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.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bill Gates Delivers a Powerful Speech on Education Reform To State Education Superintendents

From Saturday's NY Times:

"[Gates]plans to urge the 50 state superintendents of education to take difficult steps to restructure the nation’s public education budgets, which have come under severe pressure in the economic downturn.  He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools...'Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive'"

full article here
The complete speech and all associated materials can be accessed here.  The 28 minute speech was outstanding and the corresponding materials strongly support the assertions Gates makes in his remarks. Every education policymaker in our nation should see this, in my opinion.  
In the brief question and answer session after his speech, Gates goes into great detail in explaining the choices of causes his foundation supports worldwide.  It's a very revealing and interesting conversation.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Slicing, Dicing, Scattering, and Rearranging Words

Kathy Breakall, Ellen Crow, Bill Vincent, Cathy Boehme, and David Pittman (The Escambia County Teacher's Union Executive Staff) each took a turn at last night's school board workshop slamming this editorial viewpoint that I submitted to the PNJ two months ago.

They soured the mood of what was otherwise a very positive, upbeat meeting.

Obviously, in the viewpoint I did not pull any punches.  It was brash and strident. It is worth noting that the PNJ held this viewpoint for more than a month and only agreed to print it if they could make  edits.  The piece that actually made it into the paper was the censored version.

But the fact is what I said in the viewpoint is true, and while these union leaders can bemoan the fact that I said what I said, they will have a hard time refuting the facts in that viewpoint. 

And anyone can take bits and pieces of a whole article, movie, song, or film and make it what they want it to be.  We can take a movie like Scarface, for instance, and edit in such a way that Al Pacino's character says the "F" word 182 times.  But would playing that disaggregated clip be a good representation of the whole movie?  of course not.

The union executive staff also each conveniently neglected to mention this quote from my viewpoint piece
"I have great admiration and the ultimate respect for individual, hard-working teachers"

So last night, each of these individuals pulled selected words from my viewpoint, then regurgitated them back --out of context --in the open forum.  In between the expressions of outrage and indignation, they were each able to work into their allotted two minutes the various titles, positions, achievements, and awards they have each earned.  Congratulations--you are wonderful! 
I believe these individuals are caring and conscientious educators and my viewpoint was not and is not directed at them individually.

And they know that.

This said, I have no love for their organized labor union because I do not feel the interests of students and taxpayers are the chief concern of organized teachers unions.  And I know that unions are active in restraining meaningful education reform locally and nationally--so this puts me even more at odds with them.  So I will continue to deal with them respectfully, professionally, and courteously--but I will never genuflect to them or carry their water like others in this district do.  I'll continue to call them out at each and every instance where they attempt to put their needs ahead of students and taxpayers. 

They can take that to the bank!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Employee Raises for 2010-2011?

A recent article in the PNJ disccussed at length the probability that district employees would be receiving raises for the 2010-2011 school year.  As I read that article, I was concerned that the information disseminated was incorrect.  The breakdown above from a recent budget meeting clearly shows that our unrestricted fund balance will be severely impacted for next FY with the loss of stimulus and other federal revenue.  The union has been provided this same information.  I believe the union realizes the financial predicament our district currently faces; So I, like many others, was perplexed at the timing of that article.  I also felt that the union president's statement .....

"There's money there," she said. "I'm hopeful. In the last year or so, we've had good rapport with the district."

......was a little bit off base

the union is right in that the rapport has been somewhat better than in some year's past with respect to salary negotiations--however, the statement that "there is money there" is overly simplistic, inaccurate, and sends the wrong message.  It apparently tells the public that "there is money for raises available and the district should give raises this year"  This is overly optimistic at best--disingenuous and misleading at worst.

The reality?

The Union wanted Amendment 8 killed, and they succeeded in that quest.  Congratulations, you won--and  we will now be spending, at a minimum, an extra $2.7Million yearly to stay incompliance with the class size mandate measured on a hard cap classroom by classroom basis.  That is $2.7Million that could have been used for employee salary increases, but now it is spent money.

Message to the union-there is nobody at the district that wants to NOT give raises, however economic realities cannot be ignored.  Our tax roll is shrinking, our budgets have been clipped at the state level, and raising taxes is not a viable option in this climate. Your raise for this year may end up being that your classroom enrollment sizes are "hard capped".  Remember---your union wanted hard caps and they have them--but sometimes it is prudent to be careful what one wishes for--because sometimes we get what we want and it's not what we thought it would be.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yes on 8 Wins Majority of Votes, but Fails to Get 60%

Amendment 8, right size the class size, has failed to earn the required 60% to succeed in last night's election.  Unfortunately, we will be living with hard caps in our school district at the class level for the foreseeable future.

Many people worked dilligently to pass Amendment 8 statewide, and their efforts are very much appreciated--but the effort fell short of the required 60% by 5 percentage points.

An interesting point to note is that the original class size measure passed with only a 52% margin supporting the change.  Last night's election saw more folks vote to fix the class size than even orginally voted for hard caps in the first place.  That is fairly significant, and this fact shows that opinions continue to vary on the subject of class size.

Meanwhile-champagne corks are popping at union headquarters locally and nationally.  Keeping the class size hard caps will lead to the hiring of thousands of additional teachers statewide over the next few years to come-which in turn will lead to $millions more dollars in dues to the organized teachers unions.

Triangulating the "benefit" to student achievement will continue to be difficult; But hey,who cares, right?  The union has spoken and they like hard caps regardless of what studies show.  And while a majority voted to right size the class size-- not enough Florididans disagreed with the union to pass Amendment 8.

The silver lining?

With a large slate of fiscally conservative representatives (and most likely Governor) coming into office in Florida following last night's election--I doubt we have seen the last of the effort to intelligently modify the existing class size law.

But in the meantime, I will continue to stand firm in my expectation that our district must comply with the law, and I will continue to oppose the "lawsuit solution" to the issue which is being sold (like snake-oil form a wagon) to districts around the state by the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA).

I believe that suing the state (over penalizing districts that are out of compliance with the class-size mandate) is counterproductive and ill-conceived. 

Without the penalty provision, many districts that are willfully disobeying the law will essentially be rewarded, while districts like Escambia that have spent resources, time and energy coming into compliance will look like fools.

I'm not wild about collecting money from other districts that are out of compliance, but at this point that is how the legislature has structured the penalty money re-distribution--and I don't think we'll refuse to take the money "on principle"

We just have to do what is necessary to comply with this provision until the law is fixed, and I know that is not going to be easy....