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, December 31, 2011

Putting Themselves Ahead of Kids, Obstructionist Union Costs Schools $60 Million

Yes, sad but true.  Luckily this is not happening here but in New York--- it still aggravates me though.  I hate it when adults put themselves and their needs ahead of students and it happens everyday in America, and it has to change. 

From today's NY Daily News

"New Yorkers have 58 million reasons to jeer teachers union President Michael Mulgrew.
Thanks to him, 33 schools in desperate need of money to improve have just lost $58 million in funds intended to turn them around. Thanks to him, some of the worst teachers at some of the worst schools will continue to be protected at the expense of the kids in their classrooms.  Thanks to him, the state may soon have to forfeit $700 million in additional federal Race to the Top money awarded based on promised reforms."

A more union sympathetic viewpoint is below, from the WNYC blog.

"The New York State Department of Education awarded the funds, called School Improvement Grants (SIG), on the condition that school districts and unions revise their collective bargaining agreements to include a new evaluation system for teachers and principals. New York City is one of 10 districts statewide to be promised the funds.  "Sadly, the adults in charge of the city's schools have let the students down," said John B. King, state commissioner of education, in a written statement. "This is beyond disappointing. The city and the unions have known about this deadline for many months, but there’s no evidence of any real progress."

Read more here

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Florida Loses out on RTTT Early Childhood Education Grant

Thirty-five states and Puerto Rico applied for federal ECE money, but so far only 9 states have received the awards.  Florida's application was rejected, in part, due to a lukewarm application package laden with conditions.

From the Orlando Sentinal

"Gov. Rick Scott, who signed the state's application, said the state would accept the money only if "no federal strings" were attached and no "new burdensome regulations" were placed on private child-care centers...Scott said Friday that sticking to those conditions cost Florida. "Unfortunately, our insistence against irresponsibly using one-time dollars for recurring government programs did not win the favor of the administration in Washington," he said in a statement.  Florida will continue to push for "a world-class education system," the governor said. "We will accomplish this goal for the benefit of our current students and generations of Floridians to come without sacrificing responsible spending."

Not winning this particular award will not damage our schools in my opinion.  I remain somewhat skeptical about the effectiveness and benefit (relative to the costs) of  spending tremendous sums of money (Federal and or State) on ECE, given that the evidence of long-term learning gains measured after the third grade between students that received preK services compared to those who did not is very thin.  Some even would assert that the government spending huge sums on preK ammounts to nothing more than an additional entitlement program, as preK and childcare should be an individual, parental responsibility.  So losing this grant is not going to keep me awake at night 

By contrast, however--- Florida's winning of the $700Million  K-12 RTTT Grant has been tremendously impactful to our schools and will bear fruit for many years to come in this state as it has put the status quo directly into the cross-hairs of reform.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Employee Health Clinic Concept to be presented for Board Consideration

As an addition to the School Board of Escambia County’s organizational meeting that will be held one week from today, on November 22, 2011, a presentation on the recently completed Health Clinic Feasibility Study will be given to the board.
In November of 2010, this item was discussed by members of the board; however there seemed to be no really strong support for this concept at that time.  The matter was set aside, referred to the benefits committee.
Fast forward one year, with health costs skyrocketing, premiums soaring, and more and more out-of-pocket costs being foisted on district employees—and the timing seems ripe for the district to establish a clinic for employees, dependents, and eligible retirees as a mechanism for controlling costs to our self-funded health insurance plan.
The feasibility study does not definitively recommend the establishment of a clinic, but rather discusses the potential savings and costs associated with starting up a clinic.
The upside is that lower paid employees could utilize such a clinic and save on out of pocket co-pays and some drug costs.  Currently there are some employees who forego doctor’s visits because of the costs, which could lead to more expensive treatments down the line for these persons.
The district health trust fund saves if utilization by employees grows and employees with chronic conditions utilize the facility.
To be successful, the district must market this clinic as a convenient and less expensive alternative to seeing one’s primary care physician for minor or routine visits.
Also, the district must choose the clinic location wisely and be prepared to sustain some initial start up costs for the first several years.
I’m hopeful that my fellow board members will carefully consider this concept as a benefit to the employees and a cost saving, long-term employee wellness vehicle for our workforce.

Friday, November 11, 2011

AA Dixon Charter School Struggles Continue--The Good, The Bad, and the ..............

At yesterday's workshop of the Escambia County School Board, a presentation on the progress of the embattled AA Dixon Charter School was given.  Some interesting information was disseminated, but curiously-- no local press coverage of this school's progress report occurred.

An updated but not yet official (?) revised Corrective Action Plan was handed out to members of the board, along with other documentation. A verbal presentation was given by AA Dixon Principal Cathy Culbert as well.

The good:  The school has made an effort to recruit students and their enrollment spiked to 165 students for the October count  (it has subsequently receded to around 148 students).  Additionally, anonymous donors have given the school a significant number of books and the principal reports that the library at this school has been established. (this has been an ongoing concern for me personally--what elementary school does not have a library with books in it for the students?) So many books have been donated that students were given books to keep and take home. This is very good.  Also, some unknown, anonymous but generous donor has given the school over $30K in monetary support--a much needed boost for this financially troubled school.  Additionally, the school reports that they are working to purchase and repair excess busses from the Escambia district in an effort to save on transportation costs. (Currently Dixon charter is outsourcing their transportation to Durham School Services)  In addition to these positives, a local hotel chain company has pledged assistance with mentoring students at this school--an extremely helpful part of the puzzle if this school is to succeed.  We were also given minutes from their newly constituted, locally recruited school board which was a nice addition to the presentation.

