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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Select Escambia Schools to Receive $2.1 Million in Bonus Money

The Florida School Recognition Awards were a product of Governor Jeb Bush and his package of school reforms introduced in Florida the late 90s. The program is funded by lottery proceeds, and the rewards have become controversial and are opposed by some large Education Organizations and many Media Outlets. Compete details on this program can be found here.

For 2009, $122 Million will be distributed to select schools from Florida's 67 school districts. In Escambia County, 39 schools will receive proceeds from the school recognition program, totalling $2.1 million locally. A complete list of the recipient schools from Escambia County and the amount of each schools' reward can be found here.

Although many around the state have disdain for the recognition awards--I strongly support this program. I like the fact that individual schools are recognized for maintaining excellent school grades, and I believe these awards are an incentive for schools to maintain their "A" school letter grades; I also like the fact that this program rewards schools that make significant letter grade improvement on a year over year basis. In addition to these reasons, it is appealing that with this program, Individual schools get to decide how best to use the reward proceeds, within the guidelines mandated by the state.

Incentives work in the private sector, and they also work in the government sector.
And I guarantee this--even though teacher's unions may oppose bonus programs that do not reward "all members equally based exclusively upon length of service and educational attainment"--I guarantee the Escambia Teachers that will be receiving this bonus come the end of October (Between $800.00-$1,000.00 each, depending on how individual schools and their SACs decide to split up the awards)--- these teachers are glad to receive this team award cash and wholeheartedlty support this program!

Congratulations are in order for the local schools who have received this award for 2009!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insurance Benefits Special Meeting, 9-21-2009

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 5:30 PM

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

No Pledge of Allegiance, No opening prayer

Purpose of this special meeting was to resolve disputed insurance issues pursuant to Master Contract Provisions. Escambia Education Association
(EEA) Article XIV.1.I Union of Escambia Education Staff Professionals-Article VI.1.I.

Background: The issue of benefits has been bargainable in our district, separately from salary negotiations. Last year, the negotiations for benefits became protracted, and the union did not come to the table in a timely fashion to resolve premium, plan changes, and other serious issues resulting in huge losses on a monthly basis ($175,000.00 monthly) to the district’s health care reserve account. In an effort to alleviate this condition and to ensure that it would not happen again going forward, the district negotiated language with the union that would ensure that negotiations on health plan changes would be handled in a fair, timely fashion. The article of the master contract with this new language is here. This year, pursuant to this new contract language, we utilized an insurance benefits committee to hammer out necessary plan changes and other refinements to the district’s health insurance plan to offset rising costs. The superintendent forwarded the benefit committee’s recommendation to the union for a ratification vote which failed. According to the new language negotiated to alleviate this sort of stalemate, the board was given the opportunity to consider the recommendation of the benefits committee.

I. Call to Order/Adoption of Agenda -approved 5-0
II. Presentations and Discussion
A. Presentation of Proposals
1. Superintendent’s plan, presented via PowerPoint by Kevin Windham, dir. Of Risk Management with assistance from Chuck Tobin, from Arthur Gallagher Insurance
2. Association and Union presentation, presented by Bill Vincent, Service Unit Director

B. Rebuttal
1. Superintendent-by Kevin Windham and Malcolm Thomas
2. Association and Union -by Bill Vincent

C. Board Questions and Comments

1. Bill Slayton wondered aloud why so few employees participated in the ratification vote.
2. I asked if the lowering of the office co-pay portion of the choice plan by $5.00 would actually cost only $155,000.00. Answer provided by Chuck Tobin was “yes”
3. I asked if the Health Screenings would result in an initial spike in plan costs and the answer was yes for the first year, with years two and three resulting in lowered costs

D. Public Forum

17 Speakers addressed the board, unanimously opposing the plan changes that would result in higher costs to those who utilize the benefits.

E. Closing Remarks
1. Superintendent Thomas spoke in favor of approving the plan as presented by the benefits committee
2. Mr. Vincent spoke in favor of making no further plan changes, and taking a wait and see approach to ascertain whether or not costs would go up as projected.

III. Board Action

The Board discussed the options, weighed the choices put forth, and considered the speakers’ positions. I made a motion that the benefit committee’s recommendation be accepted, with the caveat that doctor’s office co-pays be lowered for employees on the choice plan from $30 down to $20 (at an estimated additional cost to the benefits reserve fund of approximately $310,000.00). Motion was seconded by Patty Hightower, discussion ensued for clarification on precisely what the motion I made was. When everyone was comfortable, the motion carried unanimously 5-0.

