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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Florida Class Size Compliance: Is it Really as Simple as Saying “We Can’t Afford to Comply?”

It isn’t. Elected constitutional officers cannot blatantly disregard the will of the people, the constitution, and the law. Saying “We cannot come into full compliance, because we cannot afford to” is not a rational legal argument. Florida law speaks to this issue, as Sec. 1001.42(15), lists one of the School Board's duties as:

ENFORCEMENT OF LAW AND RULES.--Require that all laws and rules of the State Board of Education or of the district school board are properly enforced.

                                                                                     The above is fairly succinct and on-point.

Around the State, though, some school districts are saying they might not comply. Other districts, at the urging of their operations, curriculum, and budgeting staffs, are planning to start next school year out of compliance. They will "lean forward" in an attempt to comply.  That is astonishing.  Any Board Members that go along with that or contemplate going along with that line of thinking need to understand the gravity of that position; They should also read about Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and how it may/could eventually morph and be applied to small governmental boards. Unions (and their attorneys) who are enamored with class size hard caps would really like this. The essence of SOX as I read it—Boards of Directors must have oversight and be cognizant. Boards of Directors cannot vote for a policy and then say as a body (or individually) they did not understand the consequences of said policy. If a board of directors vote for a policy (even one that staff feel is the proper way to proceed) then the board owns the culpability if things go awry.

But the even more important and relevant question about open, unabashed non-compliance With Florida Class Size Law is this:

Will the NEA, AFT, FEA and The EEA (and their attorneys) sit idly by while (and if) School Boards across the state of Florida wantonly defy the Florida Constitution? I do not think so-I think they will go after those that blatantly disregard the statute, in court, in the court of public opinion, and at election time. So while we as individual members of the Board may understand the complexities of the issue and the challenges of class size compliance--legally we do not have the luxury of saying “We’ll go ahead and pay the penalty, it’s cheaper.” I discussed this issue at length last week at the school board workshop with my fellow Board Members and Mrs. Donna Waters, General Counsel of the School Board of Escambia County. Mrs. Waters has said the following with respect to the Board’s handling of class size compliance planning:

“it is up to the School Board to see that all laws are being followed by the district. We cannot have a policy which contemplates violation of a law. On any matter approved by the Board, the members must have a good faith reason to believe that the action taken will be in compliance with the law.”

The above is also fairly succinct and on-point.

Mandatory Class Size laws with firm, rigid caps are fiscally irresponsible and I personally do not support them. Research does not support the claims that mandatory class size caps drastically improve student achievement, not until a 15-1 student-teacher ratio is reached. 15-1, by the way, is financially unachievable. Meanwhile, budgets continue to shrink yet additional teachers need to be hired to meet Florida's strict law. At the Elementary level in Escambia County, current projections are that we will be 57 students over the rigid class size cap district- wide. This condition will necessitate the hiring 23 additional elementary teachers district- wide at a cost of over $1Million to meet the letter of the law.

 Does $1Million dollars for 57 students over the cap sound rational to anyone other that the organized Teacher’s Unions, the NEA, FEA,  AFT, and the EEA (and their attorneys)? Of course not.

Taxpayers need to rise up and join forces with the School Boards Association, The Superintendents Association, The Tea Partiers, and anyone who is rational and vote to amend the class size law. The original incarnation of Florida Class Size was pushed vigorously by those with a financial agenda (Unions) and the final phase of compliance will force districts to become draconian in spending decisions—which will negatively impact students.  We need to "right size class size" and pass the class size ammendment on the November ballot.

But in the meantime, we must make every effort to comply with this existing class size law until such time as it is changed.  Period, break, end of text.

This means we must vote, as board members, for policy and staffing that we feel will put our distict into compliance with the law at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

This is America and not an ala carte cafĂ©-- we do not get to pick and choose which laws we follow, we can only do what we can to fix or repeal the bad laws.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Zero Tolerance to be Softened in Escambia County?

Flying under the radar of this year's contentious state legislative session, a change to Florida Law regarding Zero Tolerance has been made. 