The Bad:  As was discussed at many previous meetings, the financial condition of this school continues to erode fast. Their latest P&L statement has a negative fund balance of (-$2,689.00).  Unreserved fund

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Law Enforcement Investigators Questioning Students at School Part III

At this afternoon's meeting of the Escambia County School Board, I initiated discussion of the district's policy regarding student questioning by law enforcement at school.

As I have discussed previously here and here, I believe the district needs a better policy which affords parents the opportunity to be present when their children are questioned at school for serious incidents which could potentially lead to civil or criminal liability (for the student and/or the parents).

At the meeting, members of the sheriff's office were present to advocate for the continuation of the existing policy which they described as "working well".  They want to keep the status quo on this issue.

But I have seen some issues arise which I believe necessitate a better policy.

Mrs. Hightower requested time to digest the data I brought to the meeting, and Mrs. Moultrie suggested she may be open to a policy change if  it is developed in coordination with law enforcement.

Mr. Thomas expressed his support for the current existing policy "as-is", and Mr. Boone expressed no opinion one way or another.

Mr. Slayton expressed support for the status quo with respect to the current policy, in alignment with Mr. Thomas and the Sheriff's department.

I will attempt to meet with members of the Sheriff's department over the course of the next month to get their input into a better policy, and  I will bring this revision to next month's discussion meeting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Law Enforcement Investigators Questioning Students on School Property, Part II

Last month I expressed an interest in modifying our existing policy with respect to how students are questioned at school for non-school discipline related or law enforcement purposes.

At the meeting, I explained that because our attorney was not present I would put this item back on the agenda for the following month.

Between then and now, I have worked with our attorney to craft draft policy that is legal and appropriate based upon how the state of Illinois handles this same issue.  Our school district has the right to carefully and thoughtfully control access to its students by Law enforcement investigators and according to recent legal rulings I believe we should be doing this.

At Wednesday's discussion meeting, I'll be bringing this proposed language to discuss with my fellow board members with the intention of gaining a consensus for the idea of inserting this language into current policy.

School Board Discussion Items For Wednesday, November 9

The following items will be on the agenda for a special discussion workshop to be held this Wednesday, November 9, 2011:

1. Protocol for Questioning of Students on School Property by Law

Enforcement - Jeff Bergosh (5 minutes)

2. Procedures for Organization of School Board - Jeff Bergosh (5 minutes)

3. Services for Students that Don't Qualify for Tutorial Service
Programs - Linda Moultrie (5 minutes)

4. Methods of Notification from Schools to Parents of Informational
Items - Linda Moultrie (5 minutes)

5. Operational Audit for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2011 - Patty Hightower (10 minutes)

6. House Bill 163 - Bill Slayton (5 minutes)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Paying Salaried/Exempt Employees Overtime Compensation

I voted against 9 contracts tonight for supplemental education services (SES) providers. The reason for my no vote, which I discussed in depth at the School Board Workshop on Friday, was because a section of each of these contracts (20. A.) specified that for route management services, the SES providers would pay $500 per school for this service. I have no issue with charging these third-party, SES providers this fee—the issue is that the contracts also specified that this entire $500.00 fee would go directly to the route manager assigned to each school—the district would not receive a penny of the money! I had no intention of going on and on about my reasons for voting no last night at the meeting, until each and every board member took a turn saying they strongly supported this plan and then the superintendent took a turn saying this was the right thing to do.  And they all talked about "student safety" and "no cost to the district" and other red herrings were thrown out that did not coincide with the reality of my disagreement with the issue.  So, After they all spoke, I  again addressed the issue and explained my precise reason for the no vote for the record.

The fact of the matter is that I looked deeply into this issue, and I could find no other transportation department in the state doing what Escambia is proposing.  Not One.  At the Department of Education, I spoke with transportation specialists that had never heard of anything like this being done.  So, I did not gingerly jump into this issue.

Now, if these route managers were hourly and not salaried employees, I would not have an issue with their receiving additional compensation. These route managers in Escambia County, however, are well-paid, salaried employees that earn as much as $61,000.00 yearly.  They are not subject to a collective bargaining agreement and therefore can be made to work overtime without additional compensation.   And this extra work they will be doing will be on district computers, using expensive district software. I think appropriate compensation for these employees could have been “comp” time—with the monetary payments staying with the district. I was alone in that feeling, which is not surprising given my background as a small business owner. My colleagues on the board and the superintendent are all long term government employees. We see things differently.

Now, I’m told that these route manager employees only work on the SES routing “after their regular work-day hours”—however, because they are salaried and not hourly employees, how could this ever be verified? How do we know that these employees do not fit this additional work into their workday and daylight for this extra compensation?  I'm not going to go down there, and this is out of my lanes in terms of what my role is in the district.  But the question does come to my mind.

Our attorney did look into this issue and her opinion is that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, additional

Friday, October 14, 2011

Should Parents Be Notified Before Police Interviews of their Children on Campus?

