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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

AMAZING--Florida PERC Sides With Escambia County School Board--Dismissing ULP Filed By Union Over Teachers Teaching 6 of 7 Periods Daily

The Florida Public Employees Relations Commission issued a Final Order today, reversing a previously filed hearing officer's recommended order from December of last year. At issue, the decision made last year to have High School Teachers teach 6 of 7 periods versus 5 of 7 periods as a means of saving taxpayers $3.2 Million Dollars. The union asserted that the School Board violated Section 447.501(1)(a) and (c) by changing the work schedules of High School Teachers. Hearing officer John G. Showalter, who wrote the December 5, 2008 recommended order, agreed with this position of the Union. Mr. Showalter's recommended order was reversed today, and I am certain that a lot of districts around the state will take notice of today's Final Order from PERC.

For background on the original issue, see the following:

Fast forward to today, and the Final Order from PERC vindicates the School Board in this matter.

From today's PERC Final Order:

"Although the hearing officer held that the School District had the mnagement right to change the total number of periods in a school day pursuant to Section 447.209, Florida Statutes, the hearing officer concluded that the Indian River [Indian River County Education Association, local 3617 v. School Board of Indian River County, (1978)] opinion establishes that the number of periods that a teacher is required to teach in a school day is a condition of employment. Consequently, the hearing officer concluded that the School District committed an unfair labor practice when it refused to negotiate over the decision to make the change in the total number of perids taught. We disagree."

"Accordingly, we disagree with the hearing officer's legal analysis and hold that the School District's decision to increase the number of class instruction periods was a management right, subject only to the right of impact negotiations before implementation"

Read the entire Final Order Here:

The union has the opportunity to appeal this final order, and it will be interesting to see how that option is handled. I intend to ask the superintendent and our School Board attorney about the possibility of collecting our legal fees from the Union, now that PERC has issued the Final Order and the School Board has prevailed---Thousands in taxpayer's dollars have been spent by the Board in defense of this ULP, and I'd like to see these funds recovered. After all, when the Union wins these ULPs, they collect their legal fees--we ought to be able to do the same thing when we win, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Solving the 6 period vs. 7 Period High School Day Issue

In the wake of the publication of "A Nation At Risk" in 1983, Florida began to aggressively reform its public education system (as did many other states in the country at that time) to address some of the shortfalls outlined in that publication.

One of the things that was accomplished in the mid-1980s was the addition of a funded 7th period in the High School Day. The funding did not last long. Fast forward to the mid-1990s, and the Florida legislature pulled the funding for the seventh period in the High School day.

Many districts immediately reverted to the 6 period day right then-- the reasoning being that 6 periods was all that they would be funded for. Escambia County, though, continued to provide the 7 period H.S. day--even though it was no longer funded by the state.

Fast forward to the beginning of the Florida economic crisis and school year 2008-2009--and The 7th period is officially off-limits for discussion (sacred cow). There are many reasons why even the mere mention of reverting to 6 periods brings immediate resistance. The chief argument for not abandoning the 7th period is because of numerous state mandated required courses added for graduation. Additionally, fine arts proponents lament and fight the potential loss of the Seventh period, intimating that it would decimate the arts and other elective classes.

I'm not sure how I feel about that argument. When I went to High School in the early eighties, H.S. Students in Escambia County had six period days---and we still somehow managed to produce excellent band programs (Like the Tate H.S. Showband of the South) as well as excellent sports/athletic teams. I played Bass guitar in the PHS Jazz ensemble in High School. I had time in my school schedule for band, drama, art, PE as well as all of my other courses. I know today's students have more requirements for graduation, but today's Florida High School students have the option of earning additional credits via the Florida Virtual School-- students of the past did not have this excellent resource.

I'm not outright advocating for the reversion to a six period H.S. day, but if the economy continues to tank, can we really afford to not look at that as an additional savings opportunity as we are being put into a corner financially?
Something to think about.

