Guidelines

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, March 24, 2010

Florida Senate Bill 6 Passes via 21-17 Vote

Word from Tallahassee is that the controversial, lightning rod Senate Bill 6 has passed the full senate via a 21-17 vote, with all Democrats and four Republicans voting against the bill .  Inside sources feel that there is about a 90% chance that this bill will also pass in the House. 

The next step in the process is that SB6 will be attached to a companion house bill (that may or may not be similar in language to SB 6) and a "strike-all" motion will be made, essentially removing all language from the House Bill, and adding the the language from SB6 onto that House Bill's number.  At that point SB 6 will be a House Bill and will be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The vote on this bill by the full house could come as early as next week, due to the fast track this legislation appears to be on and also because the representatives will not be in session for the full five days next week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Florida SB6-Recent History and the Way Ahead--Could SB6 be Passed by the Full Senate This Thursday?

Senate Bill six, the controversial teacher compensation bill that has everyone in Education circles in the State of Florida talking, is quickly making it's way through the Florida senate.  Several inside sources now report that passage of Senate Bill six looks "highly likely."

On Friday, March 19th, the senate ways and means committee heard the bill, added some amendments, and passed the measure along party lines via a 15-8 vote.  Significant ammendments to the bill  were added by the Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means in order  to:


• Eliminate the millage levy from the bill (I'm very relieved to hear this--I hated the idea of an additional millage levy penalty)


• Designate a performance fund within the FEFP for each district and charter school that is equal to five percent of the total state, local and federal FEFP funds per district and charter school:


o Provide that the fund may be used to implement the provisions of the bill, including the development and acquisition of end-of-course exams, development of an appraisal system, and development and implementation of salary schedules that include teacher performance and differential pay;


o Prohibit the use of funds to increase the salary of a person rated on a performance appraisal as unsatisfactory or in need of improvement;


o Require districts and charter schools to set aside sufficient federal grant funds to pay individuals who are paid from federal funds;


o Provide that any funds remaining after a district or charter school has met its requirements may be used for current operations, but unexpended funds revert at the end of the state fiscal year;


o Provide that salary increases from the performance fund are in addition to other salary increases;


o Provide that districts and charter schools that fail to comply with the requirements will have funds withheld from the state FEFP distribution;


• Provide that salary adjustments and increases for instructional personnel and school-based administrators must be based on their performance evaluation;


• Remove the requirement that more than 50 percent of pay must be based on student performance (more than 50 percent of the employee’s performance appraisal must be based on student performance); and


• For school districts that receive a grant of $75 million or more from a private foundation to improve teacher effectiveness, provides a time-limited exception to the requirements for end-of-course assessments, contracts, the performance fund, and performance pay and appraisals (this accommodates Hillsborough County and its grant from the Gates Foundation).


This information was taken from the Senate Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means staff analysis of CS/CS for SB 6, passed by the Committee on Friday, March 19th.

 
SB 6 is headed to the Senate floor today, March 23, for the second reading.  I'm told that the likely result of the second hearing on the senate floor will be that the bill will roll over, be attached to a house bill and sent to the House of Representatives for their consideration/deliberation.  Although no specific companion bill exists yet in the House, SB 6 will likely be attached to House Bill 7037.  The next part of the process involves negotiations between the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.
 
After the House considers the bill, SB 6 could be back on the Senate floor as early as this Thursday, March 25--at which time it may be ultimately voted on and passed.
 
Although divisive, this bill will revolutionize education in the state of Florida if it is passed. The education community accross the nation will be watching this very closely, as this could be a ground-breaking, historic moment. 

The sense that I get from many is that this bill is being pushed through and will ultimately pass because it puts Florida in an even better position to be one of the first recipients of  a piece of President Barack Obama's $4.35 Billion Race to The Top (RTTT) Grant.  Many of this landmark bill's provisions are directly aligned with the vision of  RTTT.
 
Florida is on the cutting edge of education reform, and it is exciting!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Florida Senate Bill 6--Could it Result in a Statewide "Sick-Out" by Teachers?

