to hear
the union place blame when it has protected substandard employees to the
extent that few administrators will take the necessary action to get rid of
inferior teachers that have been in the system for many years."

I agree. One of my favorite books is "The War Against Hope" by former secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige. It is a great read, and I highly suggest it to anyone who wants to know what is wrong with public education in America today.

Here is a link to an interesting article that describes some of the issues that can arise when The Education Unions take total control of local schools, like they have in most of the country. Rubber Rooms, an interesting article indeed.,altman,76433,15.html

But, getting back to local issues, I must point out that you are incorrect when you state: "the current board
approved a budget that allowed this superintendent to outspend his peers
significantly on travel."

He is an elected constitutional officer, as is each individual board member. We do not approve/disapprove his travel, and neither does he approve/disapprove ours. It is up to each individual constitutionally elected officer to exercise restraint and good judgment with respect to travel.

Looking at your numbered points:

1. Sick Pay/Leave Carryover--If this is something that we have latitude to set, then I would look seriously at your proposal. It seems fair and rational. However, there may be State Statutes and or Collective Bargaining Agreements that address/speak to this issue that may trump any action the board could take. I will look into this further.

2. Reversion to the 2006-2007 Pay scale for all employees---I have proposed this, or a version of this in the form of district-wide wage concession, and have been laughed out of the room many times in the last three weeks. I have stated that the board should lead the way, by accepting a 5-7% wage cut, (like our state legislators imposed on themselves) ALONG WITH ALL employees making more than a living wage. In order to get where we need to be financially, we need to ALL concede some small salary percentage. But I have been told point blank the teachers and other Union Employees will not give anything back and that I must be insane for even contemplating (let alone saying it aloud) that any employees give any type of a wage concession. The sad part is, I do believe that as this recession continues to get worse, (it will) and as our budget continues to be cut over the next 12-24 months,(it will) we will eventually be forced to impose this type of a plan locally to balance the budget. I hope we do not have to, but I see dark clouds on the horizon.

3. Reduce all Board Members Pay to $25,000.00.---This would represent a roughly 30% decrease in pay for each board member. I am not averse to the idea, however it does nothing to stem our current financial crisis. It would be like throwing a feather in front of a speeding freight locomotive. Professor Steven Hawking, the great British physicist/mathematician/scientist, could come up with the Physics Equation that would quantify the effect a feather in front of a locomotive would have on that locomotive's forward inertia. He might even laugh at the notion of it, through his voice box.

A more realistic interpretation of this board salary cutting effect could be a math equation.

Reduce each board member's salary by roughly 10,000 dollars. 10,000 X 5 (board members)=50,000 dollars

to reach the savings achieved, the total savings (50,000) would be divided by the district's budget (660,000,000.00 approx)

to come up with a savings % of approximately 0.00007580. Feather in front of Locomotive.

But the concept, on a statewide basis and to address the salaries of all constitutional officers in all branches of State and County Government (County Commissioners, Clerks of the Circuit Court, Supervisors of Elections, Commissioners of Agriculture, Elected Superintendents of Schools, etc. etc. etc.) deserves consideration. But to unilaterally and arbitrarily single out members of one school board out of the 67 in the state seems like a knee-jerk, poorly thought out proposal. A comprehensive review and adjustment of all constitutional officers' salaries--that I do support.

4. Administrative/Professional compensation audit and adjustment---I agree wholeheartedly. I requested that salaries, benefits, travel, local travel, and total cost for EVERY position be listed on the district website so that the general public can see who makes what for what position. I have received some of the information, but not nearly all of it, and nothing has been placed on the district website yet that the public could easily access. I'm going to stay on top of this issue though.

5. Lateral pay for School Based Administrators who are ascending into District Level Administrative Positions.----I disagree with you on this. No matter where you are in the hierarchy, (unless you are the king of the hill) you should always have the opportunity to move up both professionally and salary wise. If not, some that are truly gifted and have skills would not step up to the additional responsibilities/scrutiny of district level administrative positions.

6. Having the Associate Superintendent "Lobby" the legislature more effectively.----- I disagree with the premise of this point. Just my opinion, but if I want an answer from the legislators, I will not ask anyone to go and be my voice for me. I'll call Don Gaetz, Dave Murzin, Clay Ford, or Greg Evers myself. Or, I'll jump in my truck and drive to Tallahassee to see them all and express my concerns, as I have done more than once. I don't need an Associate Superintendent to lobby for me, to speak for me, or to do anything for me except to stay out of my way. This holds true for me whether I am a board member or if I were Superintendent. I tend to be a hands on person; I am my own spokesman and lobbyist.