The good news today, however, is that our district --under the leadership of Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and Carolyn Spooner, Director of H.S. Education --has come up with a proposal that will help to alleviate the scheduling issues for High Schools next school year. This plan will do the following:

1. alleviate the H.S. teachers' current heavy workload (providing 2 planning periods and a duty-free lunch daily for H.S. teachers)

2. provide the opportunity for students to have seven period schedules per semester

3. allow the district to maintain the savings achieved ($3.2 Million yearly) that we are currently garnering by having teachers teach 6 of 7 H.S. periods.

It sounds almost too good to be true. This plan, if implemented, could be great for the teachers and the district---a genuine win-win scenario.

The only hurdle now is the teacher's union. This below linked document is the proposal that was given to the Teacher's Union yesterday. I hope they appreciate that this is an opportunity for everyone to have a victory---Students, Taxpayers, and Teachers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Minutes of Board Meeting 2-17-09

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 5:35 PM

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Invocation given by Jim Locke, Senior Pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church

Pledge of Allegiance led by Beulah Elementary Student Hayley Thompson

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee Recognition—Jane Finn, 23 year employee of the district, currently supervisor of the district’s revenue department recognized and awarded.

Public Forum: 2 Speakers Total

1 Speaker Wants detailed information on the district’s handicapped accessibility programs, wants the districts facilities to all be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

1 Speaker urged board and community support for additional financing of public education by the State Legislature.

Rule adoptions: None

Permission to advertise:

1. The School Board will by resolution on April 21, 2009, at its regularly scheduled Board Meeting name the Pensacola High School Athletic Complex the “James W. Haynes Athletic Complex” as approved by the Pensacola High School Advisory Council at its January 2009 meeting.

Approval of Minutes:

3 sets of January Board Meeting Minutes 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 meticulously covered and discussed at length during two thorough school board workshops held during the early afternoon of 2/12/2009, and the morning of 2/13/2009)

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

Student recommendations:

15 Students Expelled

1 Student returned to regular classes after a 90 day suspension because the hearing officer found that the this punishment was sufficient and a longer expulsion was not.

Student infractions included:

1 for possession of a razor blade
2 for felony burglary off-campus with adverse impact
11 for possession of drugs on campus
1 for Threatening comments toward a teacher
1 for repeated incidents of disruptive behavior

Employee Recommendations:

One employee reinstated.
One employee suspended 1 day for misconduct
One Employee placed on reassignment with pay until further notice pending the outcome of a district investigation.

The following item was passed by a 4-1 board vote, with Jeff Bergosh voting “no”:

One employee suspended without pay for five days for falsifying timesheets on an ongoing basis resulting in misappropriation of thousands of dollars in district funds. (Theft).

(I voted no to this recommendation because I did not agree that the punishment was severe enough based upon the information I was given. At the workshop, I discussed why I felt that this employee should be fired, not given a five day vacation [leave without pay]. Theft, especially in these trying economic times we live in, should be dealt with swiftly and should result in immediate termination, in my opinion. In real life, when one steals from one's employer, that individual is fired. My opinion is that, union member or not, theft of thousands of dollars in district money should result in termination)

Meeting adjourned at 6:46PM.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Rally for School Funding

A Rally for School Funding will be taking place on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009 at Washington High School in Pensacola. The main focus of the rally will be to produce a large turnout of parents, students, district employees, and the general public to speak with one voice urging our legislators to fund education adequately in our State. The past two years have produced shrinking state budgets for schools, and this has resulted in extreme discontent statewide, as districts fight to preserve student programs against the backdrop of diminishing funding.

At the district workshop yesterday afternoon, this rally was announced. It was made clear during the workshop that this will be a non-partisan, pro-student rally. This was a relief to hear, because people of differing political ideology can all agree there is currently a funding problem—but might also strongly disagree on the solutions. Some of the solutions I hear thrown around I simply do not agree with-- (raising sales tax statewide by one cent, raising taxes on businesses) while others I strongly support (allowing districts more flexibility in spending, an easing off of state level unfunded mandates).