As I read about Florida SB 6 on the blogs and in the news this afternoon, several things come to mind. Unions hate reform, merit pay, and Senate Bill 6.  The statewide (Democratic Allied) teachers union and many individual teachers blame the "Republican Lawmakers in Tallahassee" for ramming this reform through.  "It's an outrage" seems to be the overriding sentiment.  Funny how it seems perfectly fine for Democrats, at the National level, to Ram the Government takeover of Health Care down the throats of Republicans and the overwhelming majority of American taxpayers.  Yeah, that's okay at the National level, but what the republicans are doing with Senate Bill 6 in florida--that's "at outrage"  Talk about your hypocritical double standard.....It's funny how things can cut two directions.  But, back to SB6...

First off,  there is a lot of misinformation and anti-SB6 spin being thrown out by those that seek to derail this reform effort.  Everyone should read this piece-- which lists the facts vs the myths surrounding SB 6.

I think the editorial by Mike Thomas on merit pay for teachers (a large component of SB6 and President Barack Obama's Race to the Top) In today's Orlando Sentinel really hits the mark.   from the piece:

"Everything the unions have fought against is working.  For decades they have promoted a system in which poor, minority children are neglected, the best teachers are encouraged to go to white suburban schools, excellence is not rewarded and incompetence is not weeded out. There has been no free-market reality check in public education. Too many resources are not targeted to where they will do the most good.  A school district cannot pay more to get a good math or science teacher, even though they are rare commodities, because everybody must be paid the same"

By contrast, the editorial in today's Miami Sun-Sentinel that attempts to marginalize the reforms of senate bill 6 could have been mailed in by the FEA; This editorial was blatantly pro-union and totally ridiculous. from the piece:

 "No one should mistake the measure linking teacher salaries to student performance on annual tests for a serious effort to reform education. A pointed jab at teacher unions and school districts is more like it."

The Palm Beach Post's "Extra Credit Blog" from Friday afternoon talks about the CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce lending his support to SB6.  The blog discussion on this thread is very interesting with poster number 15 putting the following comment on the board:

"John Abrahams Says:



March 20th, 2010 at 1:04 am


Please start thinking/discussing the beginning of state wide “sick out” days with your colleagues, districts and unions. Our way of striking.Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami/Dade are already discussing options. If we use “sick out” days, were at least covered financially until those are used up. Even after that, we might lose a couple days of pay –consider it a furlough (something that many districts plan on doing anyway).
If we need to lose a couple days of income in order to be heard, so be it. I’ll take a week or two hit instead of possibly losing half my income for the next 20 years. NE states need to strike only a couple of days before demands are met Here is your teachable moment - turn something horrible into a way of receiving a way overdue list of recognitions - benefits, salary, and most important support for the wonderful job we do everyday.
You in?"

Would good teachers really consider such a childish, fiscally irresponsible stunt?  all I can say is WOW!  I wonder if such a stunt would be tolerated, as essentially it would be a "pseudo-strike" --Illegal in Florida.  I wonder how teachers in counties like Escambia, where a majority of teachers are not members of the union, would react to a sick-out?

The most important question I would ask any teacher who would participate in something like this is "What about your class, what about your students?"

Would the teacher's union condone such behavior by their members?.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Board Approves Camelot Contract via a 4-1 Vote

Tonight the Escambia County School District approved a 1 year contract with Camelot Schools of Pennsylvania, LLC.

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and his staff recommended that the board approve this contract,  The effect of which allows Camelot to take over some services and programs the district offers to at risk and some special needs students.  

The Camelot program will serve to consolidate ESEAL and A.V. Clubbs (at an estimated minimum savings of $1.5 million annually for the taxpayers of Escambia County). 

More good news--the contract between the District and Camelot is a one year term with multiple one year renewal options, which will allow the district to keep this organization under a really high level of scrutiny. If at the end of one year the company is not performing as expected, the district can choose to end the agreement. 

the proposed programs that Camelot will bring to our district emphasize discipline, parental engagement, increased attendance, and increased student achievement.  These items are, quite frankly, just what many of these students desperately need.

In spite of the positives, several district employees contacted the board to urge that the contract not be approved.  The scathing accusations and unfounded innuendos used to try to derail this initiative were extremely disappointing.  I can't help but wonder how many of those persons (and entities) opposed to this deal would ever agree to a one year, performance based contract with options as Camelot has in this instance.  (INSERT SOUND OF CRICKETS CHIRPING)  Answer-would never happen.