Meeting adjourned at 8:01

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Minutes of Board Meeting 9-15-09

Minutes of Regular Board Meeting


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 6:42 PM (Meeting was preceded by the annual school district budget meeting, which went from 5:30 to 6:40)

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Three Speakers addressed the board during Public Forum

1. Speaker wanted a special exemption from property taxes for elderly
2. Speaker had numerous issues with the district as a whole
3. Speaker wants: TEMS gradebook fixed, FAIR testing to be scheduled better, and overall level of student testing to be decreased (“we’re testing these kids to death!”

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee Recognition—David Wilkeson, a 12 year employee of the district, currently serving as an Energy Management Technician for the maintenance department.

1. Rule adoptions: Adoption of Amendments to School District Rule 6Gx17-1 Approved 5-0

Permission to Advertise:
1. Notice of intent to advertise Revisions and Amendments to the District School Board Student Progression Plan, 6Gx17-7.09 Approved 5-0

3 sets of August Board Meeting Minutes Approved, 5-0

Entire Consent Agenda Approved.

All Curriculum items approved

All Finance items approved

All Human Resources items Approved

All Purchasing items approved

All Operations items approved

The following items were pulled for discussion, but ultimately approved by the board by 5-0 vote after discussion:

1. Curriculum Item 4-agreement between The Escambia County School Board and NAPA Auto Parts of Pensacola.

2. Curriculum Item 17-User agreement between the Escambia County School District and the Pensacola Civic center for graduations. (I voiced my concerns about the continued substantial expenditure ($26,000.00) to The County for use of their facility for school graduations in light of the fact that the county uses many of our facilities free of charge and have recently raised the athletic fees for schools to use their park facilities—I felt that a better rate should have been sought)

3. Human Resources Item g 8, addition of Confidential legal assistant/paralegal

4. Strategic Plan End of Year Report—following discussion with several members of the EEA, some areas that had been indicated as “goal met” were amended to indicate “goal partially met”

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during two thorough school board workshops held during the early afternoon and evening of 9-10-2009 and 9-11- 2009)

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

3 Employees suspended without pay
1 Employee returned to work after being suspended without pay since July—charges against this individual were dropped and this employee will be receiving back pay

List of nominees for the Board of Directors for the Foundation for Excellence, approved by Board 5-0

Student recommendations: None

Items from the board:

Certification of Compliance, Agency Rules Report Pursuant to 120.74, Fla. Stat. (2009) approved 5-0.

Meeting adjourned at 7:58PM.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Board Discussion Workshop 9-10-2009

The Board held the monthly discussion workshop on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 at the Board Room of the McDaniel building downtown. Meeting began at 3:01PM

All Board members except Patty Hightower were present, along with Superintendet Thomas.

Open Board discussion items:

--I discussed with my fellow Board Members Why I would not be voting for the millage rate increase, and I gave back-up documentation to my fellow Board Members regarding the historic millage levies in Escambia County.

--I turned over a request to the Superintendent from Pine Forest High School's Principal and School Advisory Committee to rename the gymnasium at PFHS in honor of Coach Ann C. Suarez.

--I initiated a discussion with my fellow board members about our salaries and how the board should interpret recent state legislation which sought to reduce Board Member compensation statewide. Board members agreed to take the same salary as a first year teacher in Escambia, $32K. This represents a cut of 12%.

Mr. Slayton discussed the following

--closure of the zoo, how it would affect student field trips

--concerns over school lunch-room "self-serve" lines--in light of seine flu

Mr. Thomas discussed the following issues with the Board

--Custodial Supervision-and a plan for more localized supervision

--RFP Processes and priorities. The district is currently writing an RFP for custodial services, which should be complete by October. Next the district will be writing RFPs for Transportation and Foodservice--however Mr. Thomas said the district would be meticulous and thorough with the drafting of these RFPs

--The district staff briefly discussed a board policy revision process, which would help to streamline the way policy is written in the district.

--ten day enrollment figure presented--currently we are just slightly over 40,000 students--which represents less of a drop in enrollment than had been projected.

--updated timeline and initial drawings of New District Administrative Offices was presented to the board. Tentative schedule as follows:
March 2010-completion of IT infrastructure
November 2010--completion of renovation of floors 4, 3, and 2. Moves of most functions from Garden street would occur between November 2010 and February 2011.