The problem is that districts are operating based upon how they have always been funded—and suddenly the rug is being pulled out from under them. I understand the reasons why (recession/depression), but now is not the time for the state to make draconian cuts to education funding. At the statewide level, a new funding formula needs to be worked out that is fair, flexible, efficient, and sustainable. Students must be the priority (not organized labor unions, entrenched educational products makers/marketers, or other special interest groups) and we must be willing to look at ways of reducing education costs overall, not automatically increasing education expenditures yearly. We need to find efficiencies in education budgeting such that students are not adversely impacted, the system is transparent, employees are accountable, and taxpayers continue to get excellent results for their money---as they have over the last ten year period in Florida. (I know this bothers some, but statistics do not lie!)

Florida is, after all, a top-ten ranked school system nationally by the Union Sponsored Quality Counts Survey. Let’s keep up the good work and continue to strive to do even better for our students and taxpayers in the years ahead!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Conundrum: Federal Stimulus May Result in Cash for Strapped Florida School Districts Like Escambia County--But I'm Strongly Opposed to These Bailouts!

That’s right, I said I’m strongly opposed to the Federal Stimulus bill that’s being steamrolled through the U.S. Senate right now as we speak. Even though I know that the passage of the Stimulus Bill could benefit the State of Florida (and other states as well)—I don’t think it is the right way to go. I’m American first--and this bill is not good for America long term. It’s reminiscent of the recent local Northrop tanker deal (debacle). That deal would have sent a substantial amount of work and money to a French company. It would have at the same time been great for some local industries and communities—but it was not good for America overall because the contract and award process was flawed. The Federal Government rightly pulled it off the table leaving most locals outraged. But the deal has to be right for America and the Air Force first—then local communities and industry second. This stimulus package is no different—America must come first then States and local governments next.

On the subject of Stimulus, where is the talk of inflation? Massive bailouts will lead to inflation—and what happens then—do we print more money? People need to look around before they jump on this bandwagon. Look at what’s happening in Iceland, Zimbabwe, look at the British Pound’s tremendous recent devaluation over a three year period compared to other more stable currencies, look at the Mexican Peso in free fall. What happens in America when a can of Campbell’s soup is $6.99 and a loaf of Wonder Bread is $9.99? Will we do another bailout/stimulus bill to solve that? We’ve got to make better decisions as a nation and we have to stop curing headaches with ”pills” rather than diagnosing and curing the causes of the “headaches.” Sometimes businesses fail, to include big ones like banks.

Speaking of banks—I did not like the first $700 Billion Dollar TARP package that passed last fall either—so much so that for the first time in my 40 year life I wrote to our U.S. Congressman to express my staunch disapproval. I felt the TARP plan was reckless and would result in abuse. It was and it has. Now comes this trillion dollar follow up. The abrupt return to an affinity for Keynesian Economics with these Federal Government tamperings and bailouts is alarming—and we should look with fresh eyes at why this economic theory was all but abandoned it the U.S. ever since the horrible economic conditions of the 1970s

Instead of finding a fresh solution we’re looking at another $Trillion dollar plus Federal Goat Rope that will be disastrous for our economy in the long-run, for the GAMBLE that it might possibly be marginally effective in the near term. Short–term gratification at the expense of long-term indebtedness is not a recipe for success, but is the impetus for the opposite.

I can empathize with State Governors around the country who are in large part supportive of the Stimulus Bill (let’s face it—they know it will probably pass and will lead to more Federal money for their states—so even if they do not agree ideologically with the bill—they’ll support it and look like heroes to their constituents) but I have tremendous respect for those State Governors (Sanford, S.C, Perry, TX, Palin, AK) who have publicly rejected this irresponsible bill and see it for what it is.

Looking at the history of our last great economic downturn, President Roosevelt’s New Deal answer, and its resultant failure—illustrates the point that we are following the same path today. What leads anyone to believe that the results will be different this time? The New Deal did not work, and the country languished until the start of the Second World War broke us out of the depression. This modern day stimulus plan is eerily similar in many respects and will not work to get us out of the mess we are in. Some believe and have said that the definition of insanity is doing something the same way it has been done before while expecting a different result. That is what we are doing here with this Federal Stimulus plan.

Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression” should be required reading for everyone involved in, in favor of, and/or associated with this Stimulus Package. We should, as a nation, make a better effort at not repeating the same mistakes we have made in the past.