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.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brownsville Property Sale Price Agreed Upon at Special Meeting

After twisting and turning and spinning back and forth like an astronaut trainee in a centrifuge--it looks like the deal to sell the Brownsville property to Friendship Missionary Baptist Church is back on again. 

After much discussion and fanfare this morning at a special meeting of the Escambia County School Board--all of the parties involved  finally settled on a sale price of $1,002,000.00.

The meeting began with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas asking Pastor LuTimothy May and the Church Chairman of the Board if they were prepared to move forward on the deal at the $1,002,000.00  price point.  When the representatives of the church answered Mr. Thomas' query in the affirmative, the agenda item was taken up by the board for action.

Several speakers addressed the board, with the sentiment that the board should consider reducing the price or giving the church the property at a low lease rate.

Mrs. Moultrie spoke passionately in support of the sale, and just when all of the members of the board were about to vote to approve the sale, Rev. May approached the podium and explained that the church had only committed to $800,000.00 and closing costs.  This immediately put the room into a state of panic.

Where would the remaining $200,000.00 come from?

Knowing that the board has the power to amend contracts it has for action (because I asked our attorney for a written opinion on this subject), and sensing that the deal was about to flatline and potentially slip away, I put forward a suggestion that the board take a substantial down payment and allow the church to pay the difference over time with terms.

I did not want to come off like know- it -all Hart Bochner's character (Harry Ellis) from 1988's blockbuster
"Die Hard"  (and I don't think I did because we all know what Hans Gruber did to Harry Ellis when he tried to negotiate.....)but I wanted to insert some common sense and rationality into the discussion--as we were so close to making this thing happen and I did not want to see any more gyrations or histrionics on this negotiation.

Board Chairman Mr. Gerald Boone called for a 15 minute recess to the meeting, and the church officials discussed the unfolding events. When the meeting re-adjourned, an anonymous church donor had apparently stepped up and pledged to cover the remaining $200,000.00 balance to make the deal happen.

After some additional comments from the board, superintendent, and others--the meeting went full circle back to the original agenda item, terms, and price.

The board eventually, in very anti-climactic fashion, voted unanimously to sell the property at Superintendent Thomas' agreed price of $1,002,000.00---all cash at closing.

Now I just hope nothing else changes because I'm ready to move on from this transaction.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

63 of 67 Florida Counties to Support President Obama's $700 Million "Race to the Top"

At last Tuesday's regular meeting of the Escambia County School Board, an important decision was made by our district leadership team. The important item was overshadowed somewhat by a huge turnout in support of the sale of Brownsville Middle School. But after all of the hoopla and speakers--the important decision the School Board made, unanimously, was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stipulating that Escambia County is expressing a willingness to collaborate with state and federal education leaders to embrace badly needed education reforms. These reforms include better, more meaningful teacher evaluations, merit pay, uniform curriculum standards, intensive remediation for chronically low performing schools, and many more important items.

The Miami Herald reports that of 67 Florida Districts, 63 have chosen to move forward in President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top." Florida stands to get up to $700 Million in federal monies to accomplish reforms--if Florida is chosen by the federal government to participate. (which we will be able to do if we can weather the union's push-back against this reform)

It appears, at least initially, that despite loud objections from the Florida State Teachers Union, The FEA, that most County School Boards in this state want to participate. I'm very happy about that. This translates into better opportunities for students locally, statewide, and-- ultimately-- nationwide.

Of course, I am extremely pleased that Escambia has moved forward--and I will do my part to make sure the momentum does not get stifled locally by those who would like to perpetuate the status quo. As I stated in last week's workshop when discussing this MOU--I know it will be vehemently opposed by the union, because they hate merit pay in any form that is not, in their opinion, "perfect"- and the union equally despises any teacher appraisal that requires a significant portion to be based on student achievement data. But what the union members like and dislike should not be the be all, end all---it ought to be about what is best for students and taxpayers long term. Organized teacher's unions worked very dilligently to elect Barack Obama, and Barack Obama is driving this educational reform train. I believe the union should get behind their guy on this one---because Obama's education plan is right on!

