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, October 27, 2009

PNJ Merit Pay Story--What Details did not Make the Cut

Rebekah Allen from the PNJ wrote a very articulate story in today's Pensacola News Journal regarding the issue of Merit Pay.

For the most part, I thought the piece was very well written and balanced.

But several Key issues were missing from the piece that could have made it even better, in my opinion.

Most importantly among these "left out" issues is the fact that Merit Pay for teachers is being advocated by the leaders of both parties. Republicans and conservatives have long been advocates for Merit Based pay for teachers. The nation's most powerful Democrat, President Barack Obama, and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are both strongly advocating merit pay for teachers based in part on student achievement. This very important fact has never once made it into any of the numerous pieces the PNJ has done on the subject of Merit Pay, and I do not understand why this is...


Why mention that 500 teachers opted out in the first year without a mention of the fact that many fewer (only 340) opted out the second year? Fewer teachers opting out the second year equals more teachers interested in participating in MAP.

--Why not link our Union approved plan in the electronic version of the PNJ, so the readers can look it over? I'll link it here from the Teacher's Union website.

--Why not ask the union representative why she is not sure of "what official position to take"--when our current MAP plan was developed in cooperation with her union? Did they help develop a plan that suddenly they do not like anymore?? What??

--why not go back to some of the teachers who spoke in favor of the MAP plan, like the former Escambia Teacher of the Year who earned her merit bonus in 2008 and spoke very favorably of the MAP plan in an earlier PNJ article.

--why not mention the fact that Escambia's charter schools like Byrneville and Pensacola Beach Elementary School are utilizing Merit Pay, as are the charter schools in 30 Florida school districts?

--Why not mention the fact that Superintendent Thomas has said publicly on numerous occasions and during his campaign that he supports Merit Pay, if money is available to administer it and the measurements are fair?

Overall, having the pro and con discussion about Merit Pay is a healthy conversation to have, but all of the details and facts should be given, this way the reader can formulate an opinion with the benefit of all of the information at hand. Even given limited space, the above issues are crucial to the debate locally and should have made it into the final version of this story in my opinion.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Minutes of School Board Meeting 10-20-2009

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 5:32 PM

All Board Members and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas present.

Seven Speakers addressed the board during Public Forum

1 Speaker advocated for the value of Physical Education

1 Speaker spoke about district issues regarding the etiquette of flying the flag

Carissa Bergosh, NAS Pensacola School Liaison Officer, spoke about upcoming events in our schools

3 Speakers addressed the board on issues of employee compensation, and their perception of the district’s fund balance figures being incorrect

1 Speaker addressed the board and complained that her son’s Individualized Education Plan is not being met satisfactorily.

Pledge of Allegiance led by PHS IB Junior Amanda Patton

PTA Presentation—given by Kathy Lasky

Stellar Employee Recognition—Valerie Hassell, an 18 year employee of the district, currently serving as Administrative assistant for the Physical Education, Health, Wellness, and Driver’s Education Department.


Safe Schools Week—Approved 5-0

Emerald Coast Honor Flight Month—Approved 5-0

Ashley Bodmer gave the half cent sales tax update

Rule adoptions:

Revisions and Amendments to the District School Board Student Progression Plan, 6Gx17-7.09 Approved 5-0

Permission to Advertise:

Notice of Intent to Advertise to Amend School District Rule 6Gx17-2—Human Resource Services Approved 5-0 (Note: this item was amended at the table to re-strike out page 6, item (f).

5 sets of September 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

(Entire Consent Agenda was meticulously covered and discussed at length during two thorough school board workshops held during the afternoon and early evening of 10-15-2009 and the morning of 10-16-2009)

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

Student recommendations:
20 Students disciplined as follows:

16 students expelled
4 Students Suspended pending outcome of criminal case

Infractions included:

10 Drug possession
2 battery
3 robbery w/ a firearm (off-campus)
2 possession of a weapon
3 fighting

Note: The parent of one of the students expelled spoke to the board and requested that the board not vote to expel her daughter. This student went before a hearing officer and the hearing officer’s recommendation was for expulsion. The board voted 5-0 to accept the recommended order

