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, July 27, 2010

Department of Education Picks Florida as a RTTT Phase II Finalist

The Announcement was just made.

41 States Applied for Phase II RTTT Awards, but only 19 made the cut.

The Following States are In Round Two of Race To The Top:

Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

Florida did not win in the first round, much to the amazement of many involved in the process.

Florida will be competing for up to $700 Million in the competition to improve our schools.

The Governor and his RTTT working group will be travelling to D.C. in August to pitch Florida's re-worked application.

This will be interesting.....

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Michelle Rhee Fires 241 Teachers, Puts 737 on Notice

From the Seattle Times:

"Although the teachers dismissed for poor performance represent only about 4 percent of the city's 4,000-member corps, Rhee said an additional 737 employees were put on notice they had been rated "minimally effective," the second-lowest rating, and would have one year to improve their performance or be fired.

In the years before Rhee took over the district, almost all the teachers had high performance ratings and few were fired, but students, on average, had low achievement levels."

Read the full article

I like Michelle Rhee because she is strong and she constantly challenges the status quo.  She's got guts and she's not afraid to take on the establishment.  In 2008 I read a lot about what she was trying to do up there and felt she would make a huge impact if allowed to continue her work.  .  Looks like she is!  If every school district had a Michelle Rhee, taxpayers would be getting a much better return on their money and children everywhere would reap the benefits that greater accountability and oversight would bring.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Win For Escambia County Property Taxpayers--No Millage Rate Increase for 2010!

The Escambia County School Board, at a special meeting this afternoon, approved the tentative budget and millage rates for advertising for 2010.

The documents and executive summary can be found here.  Page 29 shows the drastic nearly $800 Million dollar decline in our Escambia county Tax Roll from last year to this year.  Page 32 shows the side by side comparison of this year to last years' millage rates--they are holding steady at the same rate.

Last year, over my NO vote, the board raised the millage tax rate.

The previous year, I pushed to keep the rate steady, and was successful in persuading the board and district to lower the capital outlay portion of the millage such that the overall rate remained unchanged..

This year we are again doing the right thing for our community by holding the rate steady, although we did have the lattitude to go higher.  I'm glad raising the rate was not recommended, as I would not have supported an increase to the millage tax rate; As I did last year I would have voiced displeasure and voted NO.

In difficult times we need to be mindful that property owners and small businesses are hurting.  As we all attempt to navigate this tepid financial environment together we need to keep more taxpayer money in taxpayer pockets..

We will vote to adopt these tentative rates one week from tonight.

The outcome---the vast majority of Escambia County taxpayers will se a reduction in the School Board portion of their property tax bill.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Escambia School Board Formulating a Comprehensive Drug Eradication Policy for 2010-2011

I'm extremely happy to report that the Escambia County School District is officially developing a comprehensive drug eradication policy to be adopted by the Board.  In budget meetings held over the last several weeks, the funding for this undertaking was identified.  In a School Board retreat held this past Wednesday afternoon where broad policy and overall district direction was the topic, more on the proposed drug policy was unveiled.  What is known currently is that the point person from the district on this policy will be Deputy Superintendent Mr. Norm Ross.  Mr. Ross will be researching the issues and working closely with the local law enforcement community and the Escambia County School Board Attorney to craft a policy that will benefit all of the students in our district.  I'm told that Mr. Ross will be studying what other districts from around the state and the nation have been able to put in place with respect to drug eradication techniques.  We won't be attempting to re-invent the wheel here locally; We will be developing a policy that is tried and tested, built upon best practices from other locations, then tailored to fit our needs locally.

Although the official policy will be brought to the board sometime in August or September, the broad areas of focus are known and can be identified at this time:

1.  Student Safety--the onus of this policy will be on student safety and we will not be undertaking this comprehensive strategy for punitive purposes.

2.  Drug dogs will be utilized in a more frequent, managed,  and measured fashion than has been the case in the past.  A defined pattern and schedule will be formulated and Drug Sniffing Dogs will be in our middle and high schools on a much more regular basis looking for drugs.

3.  Students will have the opportunity to participate in formulating the district's anti-drug slogan and advertising program.

4.  A more robust "campus crime stoppers" program will be rolled out and rewards will be given to those who report on peers involved in illegal activity.

5.  While not set in stone at this time, the direction that our policy seems to be heading is for the inclusion of a random drug screening/testing program for students wishing to participate in extrcurricular activities.  We cannot legally randomly test all students (Like Pensacola Catholic High School Does);  However we can and should randomly test those who wish to participate in extracurricular activities and/or drive their personal vehicles on our school campuses.  Again, the onus is on student safety.

6.  Voluntary testing, self reporting, counseling and progressive discipline for those identified in screening/sesting will all be factors and components in our final comprehensive strategy.

I'm very happy to see the district moving in this direction.  I have been steadfast in my advocacy of this type of a policy in our schools for the last four years.  I know that we cannot control societal factors which are changing rapidly around us--but we can and should do everything we can to control the environment in and around our schools.  The goal should be to make our schools drug-free sanctuaries for our students.   Having a comprehensive strategy will empower students to "Say No" to drugs--on and off campus.  Peer pressure is compelling, but if a student knows he may get tested, or dogs will be in his schools, or his freiends might tell on him to win money, perhaps we can exert enough influence on this student to help him/her make better choices both in and out of school.

I frankly believe we should have been doing more on this for years, but I am glad we're at least moving this direction now.  Drug use/abuse is a significant problem in our community and in our schools.  I know the devastating effects drugs can bring to young people, and I believe this new policy will have a drammatic, positive impact in Escambia County Florida-- and will help thousands of district children if we enact and deploy it properly.