I believe the answer is YES.
This question is on my mind as I look at the news and see 14 year old students being arrested.  This issue is on my mind when I think of other incidents of which I am aware where law enforcement officers are questioning students as young as seven years old without prior notification to parents.  I’m thinking as a parent with three kids in the district—I want to be notified and given the opportunity to be present for any interviews police officers wish to conduct with my children at school.
I believe most responsible, caring parents would want this same courtesy if their children wind up in a situation where an interview with police is initiated.  And I’m not talking about routine encounters with School Resource Officers who are doing school related policing (fights, drugs, theft, weapons, etc).  I’m most concerned when the questioning is initiated for law enforcement purposes.
Most of the parents in our community are probably unaware that under current School Board Policy, notification of parents prior to police questioning of their children is not required.  From page 27 of the students rights and responsibilities handbook, under Chapter 7: Safe Schools “…If any officer wishes to question a student at school, a suitable place will be provided after the officer has presented proper identification…..The school shall make a reasonable effort in a timely manner to notify the parent(s)/guardian(s), when appropriate, that the student has been questioned or has been placed under arrest.”
I have never been comfortable with a lack of parent notification, and therefore I have instructed my own older children to always request to have me present if they are ever asked to consent to any interview at school by authorities.
In light of recent Supreme Court Rulings which call into question some interview techniques used by law enforcement at schools, I feel compelled to work with our school board attorney to craft a more robust policy concerning the questioning of students at school by law enforcement.   I’m not proposing this to stymie law enforcement in any way—to the contrary I am doing this to ensure that the rights of students (and their parents) are not being trampled upon. Recent rulings seem to be placing more onus on the schools to provide parental notification prior to the questioning of students on campus by police.  If our policy does not help guide this process--then criminal cases built utilizing improper interview techniques and the resultant evidence obtained could be surpressed at trial--potentially wasting precious taxpayer-funded law enfocement resources.  Nobody wants to waste taxpayer resources of any kind in this  recessionary environment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A.A. Dixon Amendment to Amended Charter Coming to Board for Action

This item, an amendment to the amended charter agreement between A.A. Dixon and the Escambia County School Board, will come to the Escambia School Board for action this month.

As discussed previously, the terms for the continued operation of A.A. Dixon, hammered out in an email exchange between the superintendent and the charter school board chair, are being memorialized and incorporated into the existing charter.

I'm convinced that this additional layer of oversight will allow the district the flexibility to support this charter school and help them be successful. 

If, however, the benchmarks (financial and academic) agreed upon in this amendment are not realized, A.A. Dixon school will voluntarily close at the end of this school year.

It is time now for the school to perform and honor their contractual agreement.

Friday, October 7, 2011

October 13th School Board Discussion Meeting Agenda Finalized

Here are the topics that will be discussed at a special meeting this Thursday, October 13th at 3:00 PM at room 160 of the Hall Center.

1) Video Streaming of School Board Meetings - Jeff Bergosh (5 minutes)

2) Protocol for Questioning of Students on School Property by Law

Enforcement - Jeff Bergosh (5 minutes)

3) Scenarios Regarding Various District Insurance Plans - Jeff Bergosh (10 minutes)

4) Half Cent Sales Tax Reallocation for District-wide Programs - Jeff Bergosh (5 minutes)

5) Update on Foundation for Excellence - Gerald W. Boone (5 minutes)

6) Update on Transportation Issues for N. B. Cook Elementary - Linda Moultrie (5 minutes)

7) IPad Issues - Bill Slayton (5 minutes)

8) Proper Protocol for Informing Parents of Incidents Involving Their

Child's School - Bill Slayton (5 minutes)

9) Funds for Advertisement for Adult Education Classes for District - Bill Slayton (5 minutes)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

FSBA 2012 Platform Evaluation Matrix

Each year the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) combines individual School Board member inputs from around the state into a platform from which they can advocate.

As has been the custom in the past, every school board member has the ability to provide input on the final draft platform and priorities for the Governor and the 2012 Legislative Session.

I'm in strong agreement with the lion's share of what has been proposed, but strongly against several of the planks of this year's platform, particularly the ones that seek to create new taxes and the one priority that calls for elimination of penalties for districts that violate the class size law (like Palm Beach County did last year, saving their taxpayers $50Million dollars)

The complete Matrix and platform components with my input is here.

Who Should Be Atop the "Loser" List?

Should it be Rick Outzen of the InWeekly?

Rick outzen, publisher of Rick's Blog and Inweekly,  put me on his loser list for not supporting A.A. Dixon Charter School.  But I voted to accept their Corrective Action Plan to give them the rest of this year to come out of financial and academic challenges.

Here's my email to Rick:


I see that you've placed me atop your weekly list of losers, which I feel is a bit unfair.

Remember, I voted to accept the Superintendent's recommendation to accept A.A. Dixon's CAP at the last meeting. (which is recorded online--go look for yourself) In fact, it was a unanimous 5-0 vote. I don't think they are out of the woods, but I voted to give them a chance. This makes me a big "loser" in your opinion?

A.A. Dixon violated their contract with the district and have some significant financial issues which necessitated close scrutiny by the school board--surely you don't find fault with that?

And in your outtakes, you make an assertion that the school district has failed to address education in the inner city--however you are wrong in this. The district, and I, have stood shoulder to shoulder with Jackie Harris Prep, just ask Celestine Lewis.

We also have made tremendous strides at Weis, Montclair, and yes, Warrington Middle.

Look, it is apparent that you dislike me--I get that. But if you want to call me a loser, try to find a subject to base this upon which is reflective of reality. With respet to A.A. Dixon--you are wrong

But this is not the only time you've made baseless, inaccurate accusations about the district that you've been proven wrong about:

1. You said we violated law with respect to DCF reporting protocols at Tate--you were proven wrong, no retraction

2. Recently, you stated in your blog that the district was going to pocket Title I money that was earmarked for A.A. Dixon, and this was the reason we were motivated to close this school. (totally false) Again, this was proven to be false yet you offer no retraction.

3. You state we fail at offering educational opportunities in the inner city, yet we've just spent $20Million at GLA which serves inner-city youth--you neglect to mention this as you attack us for being failures while you skip the ribbon cutting at GLA.

Try to get some of these stories about the district right for a change, why don't you?

If you can't, don't, or won't--how about just putting yourself on the top of the "loser" list, as that is what you will be (are?).

