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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Merit Pay for Teachers, Part II

The Escambia County School District is one of only nine districts (out of sixty-seven) in Florida that was able to negotiate, develop, and deliver a state sponsored merit bonus plan for our qualifying teachers for the 2007-2008 school year. With our district poised to send out merit bonus checks to our outstanding teachers, I began to wonder why more Florida districts chose not to reward their top-performing educators with bonuses.

Paying educators incentive or “merit pay” is a very controversial concept, often part of a package of innovative ideas. If you are a person who is interested in reforming public education, then you would likely support the concept of merit pay. You may also like the idea of expanded charter schools, more parental choice, and some limited use of tuition vouchers for students who attend chronically ineffective public schools.

By contrast, if you are a dyed in the wool, staunch supporter of the union controlled, status quo behemoth that is the public education machine in America today, you are probably happy with the system just as it is. Your only focus, if your are of this mindset, is probably that No Child Left Behind is evil, needs to be stopped, and you probably find yourself carrying the NEA/AFT water, replete with mantras like “every teacher is equally effective” and “we need more government funding” and “you’re dumbing down the students, teaching to the tests”

The problem with the above mentioned, narrow minded status-quo loving mentality is that the U.S. is slowly losing ground to other countries with respect to educational attainment in math and science. Something needs to change, it needs to happen fast, and it needs to entail a broad range of reforms, chief among which needs to be increasing parental participation in children’s’ education and retaining qualified, effective teachers.

Rewarding the best teachers is a step that may help districts with retention of staff. Be it offering incentive pay, raising starting salaries, improving working conditions, or any other means we can implement-- we need to find a way to do it. We need to find a way to retain the passionate, young, and energetic teachers who so often leave the profession within 5 years. Most importantly, we need to find a way to weed out low performing educators, who under the current union controlled system throughout the country cannot be terminated for being ineffective. In many cases and even for good cause, the costs and length of time associated with terminating a teacher, for any reason, is unbearable. Sadly, many incompetent teachers remain on school districts’ payrolls until they choose to retire, because of this archaic, inane union contrived system. This system, when fully and completely allowed to flourish unchecked, results in ridiculous situations such as the NYC school district’s infamous “Rubber Rooms”

Something in education has to change.

Paying teachers for their performance is a good start. The concept of paying teachers and rewarding them based solely upon seniority, continuing education, and post-graduate educational achievement is not a system that is moving our schools ahead. It is a system that often times simply rewards mediocrity.

The prevalent culture of disdain for the standardized testing of students, combined with a year over year analysis of these scores as a metric for illustrating teacher effectiveness, is also a hindrance to reform.

Thankfully, opinions in this country are changing on the subject of educational reform and more and more districts, like Escambia County, are moving toward merit pay systems. Some (daring) districts are even going for a complete teacher compensation overhaul. A great example of this is the train-wreck in slow motion also known as the Washington, D.C. public school system. The D.C. schools, the most expensive on a cost per student basis and also among the worst in the nation (if not the worst) are contemplating a series of radical reforms to finally get their schools back on track. These reforms are being considered even over the loud objections of the powerful D.C. Teacher’s unions. The young teachers are dropping the union positions and embracing reform (and a higher wage!). I hope they are successful.

And, the good news continues. No matter who wins the White House this November, at least we will have a president that supports Merit Pay for teachers. McCain supports merit pay, but—astonishingly-- so does Barack Obama. At the recent NEA convention, after he secured the endorsement of the NEA, Obama jumped into the middle of the Merit Pay issue. He told the stunned and silent group that he supports Merit Pay. Apparently, this Obama proclamation to the NEA went over like a barrel of ice water poured over one's head.

Barack Obama’s overall campaign mantra is a need for “change”, and this (merit pay) is the one change he is right on. The educational system in America is in desperate need of some changes, and Merit Pay may be a good place to start. The AFT's new incomming president apparently is not averse to looking at merit pay with an open mind.

Could Escambia County, with our upcoming merit payouts for teachers, be a part of the catalyst for a nationwide reform movement?

I hope so, but we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do before we get there.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tentative 2008-2009 Budget Approved

At a Budget hearing, special meeting of the Escambia County School Board on Tuesday, July 29, The tentative 2008-2009 budget was approved. To view the entire proposed budget, follow this link:

I was amazed that more of the general public did not show up to lend some input/speak. I appreciate the fact that we had two speakers come forward and give us their thoughts and opinions.

I'm equally amazed that this budget did not get any coverage in our local press this morning. With such a gigantic budget, compared to every other local government body, one might naturally make the assumption that more interest would be taken. This would be a bad assumption, based upon what I'm seeing.


Total Tentative 2008-2009 Budget -------$632,989,862.17

Total Millage -----7.784

Total tax increase (estimated) for a
homeowner with a property valued
at $150,000.00 compared to 2007-2008 -----$9.60

One note--although we are being put in a position, by our legislature, to levy a higher millage rate this year over last year---our overall budget has been reduced by 3.4%, nearly 22 million dollars. One more thing--although some of these locally levied millage rates are categorized as "discretionary"--the truth is, and it came out in the meeting last night, that we had no choice but to levy these mills at these rates. If we had not, then millions of additional state dollars would have been forfeited.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Agree With the Laura Bush View on NCLB Testing Component

A recent USA Today article on First Lady Laura Bush focusing on her conversation with a group of teachers from around the nation captured my attention. She had some very interesting comments to make on the beleaguered No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002. I like the way Mrs. Bush shrugs aside the na├»ve and simplistic arguments of those who attack the act’s standardized testing component with the teacher union mantra “You’re teaching to the test”. Here’s how Laura Bush responds:

From Laura Bush in USA Today:

"We would never go to a doctor and say, 'I'm sick, you can't try to diagnose me … you can't use any kind of test," she says….She calls the annual testing — and its consequences — "the most important piece" of the law. "That's what lets us know that we're not just shuffling kids through school, and that poor kids aren't being the ones who make it to the fifth grade and can't read, or make it to the ninth grade and drop out." It would be "embarrassing and a tragedy if we don't address those problems."

Exactly, what an excellent response she gives. The entire article can be found at this link:

I would like it if, for once, I could get one of these militant, liberal, NCLB test hater types to simply answer one question. I’d like an intelligent, coherent, rational explanation and response to this below question.

“What is your definition of teaching to the test, and precisely how is teaching standardized curriculum then testing for its retention a bad thing?”

I don’t expect to get a logical answer to that question that makes any sense, but rather just the usual--- glassy eyed, (RCA Victor Dog) head tilting, finger pointing response that, “you’re dumbing them down, just making them better test takers”

Wrong answer.

Merit Pay On The Way for Outstanding Escambia County Teachers

In the next 50 or so days, the Escambia County School District will be finalizing evaluations on instructional personnel throughout the system. These evaluations will be done according to and utilizing the performance based metrics associated with the district/union negotiated Merit Award Plan (MAP).

I was and always have been a huge proponent of Merit Pay for teachers. Statewide and nationally, more and more are embracing the concept. (I plan on adding some additional blog entries on this subject in the next few days) I campaigned on this issue two years ago, because I fundamentally believe that it is important and productive to reward outstanding effort and achievement. I pushed hard when, prior to MAP, the plan was called STAR (Special Teachers Are Rewarded), and I was disappointed when the special state funded $2.1 million that the district had in it’s coffers for paying teacher bonuses last year was sent back to Tallahassee. I think that was a mistake, but it is history and I’m not going to dwell on it. I’m instead going to focus on the positive—the fact that Escambia County was one of only 9 districts out of Florida’s 67 that was able to develop, negotiate, and deliver a Merit Pay Plan for its professional educators for the 2007-2008 school year. This is something that we ought to be proud of, in my opinion.

In a short number of weeks, the teachers in Escambia County who met the criteria outlined in our performance pay plan (about 1,000 teachers) will each be receiving checks that will range between $1,500.00 and $3,000.00. I would venture a guess that of those teachers that receive these awards, even the ones initially opposed to Merit Pay will be grateful for the award. These teachers earned this money through their hard work and dedication, and it is very satisfying as a Board Member to watch this money flow from the State into the hands of outstanding Escambia County teachers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Potential Site Identified for New Downtown Elementary School and District Administrative Offices

The Escambia County School District is preparing to purchase a substantial piece of property as well as a large building from Gulf Power. The site is downtown, at the intersection of Pace Blvd. and Garden St. It is my understanding that the purchase contract will be coming to the Board for approval at next month's regular meeting, and that the purchase proposal will be officially presented to the board at a special meeting to be held on Wednesday, August 6 at 4:00PM.

I was given a tour of this building today by representatives from Gulf Power and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Shawn Dennis. The existing 65,000s.f., four story building is in extremely good condition, has been well maintained, and will be able to accommodate the entire District Staff from our current location, The Vernon McDaniel building at 215 Garden Street. In addition to this, a substantial portion of the district staff that are currently in the Hall Center, 30 E Texar Drive, will also be consolidated into this new building. Once the Vernon McDaniel Building is vacated, the plan will be to sell that well located and valuable property. The proceeds from the sale of the Vernon McDaniel Building are projected to be equal to the purchase price for the Gulf Power building and property.

The adjacent parcel of property that the district will acquire in this transaction is of an adequate size to site a new, state of the art, downtown elementary school. My tentative understanding of the plan is that this new downtown elementary school will take in the students from nearby Hallmark and Yniestra elementary schools. This will allow the district to work with the County to locate a new library at the Hallmark site. The district would then look to sell the Yniestra property for a fair market price. I have been a proponent of combining Yniestra and Hallmark, but this transaction is even better than a consolidation-- because students from both of these schools will now have the opportunity to attend a brand new school.

This proposal makes sense to me, and I like the idea for numerous reasons. A new, state of the art school will make a tremendous impact on the students who will be attending. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between improved facilities and improved achievement. With a new school, fully utilized, the district can close outdated and underutilized schools (Hallmark and Yniestra). We can potentially start to talk about re purposing other underutilized facilities downtown (Semmes) and then have the flexibility to look at further consolidations of some other inefficient, underutilized west-side elementary schools ( possibly Edgewater/Navy Point). I believe that this transaction, if approved, can be the catalyst for the district to achieve much greater operational efficiencies. This, in turn, will lead to savings which can be channeled back into the classroom.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anonymous Bloggers In Trouble---ACLU to the Rescue?

An Anonymous blogger (possibly an insider or employee) critical of the Memphis Police department is on the verge of havng his identity revealed against his will. The city of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department have filed a lawsuit to unmask the blogger (s).

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

The lawsuit asks AOL to produce all information related to the identity of an e-mail address linked to MPD Enforcer 2.0, a blog popular with police officers that has been extremely critical of police leadership

I find this story to be Interesting on several different levels, most importantly because of the strong stance the ACLU of Tennessee is taking in support of the Anonymous Bloggers. I agree with the ACLU on very few issues. Very few. They may be onto something in this case though..

from the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

"Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee said they will be watching the case closely and that anonymous speech is essential to the free flow of ideas in a democracy.
"We are quite interested in preserving the anonymity of the bloggers," said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. "Anonymous speech has long been protected speech under the First Amendment."

Read the full article here:

The follow up story is here:

I wonder what the local branch of the ACLU would think about this story?

School Board Meeting Minutes 7-15-2008

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 (Jeff Bergosh via speakerphone.)

PTA Presentation—given by Cindy Gerhardt. Thoughts from PTA national conference given by Mrs. Gerhardt.

Proposed additions or revisions to school district rules

5 items approved (Note: under revisions to student progression plan, I had contemplated making a motion to balance the number of absence days allowable from 3 the first semester and 13 the second semester to a more balanced eight for both first and second semester. I was advised by the board attorney that this would be a violation of State DOE regulations)

Safe Harbor—I made the motion that a safe harbor provision be added to the elementary and secondary rights and responsibilities handbook. The motion was set aside due to time constraints of the required advertising of such a change. The issue received support from others on the board and will be added to the next board workshop agenda.

Public Forum: 3 Speakers

1 Speaker did not approve of all literature and textbooks the district uses

1 Speaker did not approve of students who are suspended having their tests/homework not counted during their suspension timeframe.

1 Speaker (Bill Vincent) did not like the fact that some non-tenured teachers may not be re-hired due to budgetary constraints.

June Meeting Minutes Approved

Entire Consent Agenda approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

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

23 students expelled from regular school facilities for various infractions, including 14 for possession of drugs, and 2 for sexual misconduct.
1 Employee suspended for 2 days

1 Employee terminated

Meeting adjourned at 7:50

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

ACLU Requests Information From ECSD

Yesterday afternoon, I found a letter from the School district's general counsel in my mail box at the district office. The letter was attached to a request for information from the ACLU. I read the entire letter from the ACLU, and what they have requested is extremely wide reaching and broad. A scanned copy of the request can be found here:

My concerns are many---I understand what the ACLU is, and I understand that here in America they have the right to their views and ideologies. I understand this. I agree with the ACLU on some issues (freedom of individual speech and privacy rights within one's home) But I strongly disagree with their position on most issues, though. I believe they are damaging America with their strident and open disdain for religion. The ACLU is also wrong, in my opinion, on a host of other issues.

I think the ACLU is wrong when they resist the second amendment right for one to bear arms (Supreme court agrees with me, see D.C. vs. Heller )...

I think the ACLU is wrong when they press for non-American enemy combatants to receive legal protections equal to or surpassing those afforded to American citizens...

I think the ACLU is wrong when they fight municipalities and school districts around the country over petty separation of church and state issues...

I think the ACLU is wrong when they defend people like the rainbow family who break the law and assault law enforcement officers:

And I think the ACLU is dead wrong in their 19 year quest to remove the Mt. Soledad Cross. Thank God that's one fight they are losing.

So when I see a broad reaching request for information from the ACLU for Escambia County School District records and information, I get the distinct and unsettling feeling that we are going to be targets for some alleged wrong-doing. I'm told by some sources that know--that this request was spawned by a prayer at a district event. A Prayer. Wow, what is going on in our country when we have to endure a shakedown because someone may have said a prayer at what the ACLU feels was an "inappropriate" time. I personally hope that if a religious reference was made, it was made by a student--- that way the ACLU will have to give in and acquiesce to a student's right to free religious expression!

Stay Tuned.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Safe Harbor Running Into Troubled Waters

I'm running into significant resistance to the idea of a formal, codified "Safe Harbor Provision" being added to our students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook. I'm not going to beome fixated or neurotic over this issue. I do find the level of resistance to be interesting though.

Here is a recent email string on the subject, with my response below:

Dear Mr. Bergosh,

I understand your position, but I hope you will reconsider. In a time when violence is becoming so commonplace, we do not want to open an opportunity for students to bring weapons to school and then use "safe harbor" as a way of getting around their choice. A student who arrives at the bus stop with a weapon has the option of turning it in when he gets to school by saying he did not realize he had it. That is pretty frightening to me because he has had it on one of our buses. Having worked in the high school for almost 38 years, students rarely ever accept responsibility for bringing weapons, drugs, etc., to school, and I believe we are opening the door for students to take more risks because they believe they will have a safety net. We will also increase the number of formal hearings we will have because this language will give students another position in which to argue their case. I understand you are concerned about the student who truly makes a mistake, but we are placing language in the R & R book that will create an environment that is less safe for all students. I hope we will place our emphasis on the safety of all students. Sincerely,

Carolyn Spooner

Carolyn Spooner
Director of High Schools469-5495 office
469-5630 fax

Mrs. Spooner,

I appreciate your perspective and your years of experience. This entire issue is really not something I'll "dig my heels in" and hold my ground over, like I did and will continue to do over issues like Merit Pay. I simply felt that in this instance, Mrs. Waters' language was good, and having a Safe Harbor provision seems to work quite well in other districts including St. Lucie County. As written, what Mrs. Waters emailed to me would not provide any sort of a "safety net" to someone who brings a weapon to school and is caught with it. I disagree with that blanket assessment and I don't feel it would be that simplistic. However, not having a provision could become problematic.

I'm told of a situation that allegedly transpired a few years back with a very bright PHS IB student that got caught with a huge bag of dope. My understanding of this issue is that because we did not have safe harbor language, her legal team successfully used that against the district and the student was permitted to come back to the IB program after that incident. In a nutshell, her argument was “I found the dope, panicked, and was unable to turn it in because of zero tolerance and the lack of a safe harbor"While I know that defense was weak and questionable, it worked because we lacked the appropriate safe harbor language in our R&R handbook. This student's legal team worked our own rulebook against us and used us like tools.

I realize that with a safe harbor provision, legal challenges to suspensions may be easier to mount. However, I am an advocate for the innocent student who "forgets he has his pocketknife in the backpack following a weekend boy scout camping trip." I know these situations are extremely rare, but this hypothetical student ought to have a codified mechanism to voluntarily turn in the knife, without fear of repercussion and without having to hope for or rely on his teacher giving him the "benefit of the doubt". I mean, what if this hypothetical student has a strained relationship with his teacher? The process should be uniform in practice and outlined in the language of the R&R handbook---not guided by knee-jerk hunches and/or some other improvised method at the school level. This is just my sense of how it should work.

Perhaps it is just a philosophical difference of opinion, but I sincerely believe we ought to have some provision in the R&R book that mirrors what I'm told is already being practiced at the individual school level. This way, the language in the book will align precisely with what is actually in practice on the ground.With all this being said, I'm not going to drag out the war machine and battle over this issue. I'll bring it up, the board may or may not support me, discussion will/may follow, the vote will/may then happen, the board will speak with one voice through their vote (or lack thereof) and the issue will be put to rest. We will either have a safe harbor provision in the R&R Handbook, or we won't.

I hope we do.


Jeff Bergosh