The issue of this contract and Camelot schools, covered at length during a marathon school board workshop last Friday morning, had become a growing, contentious, and festering issue over the last several days, with unfounded accusations being thrown out by those opposed to this progressive and forward thinking move by the district.

Fortunately, calmer and cooler heads prevailed, the "flack" thrown out there by those opposed was tossed aside by the leaders of our district, and the board ultimately voted 4-1 to trust the Superintendent and his staff on this recommendation. 

It was nice to see the entire board discuss, debate, contemplate, and ultimately act decisively on this matter--and now the students and taxpayers will benefit.

I'm excited to watch this successful, proven company go to work in our district to improve the lives of our students!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Florida SB 6-Could this and SBs 2 and 4 be Dali's "Thermometer of Success"?

“The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.”

Salvador Dali

This quote from the late Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali could be used to describe the current state of education reform efforts in Florida. As transformative education bills move through the legislature, (SB 2, class size reduction modification, SB4, H.S. Graduation rigor and assessment, and SB 6, Teacher assessment, compensation and tenure overhaul) some seek to derail forward progress for inane, ideological reasons—putting continued increases in student achievement at risk.

In 1999, Governor Jeb Bush’s A-Plus Plan became a reality, much to the dismay of teacher’s unions and entrenched special interests at that time. A Google search of news articles from the 1999-2001 era clearly displays the angst and gnashing of teeth the special interests and teachers unions displayed toward Bush and his reforms back then. “Education in Florida was going to be ruined” was the overriding sentiment prior to and just after enactment of A+. “The Sky was falling, the Sky was falling.” The sky did not fall, though; thankfully, most of Mr. Bush’s plans were embraced and now Florida is steadily improving every year.

In the decade since enactment of the A-plus plan—Florida education has sky-rocketed forward, to the point where our Florida schools are now ranked eighth of fifty states according to a recent report published by Education Week. An honest explanation, or at least a partial explanation, has to assign some credit to the accountability and reforms put into place by Governor Bush. These reforms, carried through by Governor Crist and executed around the state by local districts, schools, and teachers, continue to improve education in our state for our students.

At a recent press conference the Florida Education Association president said “Florida Schools have made great strides…our learning gains are the envy of other states”—yet his organization vehemently opposed Gov. Bush’s reforms of 1999— and many of Jeb Bush’s policies (along with hard work by students) helped to produce Florida’s current successes. So that’s where many rational thinkers see a striking disconnect. Unions opposed reform, yet when reforms were enacted despite union opposition and these reforms worked, unions claim credit for the resultant success? How can someone have it both ways and hope to have any credibility with the average Florida taxpayer?

Now comes 2010 and a bold new course in education is being set, led at the national level by President Barack Obama. At the state level, several very important bills are being contemplated; These three bills deal with a common sense rebalancing of class size, a common sense increase of relevance, assessment, and rigor for H.S. graduation, and a common sense prioritization on achievement and effectiveness for employee compensation--- (SB 2, SB 4, and SB 6). As one might imagine based upon recent Florida education reform history- the entrenched special interests (AKA the guardians of the status quo) are coming out of their bunkers, lining up in opposition, and threatening lawsuits. What a sad spectacle.

These same groups openly oppose President Obama’s “Race To The Top,” (RTTT) yet Florida is on the cusp of winning a part of this historic Federal RTTT grant (despite their objections) because Florida policy makers and average Florida taxpayers want educational reform.

It appears as if Floridians are tired of the same old lame and shopworn refrain from these out–of-touch with reality, bunker mentality practitioners that cry “we’re only funded 31st out of 50 states—we need more money.” For these special interest people it is all about money. But even a fifth-grader knows this--  in education it is not only about money—if this were the case, the best funded U.S. school districts would be among the highest performing, and we all know this is a fallacy (see Washington D.C., Detroit, and NY Public Schools)

Conversely, according to those who have it badly wrong on education priorities, school districts and states that do not fund lavishly should be near the bottom with respect to student achievement. Again, their assumptions prove to be incorrect. (see Florida, Utah, North Dakota, and South Dakota schools’ per pupil funding levels) It is not just about dollars spent, and the average taxpaying American knows that—but some want to keep that “we need more money” banter up until they have everyone dumbed-down enough to believe it.