Jeff Bergosh

Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Benefits Premium Schedules for 2012 Plan Year Approved by Board

At a special meeting of the Escambia County School Board on Friday evening, the premium schedule for the 2012 plan year was voted on and approved by the School Board.

The meeting, which began at 5PM and ran about 45 minutes in length, featured union representative Bill Vincent speaking out saying he felt the district could have put more money into the plan.  Superintendent Thomas also spoke, expressing a continuing committment to put an RFP out for the 2013 plan year in the hopes of finding a better solution.  The superintndent also said the employee walk in clinic idea was moving forward and a feasibility study was already in the works regarding the clinic concept for the district.

Members of the board also spoke, with board chair Jerry Boone expressing dissatisfaction with the communication between the superintendent's office and staff and the board. 

Patty Hightower expressed disappointment with the fact that more money could not be found to augment the district's contribution.  Mrs. Hightower also suggested that 2 Employee family premiums (currently free for the first two levels of coverage) may need to be looked at for next year

Kevin Windham, district Risk Manager, and I had a back and forth dialogue where the issue of equity of coverage percentages was discussed.  I stated that I felt like everyone needed to pay something for their coverages, to have some "skin in the game".  I also said that I felt the two employee family coverage for free was problematic and needed to be looked at for next plan year.

I expressed my disappointment with the overall process--but I also re-stated my belief that as bad and as dysfunctional as it was, the expedited impass resolution process worked for this year.  If it could work this year--with the numerous big problems addressed--it was a process that needed to be kept in place, in my opinion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Employee Benefits Settled for 2012 Plan Year

At the continuation meeting for resolution of the Employee Benefits for 2012 held Tuesday evening, the issue was resolved for the 2012 calendar year.

After having a marathon 3 hour meeting on Monday, the meeting was recessed until Tuesday after the regular meeting. At the resumed meeting, the issues were again discussed at length, budget presentations were made, and a compromise was reached.

The solution came when Superintendent Thomas agreed to put an additional $900K into the plan from the district's LCIF account(the account which houses revenue from the sale of surplus properties)-which would be used to reduce the premiums of single employee+dependent and Single employee+family plans.

This added money, combined with a renewed district commitment to look at establishing a district walk in clinic for employees, was enough to convince me to vote for the plan as modified.

Friday, Sept. 23rd at PM the board will meet again to approve the revised premium schedules.

As frustrating and exhausting as this process was to resolve this thorny issue--at the end of the day the process worked the way it was intended an this matter was brought to resolution in time for an on-time employee enrollment.

That was where we can claim a small victory.

A.A. Dixon 90 Day Termination Letter Pulled

In a stunning turn of events at Tuesday's regular meeting of the School Board, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas pulled the 90 Termination Letter for A.A. Dixon from the Agenda. Late Tuesday afternoon an email exchange between Thomas and A.A. Dixon Board Chair LuTimothy May led to an agreement which resulted in the abrupt, last-minute change by Superintendent Thomas.

At the meeting, the issue was discussed at length and several members of the public spoke in support of the school. At the end of the discussions, The Superintendent recommended passage of the school's corrective action plan by the board. In one of the most contentious unanimous 5-0 votes I have ever witnessed, the Board supported the Superintendent's recommendation voting to approve the corrective action plan.

I expressed my continuing concerns about the CAP, but said I would vote to accept the Superintnendent's recommendation because I trusted him.

Now it is up to the school to perform.

Monday, September 19, 2011

School Board Takes No Action on Employee Insurance

The special school board meeting for the resolution of employee benefits ended in anticlimactic fashion as the school board recessed and took no action on either proposal (District or Union) to address a projected benefits trust fund shortage.

The motion was on the table to send the issue back to the benefits committee unresolved for their further action--however sending the issue back to the benefits committee without guidance from the board did not seem to make sense.  Before that motion could be voted on, another motion was made and seconded to recess the meeting until tomorrow night (9-20).  That motion passed 3-2.

The board listened patiently to the presentations of the union and the superintendent, as well as 16 members of the public--but all board members expressed frustration with the way the process has worked and also with the idea of having to make a rushed decision on this issue. 

So nothing has been resolved and we'll discuss this again tomorrow night.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Monday's $10 Million Dollar Impasse Meeting will be the Big Meeting of the Week......

Although we will be having our regular monthly School Board Meeting on Tuesday, September 20th at 5:30--the meeting held twenty-four hours prior on Monday will be the BIG meeting of this week.  I anticipate fireworks at this big Monday meeting.

At this special Monday meeting, the School Board will be asked to decide on what course to take with respect to our self-funded health insurance plan.  The subject of the meeting could not be discussed prior to this special meeting Monday--and oh, by the way, we've been told that we must make a decision at this meeting and no delays can be tolerated!

The big problem is this--the two plans being presented represent two vastly different formulas and costs, and since the subject of this meeting is an issue that the district and union are at impasse over--individual board members are precluded from requesting additional information or asking any questions of either party (union or Superintendent, staff) until we have this highly structured, tightly formatted, rigidly controlled meeting.

And, as previously mentioned, we have to make a decision, period, at this meeting--ne extensions, no delays.  That's what we were told before impasse occurred.

And, as previously mentioned, the two plans we'll be asked to choose between represent a difference in costs to the district [ TAXPAYERS] of up to $10 MIllion Dollars.

So I've been spending my weekend trying to research this issue to the best of my abilities so that I can follow all the rules and make an intelligent decision this Monday; I still do not know how I will vote, but I know for sure I have concerns, deep concerns, about this process and how it leaves the board in total isolation.  I don't believe this process works well for anyone.