--Cox digital channel 98--The Escambia County School District will be sharing time with the County Commission and other government entities for this channel. The School District will have allotted time seven days per week to broadcast content on this channel, which will reach approximately 30,000 viewers in a three county area. the district is very early in the planning stages on this project.

Meeting adjourned at 4:35

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Anger/Frustration/Angst Over Speech not Being Carried Live

Here's a fiery email sent to me about the Obama Speech, my response below.

>>> XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX 09/08/09 1:18 PM >>>
Shame on you for letting politics and the "crazy righties" dictate the quality of education in this county. My family and I have lived here for about 2yrs and I can tell you after this, we are going to run as far away from this county and this school district as soon as we can! No wonder Florida has the highest drop out rate in the country! Not my daughter! Not is this school district! We will take her to a real school district that will do what is right for the students, not the Republican party. Keep 'em ignorant seems to be the mission plan. If not then who would vote for them?


I remember talking to you on the phone as this whole episode played out recently. I do not know if the email below is directly aimed at me, but I'll assume it is even though as one board member I have ZERO power to do anything in this district on my own (BTW if I did, we would not be raising your property tax rates this coming Tuesday!).

I recognized from the beginning, last Wednesday, that the Obama speech would be an historic event. As the situation progressed, I realized that the sloppy manner in which President Obama and his team at the DOE were rolling the event out only played into the fears and concerns of many about what the speech would contain. (BTW--The Obama team changed the original lesson plans and altered their original position by releasing the speech before it was given.)

Now that the text of the speech has been released and the speech has actually occurred, everyone knows that it was a fantastic, inspirational address. Mr. Obama is an extremely intelligent, articulate, and charismatic leader. I actually AGREE with Obama on some education issues, including Merit Pay for teachers and better, more rational and meaningful evaluation of tenured employees. I like the person, even though many of his domestic policies run counter to my personal fiscal conservatism. But many in the district, including myself, respect this President and his leadership. As a matter of fact, we (at the district) have the speech linked up at our website so parents can watch it, and the Superintendent is encouraging schools to show the speech in the next few days.

So, think what you will of me, but as one board member I tried to get the district to come out with clear guidance on how the speech would be handled----- this way everyone would be happy. I just wanted to keep all parents in the loop and let the parents decide if they wanted their children to watch. If you want to run me into the ground for that then you may have much bigger personal issues to contend with--much more important than any misguided ideas about what you percieve about this district's (alleged) shortcomings.

Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Monday, September 7, 2009

President Barack Obama's Prepared Remarks for an Address to The Nation's School Children Sept. 8, 2009

Nothing but good stuff in this speech. Full transcript from the White House Website here and below.

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event

Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

We Can Keep The Millage Rate Steady--If We Have the Will

My position on raising the tax rate on Escambia County property owners remains the same—we should not do it at this time.

With historic levels of unemployment, business failures, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, and general overall economic malaise in the local area, I just feel strongly that we should do everything in our power to keep the tax rate steady for our struggling local taxpayers. If the value of the tax roll shrinks, then the taxpayers ought to be able to see a corresponding reduction in the tax bill. There should not be a kneejerk disdain at the local level for LOWERING tax burdens on people’s property. Why should we (as a local governmental taxing body) be able to take the same amount of money from local taxpayers as we did last year when many of our taxpayers and businesses have seen their expenses rise and their incomes fall? Why? I don’t think we should.

We ought to lower our portion of the millage calculation (just as we did last year at this time) and hold the rate steady at 7.72 Mills. Constantly blaming Tallahassee for any and everything is becoming a tired refrain, almost to the point of being a red herring. Sure the legislators are making us raise more locally, sure they have cut our capital budgets, sure things are tight with the overall state budget, but—Tallahassee has nothing to do with our historic habit of levying the MAXIMUM local discretionary capital outlay millage. Last year was the first time in nearly 20 years that Escambia County levied less than the full maximum capital outlay millage—and I’m proud that the board led the effort to see that happen. I’m trying to do it again this year, because I feel in my heart it can be done and that as a local taxing body we need to be more accountable to our boss, the taxpayers. (Remember, the local taxpayers who also made us one of only 16 districts statewide out of 67 to have a voter approved ½ cent sales tax levy for school capital projects—remember them??) So let’s see, we’ve levied the maximum amount of local discretionary (READ: OPTIONAL) millage for capital outlay for nearly 20 years, and we’ve been one of only a handful of districts (less than 23% statewide) who have benefitted from a ½ cent sales tax for school capital projects for the last 12 years—but now, when we are in historic recession—we’re told we CANNOT give any back on the capital side by reducing our portion of the funding formula to ease back the discretionary millage by .14 mills?? To quote John Stossel “Give Me a Break!” We can and should do it—but I guess it is just easier to blame Tallahassee and bump up the total millage rate. None of our neighboring counties, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, or Walton, has levied the maximum capital outlay millage in any of the last five years. See this comparison of the levies for a five year period from all school districts.