Think of it this way--

Who in their right mind would ever use a “more dollars spent for same item = better quality” rationale in real life?

In real life, people (like most taxpayers who actually work hard for their money) try to find the best quality at the best price—the best value.

Who would ever watch their neighbor “A” pay $300 for groceries at store “X”-even if the same or similar items could be had by Neighbor “B” for $200 at store “Y”? Who would ever argue, in this hypothetical, that neighbor A had it right and Neighbor B needed to “fund his store to the level of Neighbor A”—it simply wouldn’t happen in real life, it does not make sense economically, and it shouldn’t happen in government spending---even for education. (Right now Florida is getting a great value for it’s educational buck)

Taxpayers are hurting and they want Florida to keep spending wisely; they want Florida to keep accountability high, and keep moving our education system forward-- recognizing there are limitations on funding levels due to this double-dip recession we appear to be approaching. The average Florida taxpayer appreciates our system living within its means just like the average Florida taxpayer has to live within his/her means.

Will SB 2, SB 4, and SB 6 be able to survive the onslaught of negativity form the special interests?

All that can be said with certainty is that, eleven years ago, Floridians may have pondered a similar question about Jeb Bush’s A+ plan.

We all know that the A+ plan passed and Education in Florida has moved forward in stunning fashion ever since.

Will the memories of A+ be factored-in when SB 2, SB4, and SB 6 eventually head to a vote?

We’ll all have to wait and see.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teachers are Upset About SB6

I've received several emails from one group of High School Reading teachers on the subject of Senate Bill 6.  This Bill, if passed, will overhaul and drastically change the way teachers are paid and evaluated in the State of Florida.  I have concerns about this bill, but there are some aspects that I find very appealing, so I have mixed feelings at this point. 

The bill passed the senate Prek-12 Education Committee yesterday by a 6-2 vote.

a very informative analysis of this bill can be found here

Here is one of the emails that I received:  (my response below)

"Mr. Bergosh,



I respectfully disagree with the tying of teachers' job security or pay with students' performance. My argument is based on my experience with both elementary and high school teaching. I have taught at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXX. When I earned my master's degree, I moved to XXXXXXXXXXXX. I teach 11th and 12th grade FCAT retakers, levels 1 and 2. It takes a great deal to motivate some of my students to come to school, much less erase negative feelings about standardized tests enough to get them to believe they can pass. One of my students mentioned he was the only one in his family that was not on probation. I am not the only retake teacher, sadly enough. We are all trying to convince our students they can succeed. That is my first priority. If I can bring them up one level, I feel hopeful. I love my students and my job. Don't give the power simply to the numbers.


Thank you,"


Here is another one:


"It amazes me how people can make laws that have dire consequences on the education of our youth. It is already extremely difficult to entice our young people to either enter the teaching profession, or to remain in it. With the passage of legislation of this type we will continue to lose more talented professionals which in turn will adversely affect scores of children. If your objective is to destroy public education, this is certainly another great idea, along with senseless testing. I encourage you to spend time teaching in a classroom if you truly care about children so that you can make informed decisions about the education of our children."


Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXX, NBCT

XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Reading



My Response:


XXXXXXXX,



Thank you for the input. I've been looking into these bills for several days now, and I'm hopeful that the best parts of each bill can be saved and that the worst parts will be ditched.


My major concern--my overriding fear--is that this is another power grab by the state which will further erode "local control" of Florida District School Boards.


Another huge concern that I have is the mandated additional millage levy provision, and associated language that states that a district has "violated state law by not adopting a pay scale that emphasizes student achievement" (paraphrased). I'm concerned that many Florida District School Boards will simply be unable to overcome Union objections, obstacles, lawsuits, and grievances-- and actually comply with this law--- and the taxpayers will be the ones paying the price with more taxes and additional millage levies.


These bills will be the subject of a portion of a special discussion workshop meeting with the School Board tomorrow afternoon (Thursday, Mar. 11) at 3 PM at the McDaniel Building downtown. We would be delighted to have you come and speak to the board and voice your opinions.

Thanks again for your input, and thanks for what you do for the students of Escambia County!