3 Employee Recommendations by Superintendent approved unanimously by board, to include:

1 Employee terminated
1 Employee suspended without pay for 1 day
1 Employee suspended without pay pending conclusion of criminal case

Meeting adjourned at 6:37PM.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Merit Award Plan (MAP) Deadline for 2010-2011 School Year is 31 January

With the turbulence the State of Florida's budget has experienced over the last few years, and with the precarious (so-called) economic recovery stalling over Florida, it seems highly unlikely that employee raises will be a reality this coming year for ECSD teachers and support staff. I'm not giving up entirely on the idea of finding a way to give our employees a raise, however our budget realities do not bode well for any salary increases.

With this gloomy scenario as a backdrop, Escambia County has now officially left $4.2 million dollars on the table that could have been used to pay bonuses to some of our employees who meet the program guidelines outlined in Escambia County's approved Merit Award Plan (MAP). Our county is one of the few in Florida who were able to negotiate a plan with our union and achieve state approval. Our EEA Union approved plan is here.

School reformers, Conservatives, and even some moderate Democrats are on board with the idea of merit pay for teachers based in part on student test scores. President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan have both openly advocated for merit pay based in part on student test scores. Our union and the district worked collaboratively on our plan, and while not perfect--the plan is good. (If we keep looking for that elusive unicorn in the forest [AKA "perfection"] before we act, we will never get anything done.) For those who are absolutely, 100%, completely ideologically opposed--we have a voluntary opt-out mechanism wherby these individuals can choose not to participate. But for everyone else--how about a $2,000.00 check for being a great teacher and leader in your school during the 2010-2011 school year? It's not a raise but at least it is something. For the 08-09 School Year, more than $32 Million was allocated statewide, (including some to Escambia County's charter schools Byrneville and Pensacola Beach Elementary) But traditional Schools in Escambia County and their teachers got $Zero.

According to Kathy Hebda, of the State Department of Education, Our district has already missed the deadline for this year 2009-2010, and we only have until January 31st to notify the state if we intend to participate in MAP for 2010-2011. We need to act quickly for our employees.

If we do not decide to participate in MAP for 2010-2011, Or if we decide by proxy to not participate by blowing off the deadline, the $4.2 Million we have already left on the table by not rewarding employees for the 08-09 and 09-10 school years will become $6.3 million.

Over the next three months, I intend to lobby heavily for Escambia County's participation in this program--because it is the right thing to do for our best employees.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Florida School Boards Association Draft 2010 Legislative Platform

The Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) lists the following on their website under "About FSBA":

"The Florida School Boards Association, Inc. (FSBA) is a nonprofit corporation representing all school board members in Florida. FSBA has been the collective voice for Florida school districts since 1930 and is closely allied with other educational and community agencies to work toward improvement of education in Florida.


Each year the FSBA takes input from the roughly 360 School Board members throughout the state, and a legislative platform is developed.

The 2010 draft platform can be seen here

Selected representatives from each district compromise the platform committee, which distills information and input from the various individual board members who submit suggested edits. Eventually, a platform is finalized.

While not 100% perfect, getting the 360 or so elected board members from around the state to totally agree on every aspect of a legislative agenda is impossible. I am in agreement with a lion's share of the draft platform, and I strongly agree with many of the items on the platform. My chief areas of disagreement come when on the platform the FSBA wants to advocate for the elimination of certain tax exemptions (which equates to a tax increase for many businesses). I also do not agree with the FSBA platform element that seeks the change to the Merit Award Plan (MAP) to a "group award". The MAP is an individual award and School Recognition Funds are the group award. (Ironically, the School Recognition Funds, paid out of lottery proceeds, serve as a de facto "group award" for schools and their staffs--however this draft 2010 FSBA legilative platform advocates for holding the school recognition program in abeyance?? I neither understand nor do I agree with this apparent contradiction in the platform)

In my opinion, some other areas of the platform also miss the mark; For this reason I am submitting some of my recommendations/suggestions on a form provided for such input and the School Board will be discussing these platform issues at our monthly board discussion workshop this Thurday, October 15, at 3:00 at the Downtown Garden Street office.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend this meeting on Thursday to voice their opinions on this or any other subject.