Here’s what else gets to me—I’m told over and over by some people that “Look, most people are going to be paying no more than they paid last year, so that’s not a tax increase!”

Or this one “It’s only a few bucks more per $100,000 in property value—it’s no big deal and people can afford it!”

I believe statements like these are arrogant and insensitive, and anyone who would say these sorts of things must be totally removed from the reality of the severe recession we are experiencing. Anyone who thinks this way should drive around town and see the large number of businesses that have been shuttered, as well as the many empty commercial buildings and vacant homes for sale. The Economy locally is in terrible shape, unemployment nears 11%, a second wave of foreclosures is coming, credit is still locked up, and many businesses are barely hanging on--- so now is not the time for raising taxes on businesses, individuals, or anyone!—no matter the good intentions. You cannot tax your way out of a sour economy.

I respond to those who believe that taxpayers can shoulder additional tax rate increases by giving this analogy:

Imagine for a moment that we’re all paying $2.50 a gallon for gas, knowing that for every $2.50 per gallon there is about $.30 cents in taxes built -in. Now, let’s say the price for crude oil drops, production and refining costs go down, and in many other areas the price per gallon at the pump drops to $2.30 per gallon. Now imagine that you pull up to your favorite local filling station (thinking that you’re going to be seeing a $2.30 price per gallon sign at the station—meaning you are going to pay LESS) and find that the price has dropped to only $2.49 per gallon. Imagine if you saw a sign on the pump that said.. “Due to local governmental revenue shortfalls, our local tax rate per gallon has risen--but our total price per gallon is now only $2.49 per gallon, so be happy knowing that you are still paying less than before, and have a nice day”
Would you feel okay with this? I don’t think so.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Pro-Obama Speech Email and Response

Today I received the following email about President Obama's planned speech on Tuesday to the nation's students:

>>> 9/4/2009 3:29 PM >>>

Dear Superintendent Thomas and Mr. Bergosh:

I am very disheartened to learn that President Obama's address will not be shown in our public schools. Whether one agrees politically with President Obama or not he is still the democratically elected President of the United States of America. Both Presidents Bush addressed school children and I am sure that their addresses were watched by our school children. I am embarrassed by the districts partisan views and lack of respect for the office of the Presidency. I voted for you, Mr. Thomas, I will not make that mistake again.



My Response to this individual was the following:


Thanks for taking the time to email your concerns regarding the speech. I have fielded numerous calls and emails on this subject and I must say the entire issue has taken on a life of it's own--even on the national level.

I understand your concerns and I share them as a parent of an elementary, middle, and high schooler in this district. I believe that part of the problem with this whole thing is that the Department of Education rolled this idea out in very choppy fashion--and did not put local districts into the loop with adequate lead time to prepare and coordinate this event properly with parents.

I respect our President, Barack Obama, and I feel he is an extremely articulate and intelligent leader--however in this endeavor his advisors left him out to dry.

His advisors put together lesson plans with odd objectives including "writing letters to yourself to describe how you can help Barack Obama" among other unusual activities. At the time this "event" was scheduled, the Department of Education indicated that the text of Mr. Obama's 15-20 minute speech would not be circulated. (Since that time, the White House has changed their position on this and has stated that a copy of the remarks will be posted on the White House website on Monday--they have also altered the study guides)

And the Director of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan, did accurately describe the event on the DOE website as historic and unprecedented--because it is. George H.W. Bush in 1991 did speak to Junior and Senior High School Students from a Texas High School--but I'd be willing to bet that more than a few days notice was given to schools in that instance, the text of the speech was released in advance, and the event was not beemed into every classroom computer along with "study guides."