Meanwhile, the union is busy stirring up the troops, putting flyers in teachers' mailboxes at the school sites one of which I have seen that says, in part, the following:

"*School Board Impasse Hearing*  Monday Sept.19 @5:30 Rm. 160 Hall Center

This is a very improtant board meeting to vote for health insurance benefits.  We want to fill the board room (160) and the overflow room to let the district know that our insurance is important to us.....  If we don't get the board to come to a workable agreement, our medical costs will go way up.  I believe, and your union believes, that the money is there to fund us....Please come, bring a friend, and wear red."

Monday is going to be big......

Friday, September 16, 2011

A.A. Dixon Charter 90 Day Termination Letter to be Presented to School Board for Action Tuesday

Escambia County School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas will be recommending that the School Board move ahead with issuing A.A. Dixon Charter School a 90 day termination letter. 

After listening to a thorough and extended discussion today between members of the Escambia County School Board, district staff, and employees from A.A. Dixon--the Superintendent verbalized to the assembled group that he would bring this as his recommendation to the School Board at this Tuesday’s regular meeting.

In addition to the 90 day termination letter, the Superintendent will recommend rejection of A.A. Dixon’s previously submitted corrective action plan—as that plan does not reflect what is happening currently at the school and seems to be a document that is changing in many respects rather than being a static plan that the charter school intends to follow carefully to help navigate its way out of financial and academic performance problems.   The Dixon Charter School Board will have the opportunity to re-submit a revised corrective action plan to the Escambia County School Board when such a document has been re-tooled, if it chooses to do so. 

Per Escambia School Board attorney Donna Waters, the 90 day termination letter can be pulled back by the district if the Dixon charter school is able to get its numerous financial and academic problems sorted out and rectified before the Christmas Break to the satisfaction of District Staff, Florida DOE, and ultimately the Escambia School Board.

Absent a significant display of progress on the financial and academic fronts, the Escambia School Board would be able to dissolve the charter and close the school after the 90 day period per Florida Statute and per language in the three year contract signed by A.A. Dixon and the Escambia County School Board in 2010. Students  attending A.A. Dixon at the time of such a closure would be subsequently reassigned to other Escambia District Schools.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

School District Going Live With Online Parent Gradebook

The Escambia County School District has installed the Focus Parent Portal on the District Homepage.

Parents who wish to track their students' progress will now have the ability to do so remotely via a login they can establish on the district website under the parent portal.

further information will be forthcoming via a press release from the district.

Parents need the following information to establish a Focus Parent Login:

Student name, school, student number, and social security number.

Once established, parents will be able to see their student's attendance, homework, quiz and test grades on a regular basis.

What an excellent tool this will be for district parents!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A.A. Dixon Corrective Action Plan Submitted--Many Questions Remain Un-Answered...

The corrective action plan requested of A.A. Dixon Charter School has been submitted to the Escambia County School Board.

Some aspects of the plan seem to have merit, while some parts seem optimistic at best, unrealistic at worst.

Members of the school board have also been given a copy of the less than stellar review of A.A. Dixon submitted by the DOE after a recent site visit by personnel from Tallahassee.

On a brighter note, many of the debts carried over from last fiscal year by A.A. Dixon have been forgiven--but the list of what was forgiven leads to more questions.

What was LuTimothy May invoicing A.A. Dixon Charter School $6,000.00 dollars for in the first place?

Why was Friendship Missionary Baptist Church invoicing A.A. Dixon over $2,000.00 for?

Many other questions come to mind, including the proposed new contract signed by A.A. Dixon agreeing to pay 11% of their FEFP revenue to an out of state education contractor--can A.A. dixon really afford to do this?

The district staff will be addressing their concerns this Friday at the regular monthly School Board workshop, at which time individual board members will have the ability to ask questions and seek answers from those who are running A.A. Dixon.

It should be interesting.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Solving a $10Million Dollar Insurance Fund Shortfall the Old Fashioned Way (literally)

Is Having One High-Stakes Meeting on 9-19-2011 Really The Best Way to Solve a Multi-Million Dollar Problem? 

Doing things the “old fashioned way” can be interesting, unusual, and sometimes even fun.  On other occasions, though, doing things the old fashioned way is stupid, inefficient, and downright ridiculous.  If you have a horse and a car and you need to get somewhere fast would you ride the horse to get there?  We are saddling up the horse right now in the Escambia County School District with respect to how we are responding to a financially urgent situation.

Employee benefits provided by the Escambia County School District are self-funded, to the tune of roughly $40Million yearly,  which many  people involved in benefits consulting believe is the most cost-effective way for an organization to handle employee insurance.  A part of the mechanism which allows our district to be self insured is our Employee Benefit Trust Fund.  Each year, the Escambia County School District Risk Management Department collects premiums from employees, pays claims (via a third party administrator) and deposits and debits these monies through the Employee Benefit Trust Fund.  The district analyzes this Employee Benefit Trust fund annually and then proposes plan changes and premium adjustments to maintain the viability of the fund and also to ensure that the fund balance ends each year with an amount equal to two month’s worth of claims—approximately $6 Million Dollars.

Unfortunately, the 2011 year thus far has been disastrous in terms of our benefit trust fund revenue when compared to expenditures.  We have had reduced revenue and a spike in serious injuries/illnesses among a number of employees such that the trust fund is hemorrhaging money every month.   On its current trajectory and with no modifications to the benefits-the fund’s balance is projected to be well short of established minimum levels.   Significant changes to the plan are going to be mandatory for the 2012 year, we have been told.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Commissioner of Education Tours Warrington Middle School--Media "Absent"

Florida’s Commissioner of Education spent this morning in Pensacola touring Warrington Middle School and meeting with local education officials.  Gerard Robinson, named as the replacement for Dr. Eric Smith who resigned earlier this summer as Florida Education Commissioner, spent time visiting classrooms, speaking with students and teachers, and visiting the Warrington Middle School Flight Academy.