Previously, Weapons, Firearms, Bomb-Threats, and Drugs were identified under state statutes as "Zero-Tolerance" infractions--and local boards of education were charged with developing codes of student conduct which addressed these issues as "Zero Tolerance" offenses

The latest version of the state statute removes Drugs from the list and combines Firearms and Weapons into one category.  This latest version requires local districts to   "Define criteria for reporting to a law enforcement agency any act that occurs whenever or wherever students are within the jurisdiction of the district school board. "

I understand there has been a major backlash to Zero Tolerance--as around the country stories emerge of honor students going to boot camp for bringing midol to school, or the eagle scout honor student who got expelled for bringing a nail clipper (weapon) to school.  These stories have turned public opinion away from Zero Tolerance.

I understand that common sense must come into play when crafting rules of student conduct.

But I also think taking a step backward in Escambia County by taking drug possession/use off of the list of Zero Tolerance offenses is a serious mistake.

Like it or not--there are drugs in our schools.  Monthly, we kick out 10-15 students for drug possession.  (This represents the ones we actually catch)

On a personal note, my own son came home from middle school and told me one of his classmates brought "weed" to school and showed it ot him.

Kids bring dangerous illegal drugs to school with the intent to sell these drugs to other students, and as the economy continues to deteriorate, I believe this will be a situation that continues and may even worsen.

If we water down zero tolerance to eliminate drug possession as an offense, what message will that send to students and parents?

I am advocating, and I have been advocating for some time now--for a comprehensive drug eradication policy in our school district, to include:

1.  An increase in the frequency of drug dog searches, with a managed approach that is measurable.
2.  Zero Tolerance for bringing illegal drugs to school-for students and employees.
3.  Implimentation of a district-wide "Campus Crime-Stoppers" toll free hotline number and website where students can anonymously report criminal/drug activity in our schools and receive cash rewards
4.  Drug testing for those students who wish to participate in Extracurricular Activities

I am in favor of due process, and that is why I fought hard to have a safe harbor provision put into our school board policy.

But I have zero sympathy for drug dealers in school.  Zero sympathy.

Bottom line:  Drugs destroy lives, and watering down the punishment for those who seek to bring the infection of drugs to students in our schools is a mistake.  I will not vote to take drug possession out of the language for "Zero Tolerance" in our student handbook.  I will actively fight against such a dangerous and irresponsible move, because our children deserve to have schools that are safe and drug-free.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Glen Beck to America's Parents "Pull Your kids Out of these [Public] Schools"

During his nationally broadcast (3rd highest audience behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) radio program yesterday, Glen Beck implored his audience, by repeating three times for emphasis--to remove their children from America's Public Schools.

(I listen to Beck from time to time and I find his show to be entertaining--however I think Michael Savage is much better-- much more entertaining, intelligent, and enlightening.  WCOA bumped Savage's show back an hour to give us more Hannity and Beck-which was really disappointing)

But yesterday, Beck had started the segment by criticizing a San Francisco Bay Area School for sending students home for wearing shirts that displayed the American Flag.  The issue was that several students wore the American Flag shirts on Cinco De Mayo--and apparently this offended the largely hispanic population at the school in question.

Obviously, I agree with Beck in that for an American school to send students home for wearing American Flag Shirts was outrageous.  No child, I do not care the day, should ever be punished for being patriotic for his country-our country-The United States of America.  If students from other countries did not like seeing the red, white, and blue --they should return to their country of origin, period.  This is America!

The story, which appeared on the Drudge Report earlier in the day, can be read here.

I agree this particular incident was a travesty, but for Beck to make the leap that all families should consider homeschooling their children was/is  an overreaction to this one isolated incident.

But public schools get beat down routinely on talk radio programs.  Hannity constantly bashes on Public Schools.  Limbaugh does as well.

And the Problem is this-lots of people believe every word these talk show (entertainment) hosts spew.

I'm the first to admit pubic schools have issues--and reform is desperately needed.  But I'm a believer in Public Education and I strongly support public schools and I know if public education is ever eliminated our country's very future would be seriously in jeopardy.

We need to fix our schools, make them more efficient, and get back to the basics or people like Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh will be proven right in the end.

Our Country cannot afford for this to happen.