7. Teacher Salary and Benefits level compared to peers/ Cost of Living Increases----Our teachers are not quite level with statewide averages, but we are getting close to our neighboring counties. Last year we gave a huge increase to our employees, (8.3 %). Over the last 7 years we have increased salaries more than 45%. We are doing all we can, and I believe that teacher salaries should be higher. As a matter of fact, this issue is the ONE idea that (former presidential candidate) Bill Richadson had that I agreed with-- a National Teacher minimum Wage. I agree with this concept. He did not last long enough to explain how he would have funded that. I'd like to know that part of his proposal.

On the flip side, if one looks at the days and hours the average teacher works (compared to all wage earners in a given geographical location) Teachers fare pretty well, even in expensive areas like New York, San Francisco, Miami, or even right here in Pensacola. Of course the unions do not like this type of information to be printed, but facts are facts. See this link:

Or this great article:

8. “Require the superintendent to submit his budget every two days until
he submits one that is satisfactory”---We as a board are working with the Superintendent to approve a budget that addresses the financial issues we face but that also spares children from the brunt of the financial blow. All I can promise is that we will continue to work this issue until it is resolved.

Thanks for your input,

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, District 1

Dear Escambia County School Board of Directors,

I found the May 7, 2008 special board meeting discouraging. I am copying others as I hope all will find this useful in the current budget process.

I want you all to know that while I am critical of the current organization and budget process, I do appreciate the fact that you’ve all made significant sacrifices in carrying out your duties.

It was disheartening to hear one government entity placing all of the blame on another and then on the taxpayers. It was further disheartening to hear the union place blame when it has protected substandard employees to the extent that few administrators will take the necessary action to get rid of inferior teachers that have been in the system for many years. It was very clear that the superintendent sees himself well above anyone else in the room. Until that meeting, I had a great deal of respect for him.

Maybe the state government did cause some issues, but the current board approved a budget that allowed this superintendent to outspend his peers significantly on travel. As for blaming the taxpayers, keep in mind that it was our Governor who said he’d hold the education system harmless from the tax cuts.

I firmly agree (with Mr. Bergosh) that if 85% of the budget is salaries and benefits, it stands to reason that there will need to be cuts in that area. So I offer the following suggestions;

Limit the number of sick/personal days that can be carried over (year to year) to 40. This change would allow 8 weeks of paid time off. Currently we have people retiring with a full year’s pay for no work, and we have to pay a replacement full salary and benefits. I would ask the HR department to look at how much that would save.
Propose that all teacher and administrative personnel in the schools (and at the Hall Center) take a pay cut to return to 2006-2007 pay rates (or the last pay schedule prior to the current one). Apply this only to people who’ve been in the system more than 3 years and possibly exclude anyone who’s currently in the DROP program. This should save a significant amount.
Reduce all board member pay to $25,000 per year. If this is a constitutional issue, look at having it added to this November’s ballot. I am trying to offer suggestions that won’t hurt the classroom, but I’m unaware of who controls which purse strings.
Review all professional/administrative positions (at the district level) and compare to average salaries for similar positions in the private sector in our geographic area. Possibly UWF business department might help with this research. Though I could be wrong, it appears that some positions are receiving salary and benefits that far exceed their private sector counterparts. If these positions are paid consistent with their private sector counterparts, ask them to take the same pay cut the teachers would be taking. If not, start reducing them gradually to get in line with private sector pay (the benefits package is still better than most private sector jobs).
Change district policy to reflect that if an individual coming from the ranks is promoted to a Director position (or Assistant Superintendent) and is within ten years of retirement, the change be a lateral promotion (i.e. keeping the same pay). People should not be promoted into these positions just before retirement. For example, if Principal Oscar leaves a school to become Director of Educational Oversight, Principal Oscar receives his/her same pay.
Challenge the Associate Superintendent with getting answers from the legislature on how to implement required changes that are not funded. I am taking the word of the school board and the union that the state has mandated certain changes that it refuses to fund. If we’re paying someone to be our voice to the state, let’s hear how our state government proposes we live with unfunded requirements.
If teacher salary and benefits are competitive with peer counties, I recommend any increases over the next three years be limited to cost of living raises equivalent to inflation.
Require the superintendent to submit his budget every two days until he submits one that is satisfactory. Sooner or later he’s either going to submit a good budget or the board will have to adopt its own.

I keep reading and hearing that next year the budget shortfall will be upon us again. I believe that many of the changes I suggest will reduce or eliminate significant struggles with the budget next year.

I understand there are people more knowledgeable about budget matters than myself, but it seems that in some cases we’re either unable or unwilling to think outside the proverbial box. Our community is looking for leadership not platitudes. Take some bold steps!

Thank you for your consideration,

Steve Litton
District 5 resident

No comments: