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, August 28, 2008

Teacher Merit Pay, Part III—908 Escambia Teachers to Each Receive $2,042.00

Details of the Escambia County School District’s 2007-2008 Merit Pay Bonus payouts have been intricately worked out and a fairly clear picture of what will transpire in the next few weeks is taking shape. As I have stated on numerous occasions, I am a staunch supporter of Merit Pay for teachers. I am proud that Escambia County was one of only 9 (out of 67) counties that were able to develop, negotiate, and deliver a state funded merit award plan for the 2007-2008 school year. The superintendent and his staff worked with the union and the school board to make this happen. The result? In the midst of this current economic downturn we are in, a lot of great employees will soon be receiving bonus checks.

Here’s the way the plan is going to be implemented, as I currently understand it:

1. Later today or tomorrow, an email will go out from the district offices to the personnel who were eligible to qualify for a merit bonus payment for the 2007-2008 school year. The email will contain a link to a site that will allow each eligible employee to view whether or not they have been selected to receive a merit bonus. (Each employee will only be able to check their own personal status, not anyone else’s)

2. Target check stub mailing date will be between September 15th and October 1st, with bonus money distributed with regular pay at the end of the month via direct deposit.

3. Bonus amount will be roughly $2,050.00, after deduction for FICA. All bonus recipients will be receiving the same amount. (This amount equates to 5% of the average district teacher salary of just a little over $40,000.00)

Some interesting statistics are worthy of mention here:

The initial pool of potential qualified employees was roughly 3,200. Of this number, 500 personnel voluntarily “opted-out” of consideration. (I don’t understand the logic of someone voluntarily opting out of a merit bonus plan-- but hey, to each his own, right?) A large number of other employees were subsequently deemed to be not eligible for a variety of different reasons, leaving the final pool of eligible instructional personnel at roughly 1,850. Of this final number, the district will be awarding 908 teachers with bonuses---nearly 50% of those eligible! I think this statistic is powerful. I hope next year we can duplicate this percentage. Perhaps the 500 personnel who opted out last year could opt out again this year, leaving a smaller pool of eligible employees. We’ll have to wait and see how that works out.

At the district level, 114 personnel were initially eligible, 14 voluntarily “opted out”, and 21 others failed to subsequently meet the requirements. Of the initial 114 district personnel, only about 79 were qualified at the end of the process. The final number of district level personnel who will be receiving a merit award from this final pool of 79 is 36.

The district will be paying out a total of $2,094,929.00 in bonuses to the teachers and district level personnel who earned these bonuses, with $60,505.00 going to our area charter schools for distribution to their employees.

My congratulations go out to all those hard working employees who earned these bonuses.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ACLU Files Federal Suit against SR County Schools--Is Escambia Next?

The ACLU has filed a Federal Lawsuit against Santa Rosa County Schools. This gets my attention because a few months back the Escambia County School District was hit with a very broad Public Records Request from the ACLU. see link below

To the best of my knowledge, the ECSD has not, as of yet, turned over to the ACLU all the information they've requested. We have given them much but I believe we are still gathering the rest of the information they've requested.

Not surprisingly, this story has not been picked up by our local news outlets (PNJ,WEAR, INWEEKLY) ---but NWFlorida Daily news broke the story right away, realizing this is a big deal. Here was their story

Full background of the suit, as well as a .pdf of the complaint, is on the ACLU website here

As I've stated before, I agree with a very small sliver of items the ACLU pushes---most importantly the right of free speech. However, lawsuits like this one are disappointing; Suing over a prayer? In my way of thinking, there are a lot more pressing issues in America of 2008 on which we should focus.

I wish Santa Rosa well in their defense of this lawsuit.

Friday, August 22, 2008

School Districts Around the Nation Feel the Budget Crunch

From the AP in a recent article in the San Diego Union Tribune:

"Children will walk farther to the bus stop, pay more for lunch, study from old textbooks and wear last year's clothes. Field trips? Forget about it.
This year, it could cost nearly twice as much to fuel the yellow buses that rumble to school each morning. If you think it's expensive to fill up a sport utility vehicle, try topping off a tank that is two or even three times as big.
At the same time, costs for air conditioning and heating, cafeteria food and classroom supplies are mounting, all because of the shaky economy. And parents have their own tanks to fill.
The extra costs present a tricky math problem: Where can schools subtract to keep costs under control?"

Read the full article here:

Escambia County Schools are feeling the same budgetary pressures as many other districts around the country, as this article illustrates....

Anne Says "I am sick of discrimination against tax paying hard working Americans and their families"

I received a disturbing email from "Anne" who is extremely upset about the transportation issue her grandaughter is experiencing. She seems to think that we are discriminating against hard working, english speaking, American families. Of course she is way off base in making this sort of an accusation.

Her email is below, and my response is directly below hers.

Mr Bergosh

I would like to know why there is discrimination against my English speaking family! My 11 year old granddaughter is expected to cross Creighton Road and go through neighborhoods with Pedophiles to get to school because she lives less than 2 miles from school. A hispanic family living around the corner ( less than 2 miles from the school) daughter is picked up by bus because her parents do not speak good english and I found out there is a special bus that picks up kids under these circumstances. Creighton is an extremely busy four lane highway and dangerous for an adult to cross and lets not forget about the pedophiles.

I am going to make sure everyone I know which includes a large amount of people in Escambia county know about this and who to not to vote for. I am sick of discrimnation against tax paying hard working Americans and their families!



I, too, am against discrimination against hard-working, english speaking American families! I am also against discrimination toward anyone for any reason. To quote a famous phrase--people should be judged by "the content of their character, not the color of their skin" With this being said, I believe that the family you refer to in your email may possibly be receiving transportation because they are ESOL eligible. This is not discrimination, rather this is the district following the law. I'm still awaiting confirmation of this from the director of transportation, but I would assume this is the case based upon what you've stated in your email.

This issue aside, the school board voted this past Tuesday night to revert to the transportation policies of last school year, due to overwhelming parental outcry, and because we want to be attentive to our constituents. We made this change back knowing full-well it would cost us $500,000.00 in non-reimbursed general fund money in this tight budget year--but we did it anyway. What does this mean? This means that the district provided transportation that your child received last year(walk distances) will be no different this year (less than 1 mile elementary, 1.5 miles Middle, and 2 miles, H.S.) I would strongly suggest that you give your route a couple of weeks to settle in, and most of the idiosyncrsies and kinks will work themselves out. If not, you can always fire an email out to Eric Fritz, director of transportation at: ---That's what I did when I received your email.

Finally, I am not up for re-election until November of 2010, I'm not even sure if I'll run again, and I never---NEVER make a decision on a critical issue based upon what someone may or may not like/approve; I'm not on a continuous campaign-mission to be re-elected. Rather, I always try to do the right thing for the right reason--knowing I'll never make all the people happy all of the time. Feel free to contact me any time I can be of assistance.

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, District 1

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 19, 2008 School Board Meeting Minutes

Minutes of Board Meeting8-19-08

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.

5:30 PM-Meeting Commencement

All Board Members present.

PTA Presentation—given by Cindy Gerhardt

Board Adopted the resolution recognizing “Childhood Cancer Awareness Month”
Public Forum:

28 Speakers total

19 Speakers were upset about the transportation department/walk distance issue.

1 Speaker upset because the transportation department will not pick his children up at a daycare center.

1 Speaker extremely upset about the school choice office and the fact that her child was not allowed to remain at PHS after the family was determined to be “out of district”

1 Speaker felt that the Superintendent was not/ is not being forthcoming with the board and that information is not flowing transparently from the district to the board and to the public.

6 Speakers upset about the potential closure of Carver Century K-8

July Meeting Minutes Approved (from four separate July meetings)

Rule adoptions:

1. Public Records rule-adopted by 5-0 vote

2. Emergency Amendment to district transportation rule-adopted by 5-0 vote

(This was the district reverting to last year’s transportation policy, reverting to 1.5 mile walk zone for middle school students, and the continuance of courtesy rider ship for some High School students who must walk in hazardous conditions)

Permission to advertise rules for adoption:

1. Value adjustment board appointees, approved by 5-0 vote

2. Safe Harbor provision to be added to Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, approved by 5-0 vote

3. Revisions and amendments to Student progression plan, approved by 5-0 vote

4. Eligibility for transportation (emergency rule) approved by 5-0 vote

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 2 hour board workshop held during the morning of 8/15/2008)

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

3 administrative appointments approved

No Student recommendations submitted by the Superintendent

Board voted 4-1 (Mrs. Brown-Curry dissenting) to accept the superintendent’s recommendation to have SAZAC re-draw the boundaries so that Carver Century K-8 students can be sent to Bratt Elementary School and Ernest Ward Middle School.

3 Employees terminated

2 Employees reinstated

2 Employees suspended

Meeting adjourned at 8:32.

Monday, August 11, 2008

School Walking Distance Issue Continues to Anger Escambia County Parents

Today Escambia County School Board members received the template letter that will be sent out from Tallahassee to Escambia County parents who contact State Government officials with their concern(s) about student walking distances. This letter was sent to the board by Assistant Superintendent for Operations Shawn Dennis, and can be viewed here:

I have been receiving numerous telephone calls and emails on this issue, and I have stated the following to those I have spoken with:

1. I am concerned about student safety, just as they are.

2. The changes to our local board rules were made to align our transportation policy with state guidelines. The state does not and has not funded districts to pick up most students who live within 2 miles of their home schools. (see rules below)

3. At a special budget meeting held on Wednesday, August 6, The board voted 5-0 to send this policy back to the superintendent for review and possible revision. In light of the number of parental complaints combined with the recent good budget news (beach property tax lawsuit settlement), the board felt that there should be room for some compromise on this issue. We are awaiting the superintendent's updated policy proposal, and hope that it will contain provisions for middle school students in hazardous walking conditions, and also a hardhip provision for working families, one car families, and/or single parent households.

I then told those I spoke with that, if the 2 mile walk for students is the issue that is burning them up, they should make their voices heard. I suggested they contact their State Representatives and State Senators to tell these state lawmakers to:

1. Adequately fund the local school districts to pick up students who live within the two mile radius of their schools

2. Change the law to apply the unsafe walking conditions exemption to not only elementary school children, but also to middle school students. Explain the concerns -- pedestrian/automobile collisions, inclement weather, and sexual predators.

3. Quit forcing mandates down the throats of local school boards, without adequately funding them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Three Important Issues From Tonight's Special Board Meeting

Below are the draft minutes from tonight's special school board meeting from Holly Dewees, District Recording Secretary.

I want to point out that three big issues were addressed tonight, and are more fully covered in Mrs. Dewees' notes below.

1. First--The board approved the request from the District Operations Department to purchase land downtown for a brand new, state of the art elementary school. background on this issue here:

2. Second--the board compelled----via a 5-0 vote-the superintendent to look into a compromise on the two-mile walk issue. We are all concerned about student safety and believe a compromise on this issue can be found. Background on this issue here:

Third, the board voted to roll back the millage rate on local property owners, so that we will not be increasing anyone's taxes this year, in the midst of our budget crisis.

See the draft notes from tonight's meeting, below.

The School Board of Escambia County, Florida, convened in Special Meeting at 4:00 p.m., in the Board
Room, at the Dr. Vernon McDaniel Building, 215 West Garden Street, Pensacola, Florida, with the following present:

Chair: Mrs. Patricia Hightower
Vice Chair: Mr. Pete Gindl, Sr.
Board Members: Mr. Jeff Bergosh
Mr. Gerald Boone
Mrs. Claudia BrownCurry
School Board General Counsel: Mrs. Donna Sessions Waters
Superintendent of Schools: Mr. Jim Paul

Mrs. Hightower called the Special Meeting to order at 4:03 p.m. Mr. Gindl and Mr. Bergosh each
indicated that they had an item they wished to address prior to the “Public Forum” section of the agenda.
Motion by Mr. Gindl, seconded by Mrs. BrownCurry,
to adopt the agenda (as amended), was approved
1. Real Property Sale and Purchase Contract between Gulf Power Company and the School Board ofEscambia County, Florida Presentation by Mr. Shawn Dennis, Assistant Superintendent for Operations (handout provided).
The following speakers requested to address the Board regarding this issue:

Mike Wiggins,
Sandra J. Ward,
Tara Johnson, and
Sheree CagleMauldin.
Each Board Member expressed support of initiative.
Motion was made by Mr. Boone, seconded by Mr. Bergosh, to approve the real property sale and purchase contract between Gulf Power Company and the School Board of Escambia County, Florida.
Motion carried unanimously.
CORRECTED 2. Utility Easement and Temporary Construction Easement
Motion was made by Mr. Bergosh, seconded by Mrs. BrownCurry,
to approve a Utility Easement and Temporary Construction Easement, carried unanimously.
ADD – Item from Mr. Gindl regarding Transportation
DRAFT Motion was made by Mr. Gindl and seconded by Mr. Bergosh, to ask the Superintendent and his staff to study the transportation issue with regard to the 2 mile
walk for middle and high school students.

Motion carried unanimously.
ADD – Item from Mr. Bergosh regarding Millage Rate
{DISCUSSION} Motion was made by Mr. Bergosh and seconded by Mrs. Hightower, to direct the Superintendent to bring to the September 16, 2008 Special Meeting, a reduction in the millage rate, such that the total millage rate will not increase over the 20072008
level; and that the millage reduction will come from the Capital Outlay portion. {DISCUSSION}

Motion was approved
Mrs. Hightower called for public forum; however, there were no speakers.
There being no further business, the Special Meeting adjourned at 5:30 p.m.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Changes in Walking Distance to School Rule --The New Red Hot Issue in The District

The School Board of Escambia County has recently had to make some excruciatingly difficult budget decisions due to a lack of funding for the 2008-2009 school year. The state legislature, due to a shrinking overall statewide budget, has placed local school districts in a position that these difficult choices have to be made.

In an effort to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Board recently voted to align our district’s school board transportation rules with current state guidelines and rules with respect to walking distances for students. Essentially, for years and years, the Escambia County School District has been going above and beyond what state law required-- offering courtesy transportation to students who live within 2 miles of their home schools. Due to unprecedented budget constraints, we have to eliminate this courtesy rider ship. The state does not fund local districts to pick up students who reside within two miles of their school, with exceptions for elementary students who walk in hazardous conditions, disabled students, and/or any other student who qualifies for transportation for special circumstances. Without being adequately funded by the state to offer these rides, we simply cannot continue the practice; we’re left with no choice but to eliminate courtesy rides, and the board recently voted unanimously to make this change. See the associated DOE rules and state statute at the below links:

I understand that this decision will be unpopular. I realize that this decision will result in a hardship for some working families, and I’m as concerned as everyone else about student safety. I have one elementary school child that rides the bus, and I drive my other two children to and from their middle school every day. I have made the choice as a parent to drive my children because of the distance to their school and other safety considerations. Under this new policy, each parent will have to weigh their own individual options and decide if they want their child to walk, or if they want to drive them, as do many parents already. This will be a personal choice for each family to make.

The savings achieved by reducing courtesy transportation is substantial; however I must point out that other measures could have been taken to realize similar savings. I have recently actively lobbied the board and superintendent to cut 9-10 administrative positions (Savings would have been $700,000.00+) and I was beat down for it. I suggested that all district employees make a modest and temporary wage concession of between 2-4% to offset our tremendous budget shortage (Savings would have been in the millions of dollars) and I was laughed out of the room. I suggested that we close underutilized facilities, like Carver/Century K-8 (savings $600,000.00) and I’ve been told we cannot do that, and I’ve been beat up for that suggestion ever since I made it.

So we come to a decision to align our own district rules with state policy, in order to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, and everyone agreed that we had no choice but to do it. Very few parents (if any) came to that meeting to voice an opinion or to protest this change. But now that people are starting to realize that it may affect their own children, my phone has been ringing off the hook.

I have talked to no fewer than fifteen parents over the last several days on this issue. I have received numerous emails as well. My message to these parents and grandparents has been that I can empathize with them; however their consternation must rightly be focused and channeled to those in Tallahassee who make the laws. I’ve told those I have spoken with to speak out, attend meetings, and if change is necessary—to contact their local state representatives and state senators, who make the laws that we all live under. The days of local control of local schools is over, and it is a shame. Local districts should be able to control their own policies, but the power is being slowly and methodically drained by state and federal bureaucrats who want no less than total control. So, I tell everyone the same thing---- If student walking distance is the issue that is burning you up, tell your district’s state representatives and senator to:

1. Adequately fund the local school districts to pick up students who live within the two mile radius of their schools.
2. Change the law to apply the unsafe walking conditions exemption to not only elementary school children, but also to middle school students. Tell them you are concerned about pedestrian/automobile collisions, inclement weather, and sexual predators.
3. Quit forcing mandates down the throats of local school boards, without adequately funding them.

Nothing changes unless people speak up and let their voices be heard. Apathy among the local population has to end, and people must begin to become actively involved with their local, state, and federal policymakers. Otherwise, you are (by proxy) telling government politicians you agree that they.. “Know what’s best for you”.

My advice—get involved in the process, be proactive and not reactive.