Sincerely,
Jeff Bergosh

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Huge Changes May Be in the Works For Florida Teachers....

Two new Education Related Senate Bills are advancing through the Legislature in Tallahasse, Senate Bills 4 and 6.

These bills deal extensively with how teachers are evaluated and how teachers gain professional service contract protections. The bills also call for more stringent end of course exams for students and aim for teacher pay to be set in large part based upon the achievement of individual teachers' students. The bills are an attempt to align Florida with some of the tenets of the Federal Race to the Top Education reform program, an initiative to which Florida has recently been named a finalist.

A Miami Herald article on the subject appropriately captures the essence of how these bills will be controversial.  From today's Miami Herald:

"The Senate bill essentially guts current protections for classroom teachers and establishes more stringent requirements for end-of-year exams and teacher evaluations. Starting in July 2010, all newly hired teachers in public and charter schools would be on probationary contracts for the first year, and on annual contracts after that. The sixth annual contract would be awarded only if teachers meet stiffer guidelines for evaluations and certifications.

``This isn't to punish anybody,'' said Thrasher, R-Orange Park. ``It's to make sure our classrooms have the best teachers possible.'' "

The statewide Teacher's Unions are already aligned against these bills-just as they are against President Barack Obama's Race to The Top.  There will be fights throughout the state of Florida if and when these bills are enacted.
 
While I personally agree with the lion's share of what is being proposed in these bills--I am concerned that more of an individual school board's authority/autonomy is being taken away.
 
I am also extremely concerned about the proposed  tax penalty provision contained in SB6-- particularly the language that would essentially say that a local board "violated the law" if  they fail to tie teacher pay to student performance. (see SB6 line 949, section 8 a )  I'm concerned that many boards will not have the will to overcome local teacher union opposition to this initiative.  I saw this play out first hand  when I strongly advocated for Escambia County's participation in the Merit Award Plan--the union eventually won that battle and killed the MAP locally (and statewide, eventually).
 
Although I am a strong supporter of Merit Pay and strong accountability--these bills have aspects that concern me greatly.  Both of these bills have some positive ideas, but there are some rough edges that need to be rounded and smoothed over, in my opinion.
 
Both of these bills will be the subject of board discussion at the Escambia County School Board's monthly discussion workshop this coming Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 3:00 PM in the Boardroom of the McDaniel Building downtown.  Public input and participation is welcome and encouraged.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Could President Obama Speak at PHS Graduation this May?

What an intriguing question and the answer to this question is, yes (maybe).

The White House has announced plans to hold a “Race to the Top high School Commencement Challenge”
And Pensacola High School just might have the right stuff to get a Presidential visit in May.

From iVillage:

“The White House and the Department of Education have launched The Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, which asks students to "show how they are making great strides on personal responsibility, academic excellence and college readiness" for the chance to have President Barack Obama give a speech at graduation this spring.”Complete article here


I’m told that the freshman class President and Vice President at PHS are going to submit an application to have Barack Obama Speak at PHS commencement this May. They are doing this for the seniors and for the school—even though as freshmen they won’t necessarily be the ones hearing from the President-- if they even win the competition.

The application consists of four questions and an optional data questionnaire. There is also an option to create a video presentation as well—which I’m certain PHS will do.

See President Obama’s video on this competition here

View the questions and submittal form here

Obviously PHS will be competing with thousands of other high schools from around the country to win a visit by the president. It is my understanding that the district will support this application by PHS and will assist the students with their submittal.

PHS has some compelling reasons that might give it an edge in the competition.

--H.S. Football state champions---but also state Academic Brain Bowl Champions

--H.S. Girls Basketball Team-- state runner up
( Excellence at academics and athletics)

--International Baccalaureate program that serves the entire county
(Distinguished numerous times over the last decade as a top 100 H.S. in America by U.S. News and World Reports)

--Diverse student demographic makeup

--Freshman class President that has been honored as a state History Fair winner and a national History Fair finalist.

--big recovery from Devastating Hurricane Ivan (Gymnasium recently rebuilt)


It would be an honor to have the President of the United States come to the PHS commencement; Even if some disagree with his policies--he still has the title of President of the United States--and for him to come and speak here in person--would be huge for this community---it will be exciting to watch the competition unfold!
Good Luck PHS!