Reagan's address to N.C. high School Students at the White House in 1986 was not accompanied by "study guides" either, was not hyped up like this event, and was a two-way dialogue, question and answer session.

No, this Tuesday's event will be a little bit different.

So numerous bad decisions by others at the national have led to the perception that our district is somehow disrespecting the President; When in actuality we are respecting the Parents of children in this district by moving ahead cautiously.

Bottom line--this is an exciting, historic event, and I think every student should have the opportunity to watch, but we need to respect the wishes of those parents who do not want their children to participate--I think that is a fair way ahead.

By the way-I hope you were able to attend the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX----The turnout was fantastic and the energy and enthusiasm level XXXXXXXXXXX was electric!


Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

One Board Member's Email Response about the Obama Speech


I do not speak for the superintendent, but since you sent this email to me I'll respond as the constitutionally elected Board Member that I am.

I did not know about this event until Late Tuesday, and since then events have unfolded quickly. After I researched the plan for the speech Wednesday, I put an entry on my Blog aout the event--as it is unprecedented, unique, and historic.

As I began to read the associated study materials on the Dept. of Education Website, I began to feel uneasy with it. Not only as a school board member--but as a parent of an elementary, middle, and high schooler in this district. What is the point of asking my 4th grade son to "write a letter to himself explaining how he can support Barack Obama"?? Seemed a little bit odd. I respect Barack Obama, I respect his office, and he is exceptionally articulate and intelligent. That said, I do not agree with many of his policies. His office is not releasing the speech in advance, and as a parent I ought to have the option of filtering what is fed to my fourth grader by a politician.

So yesterday I called Paul Fetsko, Superintendent of Curriculum, at 8AM, to express my concern and suggest that district Parents be able to, without penalty, "opt out" of the event if they so chose. Mr. Fetsko said to me that only certain classes would be watching the speech, and only if the particular course was directly alligned (curriculum wise) with what the President was going to be talking about. I subsequently attempted to arrange a special board meeting to address the issue, but as one board member and not the chairman I was advised by the board attorney that I could not call for a special meeting on my own.

I spoke to the Superintendent about this issue and he repeated what Mr. Fetsko had stated--that viewing would be very limited and that teachers that do show this to their classes will have to justify this to their site principals.

When I suggested to the superintendent that we send home permission slips and/or allow parents to send notes in with their children requesting that their children not watch the speech--that idea was met with resistance. When I suggested that we announce that no schools in the district would be showing the event live--rather the district would tape it and review for later use (with parent permission), that idea also met with resistance by the superintendent. So instead, we are giving nebulous guidance to our community about precisely the policy is--and frankly I'm disappointed by that.

The bottom line as I see it is that for the most part the district will not be showing this speech live, but that some teachers will have the lattitude to show the video. I'm certain that this video will be airing live in some schools, probably in more schools than district administrators realize, because it is an historic event.

But, on this particular issue, I believe that as a district we have done a poor job of clearly communicating exactly what the policy will be. I have fielded numerous calls and emails from parents, and I am trying to convey to them that the video would not be shown to a vast majority of students, but I cannot say that with 100 percent certainty based upon what I've heard the last 24 hours.

For this event, in my opinion, we should have put the parents more "in the loop" and let them decide--- but we're not doing that.

Thanks for the email.


Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Obama Speech Emails

CC: ""
Subject: Obama T.V. Speech
Attachments: Mime.822 (3495 bytes) [View] [Save As]

Dear Malcolm;
I am a parent of 3 children in the Escambia County school system. I am on
the board of XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and a Vice President for the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. It is my opinion that I should have sole discretion
as to whether my children hear this closed circuit speech from President Obama.
I did not vote for him and am leary of anything he may say. If the School Board
has a released copy of what his speech will cover, I would be willing to review
and sign that my child may view or my child may not view. If parents are NOT
given the choice, I feel this is an infringement upon my rights and my
children's rights. My children will not attend school until after the speech has
aired. I would like to be provided with the times the speech will be given.
Having said that, I would sincerely hope that you, as our Superintendent, would
understand that this is a politically charged time and we should shield our
children from any negative under currents. I am firmly and steadfastly against
this. Please respond. Thank you. XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX

Or this One:

Dear Mr. Bergosh,

Are the Escambia County Schools airing the President's speech in the classroom? If so, are the children going to be required to view it and participate in his suggested study guide and acitivities? We are concerned that his speech is going to be geared more toward his political agenda rather than a "Pep Talk" to encourage our children. We are very involved in our children's education and do not feel that it is his place to dictate what our children listen to or study when it is mainly for his benefit. Please let us know what the plan is for XXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX High School and XXXXXXXXXXX High School as we have children attending these schools. We appreciate your dedication to our district and know that your priority is the well being of our children. Thank you so much for all you do. We are looking forward to hearing from you soon.



or this one, apparently in support of the speech:

Mr. Thomas,

I expected better of you than this.