But, irregardless of what the union wants, I believe that what Barack Obama and Arne Duncan are proposing through Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith is the right course of action for the students in our state--and I'm wholeheartedly in support. And I'm excited for what we can accomplish.

But I know we are in for a rocky ride trying to get our friends in the union onboard.

I'm energized and ready for the discussions/negotiations.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Brownsville Purchase Offer Formally Withdrawn by Lutimothy May

This letter was sent to Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and members of the Escambia County School Board late yesterday evening, withdrawing the purchase offer for Brownsville Middle School by Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

As of right now, 6:00 AM Friday Morning, it is my understanding that a special meeting has been advertised by the district and that this meeting will be held this Monday morning at 10:00 AM. This could be a short meeting based upon what I'm reading in the letter from Pastor May...

A few thoughts:

I believe today's editorial in the PNJ captures the essence of this whole episode correctly--what a complete mess this has been.

Others who try to assign blame to the district and superintendent for the sale not going through are simply ignorant and have a perception of this deal that is badly wrong. How can we be "strong-arming" the buyer here when we've agreed to give them what they asked? It would be appropriate for these publications to get the facts straight before they print inaccurate portrayals--odds are this won't occur. But back to what is relevant, I still hope an agreement can be reached with Friendship Missionary Church; I do not like to deal in Absolutes. If a deal cannot happen because they were never financially able to handle this deal form the get go, then my hope is that Pastor May and his congregation can move forward from this episode and continue to do great work in Brownsville.

No hard feelings.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Board Will Have Sale of Brownsville Middle Property for Action Monday

After all of the recent up and down, back and forth, off and on positioning among the participants in the sale of the Brownsville Middle School property, it is my understanding that this sale will be in the hands of the School Board at a special meeting at 10:00 AM Monday morning.

Members of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church pleaded with the Board on Tuesday to accept a new lower price for the property, Which Superintendent Malcolm Thomas ultimately did in writing Wednesday.

A special meeting will be advertised for this Monday-at which time the Board will have the contract for consideration (to include amendment/revision of final sale price)

I want to bring this transaction in for a landing and move on to other important issues; This item has been on the agenda numerous times in the last three months and now is the time to close this deal or step back from it and press the "re-set" button.

I met with Lumon and LuTimothy May at the Brownsville property two weeks ago--and I do feel they are the right buyers for this property.

This said, The Board has acted in good faith every step of the way in this transaction--to the point of accepting an 11th hour offer that is essentially "half-off" what this property is worth.

Even though Lumon May said, at Tuesday's public meeting, some things about our district that are simply flat out wrong-- ("Escambia Schools are the worst in the state of Florida" and this whopper "Washington H.S. has the highest rate of AIDS infection in Florida")--I'm willing to forgive and forget and chalk it up to his just getting caught up in the heat of the moment. I'm willing to forgive and forget and vote to accept their offer of $1Million for the property to get this thing done.

They asked for this deal--now the ball is in their court and it is up to them to step up to the plate and buy this property Monday----if they really DO want to follow through with what they said this past Tuesday.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Progressive Cell Phone Policy

From Fox News technology section:

At Wiregrass High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla., students are told to bring their cell phones to class. It's the only school in the state that does that. The principal says most of the 2,000 students have cell phones, and it makes no sense to ban the technology from campus, when it could be used as a teaching tool.

Interesting article about finding a way to embrace the technological advances brought on by Cell Phones. This school is probably giving us a glimpse of what the future will be with respect to cell phones use in schools.

Full article here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

PNJ Story On Escambia Schools' Cell Phone Confiscation Policy Picked up Nationally

This story from Last Sunday's PNJ on the Escambia County School district's new policy on Cell Phones was also picked up, albeit in an abbreviated form, and put into yesterday's print editions of the USA Today.

The story was picked up by the Associated Press and also ran in the Miami Herald and is in the online edition of Education Week. The story was referenced on Yahoo's tech Blog as well.

These other publications are citing the PNJ as the source, but are unfortunately not crediting Rebekah Allen by name for her work developing and writing the original story.

Still, it is pretty cool for Ms. Allen's story to get nationwide coverage. Now let's hope the policy itself proves to be effective.