               Florida Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson Tours Warrington Middle School on 9-9-11

After the tour, Mr. Robinson sat down with Superintendent Thomas, WMS Principal Sandra Rush-Riley, District and FDOE staff,  as well as members of the Escambia County School Board.  A discussion of education policy topics ensued,  and the Commissioner  asked if the district had any priorities he could take away from Escambia County. 

Florida Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson Discusses Education Priorities with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas and WMS Principal Sandra Rush-Riley (above)
The four  main priorities discussed with Commissioner Robinson were the following:

1.        The District solicited support from the commissioner for a more realistic and fair way for intervene schools like Warrington Middle School to exit intervene status.
2.        The District expressed the need for facilities funds—PECO maintenance and PECO construction--with an emphasis on equity between traditional schools and charter schools when state allocations are made(for 2011-2012—charter schools received PECO funds but traditional public schools did not)
3.       The District reiterated our strong position that co-enrollment funding via workforce development needs to be continued and funded fully.
4.       The District discussed the need for local control of the school year calendar, in particular the need to have control over the start date so that the first semester can be completed prior to Christmas Break.

Commissioner Robinson was gracious and friendly and thanked everyone on the tour for taking time to spend the morning with him.  On a somber note, Commissioner Robinson was aware of the murder of an Escambia High School Student the night before, and he offered his condolences and said he would keep that student’s  family in his prayers.

Given the fact that Mr. Robinson is the number 1 educational official in our state of 19 Million people—I felt his visit this morning to Pensacola was a significant event.  Unfortunately, no local media showed up, no WEAR, no PNJ, and no INWEEKLY.  Mr. Robinson is the type of role-model many youth in our community would benefit from seeing and hearing;  The community at large would have been well served seeing this man and hearing his message to the youth in the classes he visited today-but that will not happen. 
 Some in the local media prefer to blame the school district for violence outside of school (and the district’s control) rather than covering The School Board’s  important  and meaningful events like today’s visit from Mr. Robinson. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

GLA Enrollment Surges Past 800--A.A. Dixon Holding Steady--- Under 130....

As of Wednesday, August 24th, the current enrollment at the district's newest elementary school, Global Learning Academy, is at 805.

A.A. Dixon Charter, the struggling start-up that assured the board that a projection centered around 230 students was realistic, is having a hard time even getting within 100 students of that projection;  Dixon stands at 129 students enrolled as of August 24th.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Initial Enrollment Counts in---GLA at 784 Students---A.A. Dixon at 127....

The initial enrollment figures for Escambia County Schools have been released, and Global Learning Academy has 784 students enrolled.

A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence, which has been mired in financial and academic troubles since its inception last year, has 127 students enrolled as of today.

A.A. Dixon ended last fiscal year over $100,000.00 in th red, and earned an "F" letter grade from the state due to dissapointingly low FCAT scores.  Dixon is being funded initially for 190 students, however if the enrollment does not grow, subsequent distributions from the district will be reduced.

Given the fact that Dixon has not paid all of the bills from last fiscal year--this new development (dramatically lower enrollment) does not bode well for the future of this charter.

See the initial enrollment figures for all Escambia County Schools here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A.A. Dixon Charter School On 30 Day Notice

The Escambia Shool Board tonight approved an amendment to the charter for A.A. Dixon Charter School.

This school has had numerous issues during their first school year, to include earning an "F" letter grade and ending the fiscal year over $100,000.00 in the red.

In addition to these issues, A.A. Dixon violated the original contract with the school board, in my opinion, in several instances including failing to immediately notice the board when they carried a negative fund balance.

My intention at tonight's meeting was to make a motion to strike the amendment to the charter and insert language immediately terminating the charter--as I believe the original contract would support this action given the multiple instances of non-compliance by A.A. Dixon.

As I listened to my fellow board members discuss the issue, I realized I would not have three votes to close Dixon tonigh-so I chose not to make the motion.

I instead voted no on the amendment, expressing my opinion that the amendment giving the school a corrective action period did not go far enough.

I do not believe this school will survive financially or academically.

I hope they are able to prove me wrong

Saturday, August 13, 2011

AA Dixon or Global Learning Academy? For Concerned Parents... IT IS A COMPETITION!

At the regular workshop of the School Board of Escambia County yesterday, one contentious issue that was discussed for more than an hour by the board and staff was A.A. Dixon charter School of Excellence.

After sustaining a disastrous first year--this school, a charter school, appears to be in significant financial trouble.  This on top of registering an "F" school letter grade by the Florida DOE and being listed as one of the lowest performing elementary schools in the state. 

So, over the last three months, the school board has had this charter school and its revolving cast of officers and consultants at each regular monthly workshop in an attempt to get answers to significant questions like:

Why are there no books in your library?

Why do we not yet have an audit of your books from 2010-2011?

How is it that your ending bank account balance is only $800.00?

How come your projections for the 2011-2012 school year are based on 230 children, when you have only 157 registered?

How come your bus routes are not yet finalized six days before the start of school?

How come your finances seem to be so out of sorts?

Although I am convinced there is no more ardent supporter of Charter Schools (and the larger concept of Charter Schools and their place in public education) on the Escambia County School Board than me--I have deep concerns about A.A. Dixon and their viability going forward.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Global Learning Academy Pensacola, 8-11-2011

The almost completed Global Learning Academy of Pensacola is set for opening for the 2011-2012 school year. 