“We do not let teachers just watch television. It’s going to have to fit with what they’re teaching the children,” said Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. “We’re in a district where our students struggle. We have bell-to-bell instruction, and we don’t want to waste a single minute.”

Although this type of arrogance may play well with the majority of the escambia County voters, it shows a real lack of understanding as to what can constitute education.

I am a registered Republican, and as such, certainly don't agree with most of what passes as leadership from the current administration, but we should respect the office of the Presidency. The example that you are setting for the children is short sighted.

I'm beginning to think we are in a district where students struggle because the leadership is less than adequate. To think that a 20 minute speech would take away from my children's education is absurd. You are a little too full of yourself!


It is your school. The disrespect that the supperintendent is showing you is terrible. Do you have the title, but not the power? If a 20 minute speech is going to derail the school year, we need to pull the plug on public education in Escambia County.


I have also had several calls on the subject but the overriding theme seems to be that Parents want the option on whether or not to participate. If, as a district, we do not come out with clear guidance on this Sept. 8 event, I think we will experience a lot of absent students on that day.

Concerns Grow as Obama Speech Date Approaches

I have received several phone calls and emails on the issue of the President's upcoming speech to Students on Sept. 8th. Many are frustrated about not knowing what will be said, and several have said they do not think it is appropriate. For my part, I think parents should be able to choose whether or not their children participate in the "event". Upon inquiry to the Superintendent of Curriculum, Paul Fetsko, I have been told that most schools will not air the event live. Here is Mr. Fetsko's email guidance:

>>> Paul Fetsko 9/3/2009 9:23 AM >>>

Principals, we have had a number of telephone calls regarding the forthcoming television address scheduled for September 8th by President Obama. Specifically asking if we are going to cancel instructional activities to require viewing by our students. The answer is no.
The districts' recommendation to you is to permit the viewing by students who are in classes that have a direct academic connection to this event such as Civics, American Government, possibly SGA. Please remember that teachers must submit the media form to you prior the airing of this event. That form is available from media services and it documents the link between the program and the class objective(s). If teachers are unable to do this in advance the IT department will record the program so teachers may preview the content to determine if there are instructional ties to classroom objectives. Then teachers can play the program in it's entirety or segments which correlate to the topic for that class.
Again, you should not interrupt the instructional momentum at your site to view the speech if it is not directly aligned with the instructional calendars currently in place at your school.
If you should have questions please contact this office or your level director for clarification.
Paul Fetsko

Paul H. Fetsko, Asst. Supt. for Curriculum
Escambia County School District
Phone: 850/429-2918
FAX 850/469-6371
215 W. Garden Street Room 116
Pensacola, FL 32502

I think for many parents I've communicated with over the last day and a half, the larger concern is what will be said in the speech. Within the last 12 hours, the national press is reporting that the text of Tuesday's speech will be released in advance by the White House on Monday, Sept. 7. I'm looking forward to reading the speech. My seventh grade son, who attends Brown Barge Middle, has stated that his class will be doing the White House lesson, that they have already looked at the questions.

I think that the timing of the speech, which coincides with lunch period for many district students, might result in the speech being broadcast to many students in many schools.

My major concern is that if this is going to happen---Parents should be kept in the loop and given the option about whether or not their child may participate.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

President Obama to Give Historic Speech to All U.S. Students Tuesday

From The U.S. Dept. of Education Website:

"In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 — the first day of school for many children across America — he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens..This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation's school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. It will be broadcast live on the White House website 12:00 noon eastern standard time."

read more here

I think this is a good idea and I'm astonished that previous presidents have not done this. My only concern would come if somehow this speech becomes politicized by the president. Already some are wary of this event and are calling for people to keep their children at home on this day.
classroom materials associated with this speech/lesson by the president can be viewed here

This will be interesting--hopefully it will only be on the importance of staying in and finishing school.

We'll all know for sure this coming Tuesday.