Today, the school was opened up to the school board, the 1/2 cent watchdog committee, selected staff, and interested members of the public for a tour.

According to everyone involved with today's tour--this facility will be open and accepting students on the first day of the school year, Monday August 22nd 2011.

The facility is coming along, but several areas of the school are still under construction.

The facilities planning department again stated that this 127,000 SF facility will be completed on-time and for about $130 per SF--which is reasonable given the current economy.

Comprehensive Drug Policy Results for 2010-2011 School Year-Tremendous Success

At today's discussion workshop of the Escambia County School Board, the data from the first year of our comprehensive drug policy (2010-2011) were presented.

The results of the first year of implementation point to a tremendous success.

Next year's results may be even more significant, as we will be expanding our policy to include random student drug testing for students that participate in extracurricular activities.

Highlights from 2010-2011:

352---Drug dog searches, resulting in 24 alerts (findings)

42% reduction in suspensions for drug offenses at the middle and high school level

(92 suspensions in 2009-2010, only 53 suspensions in 2010-2011--note-this expulsion data for 2010-2011 was presented to the School Board verbally by ECSD Director of High Schools Carolyn Spooner, no back-up was given in writing)

Our campuses are becoming more drug free as a result of this comprehensive drug policy, and this data is solid proof of this fact.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waivers are Coming from D.C. to Water Down the No Child Left Behind Act

This was inevitable-the pressure of sanctions dictated by the well intntioned but flawed NCLB act are causing Washington policymakers to surrender.

Lawmakers had failed to act and update/modify NCLB to make the law more realistic-therefore President Obama will, by executive order, grant states waivers from the punitive sanctions on districts and states where schools have failed to meet the benchmarks of the law.

This will make education bureaucrats happy and give politicians cover--but this essentially will close the door on opportunities for many poor students, trapped in failing school attendance boundaries, from having the possibility of transferring to a better performing school.

And the recurring, tired line  "The goal is unachievable"  will be brought out by school systems nationwide and used again and again to rationalize and justify essentially what is a "grand lowering" of the bar by the Federal Department of Education.  Sen.  Ted Kennedy, an ardent supporter of NCLB, will be turning in his grave at what is going to happen--and it is sad.

My analogy is this:

Imagine a person is in terrible shape--so a long term excersise routine/regimen is introduced because absent this one's health will deteriorate and an early death will occur.  The goal established is to have a physique like a professional bodybuilder at the end of a stipulated period--and nothing else will suffice.  Is this a lofty goal?  Of course.  But it beats the alternative which is to just maintain the same failed eating and excercise habits. Now, the routines and dietary requirements of the plan to get in shape are easy at first, but the requirements gradually intnsify as the end period draws near.  At the 60% completion stage, sanctions and penalties kick in.  Things get hard.  No weight loss, no breakfast.  No strength increase, more workouts mandated.  Assume that you stick with the plan, and you are making great strides, you are thinking about eating healthy, you are excercising more than ever, and your body is becoming toned and well defined.  You are in much better shape than you were at the start of the program.  With only twenty percent of the program left to complete, you have an epiphany:  No matter what you do or how hard you work--you will never have the physique of a body builder--even if you complete the program.  So, instead of completing the program to get as close to the goal as you, individually, can get--you cry, and whine and complain.  You start making excuses for not wanting to do all the portions of the excercise routine-even though your body is now looking good.  Great results do not matter, though, if you know you'll never look like Charles Atlas at the end of the program.  So you cry, and whine and complain and beg for some of your old mainstays like jelly doughnuts and french fries.  You complain so much to your trainer, that he lets you off the hook.  He says, "Okay, you'll never get where this program says you must get to meet its definition of success, so I'll grant you a waiver of the routines if you just ask for them"  You ask for the waiver, you get the waiver, and now you are headed back to the couch with a bag of chips and a milkshake, all the while saying to yourself, the goal was unachievable, so it is right that I return to my couch with my chips, candy and doughnuts"

As a nation, with these waivers, we are headed back to our couches to enjoy our doughnuts.

How very sad....

Friday, August 5, 2011

Matt Damon Says "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Testing!"

An alleged cheating scandal in Washington D.C., and the recent, actual cheating scandal in Atlanta have opponents of accountability and reform lined up to decry the use of student assessment exams to measure teacher effectiveness.   These guardians of the status quo are out in force, and have now deftly hijacked the student examination “process”.   These folks now deridingly refer to the common practice of examining students for skills mastery assessment as “high stakes testing” “dumbing down education”, or “teaching to the test”.  Somehow, this group has managed to make “testing” a dirty word.  Grasping at straws to defile the practice of student testing further, many of this mindset argue that the utilization of test data for teacher evaluations will lead to more cheating in more school districts. 
Funny how all this fear-mongering anger is just now coming to the surface, though.   Standardized testing has been performed in America  for decades, and for all this time as the resultant data showed that our students were learning less and less compared to their peers in other nations (even as public school expenditures were rising exponentially), nobody thought testing was so bad.  But nothing was changing, American education policy was stuck in the mud, more money was being spent, yet we were still falling behind countries like China.
So “A Nation at Risk” came along in the 1980s, and in 2002 Ted Kennedy’s No Child Left Behind was enacted.  And now, in 2011,

“Hostile Surrender”—Memphis Class Warfare with Kids in the Middle

I found this interesting story on MSNBC yesterday, about a large, failing inner-city school system forcing a merger with an equally funded yet very successful suburban school district.  Very interesting.  Luckily, this is taking place elsewhere, in Memphis Tennessee.  But is this the shape of things to come as budget pressures force more and more districts to the financial brink? Is this the shape of things to come when perceived disparities in quality erupt between equally funded yet vastly different school systems?   From MSNBC:
“Memphis district aims to disband to force wealthier suburban system to absorb its students
At the heart of it, the turbulence is about dollars and cents and the quality of education. Fearing possible threats to its funding, the failing inner-city Memphis City Schools, with 209 schools and 108,000 students, decided to force a merger with its smaller, more affluent neighbor — Shelby County Schools. To accomplish that, the district's board surrendered its charter in November. That unprecedented move, essentially undoing the creation of the Memphis district in 1869, was subsequently approved by the City Council and by the city’s voters in a referendum in March. But while the move might make sense economically, it has triggered a heated debate about the fairness of merging two districts with different levels of academic achievement. It has even stirred the ghosts of the city’s legacy of busing students to alleviate racial inequities in the school system.  Residents of suburban Shelby County — in which the city is located — did not have a vote, and the county Board of Education sued to block the merger. Its chairman, David Pickler, refers to the unfolding events as part of a “hostile surrender”

Full Story here

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Escambia County School Board Cutting Property Taxes for 2011-2012

At Tomorrow’s special meeting of the School Board of Escambia County, the agenda will include setting proposed millage rates for the 2011-2012 budget year for Escambia County property owners.
For the typical property owner in Escambia County, the School Board Millage rate is responsible for the largest dollar amount on the overall tax bill.  The majority of the millage calculation formula is dictated to us from Tallahassee—so in most instances we are constrained in what rates we can, can’t, should, or must levy.
The good news for 2011-2012 is that this year our millage rates are going down.
Everything else locally is going up, gas, groceries, electricity, water—but your local school board tax rate is being CUT this year.
It may not be a huge cut, but it is a decrease.

Last year’s total school board levy                            7.860
This year’s total school board levy                            7.821
This special meeting begins at 5:00 PM Thursday, July 21st at the Hall Center in room 160.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Escambia Student Drug Testing Plan: A Student's Perspective...and My Response

I received the below email from an Escambia District student regarding our drug testing plan.  my response follows below...

>>> "XXXXXXXXXXX" 07/15/11 2:47 PM >>>

Mr. Bergosh

I have been reading up on the new Drug Test Procedure scheduled to go into effect this 2011-2012 school year. Regarding the qualifications and rules of the test, I would like to say that from a personal perspective and that of a current students. This policy is aimed at the group of Students that are least likely to participate in drug consumption while the students more likely to be active in drugs are the ones riding buses to school, eating free lunch, and not involved in after school activities. If this policy is meant to be a way of making schools safer...Broaden the crack-down. Aim not only at the kids who drive cars and are in Beta club....aim at the students that arrive on campus in a bus packed full of people and the students that do not care for or participate in after school activities. Ultimately I am against this new Policy. If a student is handling his own at school and passing classes, and staying out of trouble, then why should what he/she does after school dictate if they can be on a team or drive to school. Also, to ensure the most efficient results of a drug test, ALL Escambia county employees should be drug tested randomly, as so the children are not contaminated to such hideous acts of morality.



XXXXXX Grade Student


my response...


Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding your opinion about the drug testing policy. Even though you do not agree with the policy, the way in which you present your opposing view is commendable.

From a personal perspective-I have three kids in the schools and my oldest son and my daughter have both been exposed to illegal drugs at their respective middle and high schools.

Drugs are out there, XXXXXX. Peer pressure is powerful, and what we are doing by the random testing is providing students an additional reason to say no to drugs, an additional buffer against peer pressure.

Our policy did not evolve in a vacuume; For the 2009 school year, incidences of student expulsions for drug offenses rose 17% over 2008. This alarming increase prompted the school board to develop a comprehensive drug plan and to put it in place. The 2010-2011 school year, with implementation of most of the portions of our plan having occurred, has seen a dramatic decrease in drugs on campus. The drug testing is a follow on addition to the existing policy.

I agree with you in that I wish we could cast a wider net and test all students--but unfortunately we cannot do this because we are a public school. Private schools such as Catholic High School have the legal ability to test all of their students, and they do. But public schools have a different set of rules and regulations that we must follow, and we cannot legally test all students.

And by the way, students who participate in extracurricular activities and sports do sometimes get into trouble with drugs--two examples I'll give you XXXXXXXXXXXXXX school. last year several students on the XXXXXXXXXX team on a trip out of state in Kentucky were caught with marijuana. a few seasons back, several players from the XXXXXXXXX team, on a trip in Louisiana, were suspected of using marijuana.

It happens at all schools, not just XXXXXXXXX, and It's not just those who do not participate in sports. Sometimes, often times, it is those who we least expect, those who are active participants in extracurricular activities.

You sound as though you have your priorities in order and I do not think this testing will impact you. I hope you have an excellent and productive year.

But please understand that as district leaders we must do everything we can to keep our campuses as safe and drug free as we can and having a comprehensive approach like the one we are implementing is the most effective way to do this.

Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Escambia County School Board Proposed Revised District Boundary Map and Statistics

(Dark Blue Lines indicate existing district boundaries, color shaded areas indicate proposed boundaries, and red stars indicate the current residences of School Board, BOCC, and ECUA representatives)

After an initial School Board/BOCC joint meeting on the subject of redistricting in May and now a subsequent meeting yesterday—a proposed revised district map has emerged.
From the beginning, the unanimous consensus among and between members of the BOCC and School Board has been that our respective districts should be identical.
As a result of meetings with staff from the Supervisor of Elections Office and our counterparts on the county commission, school board members from all five districts may now have districts that mirror the BOCC.
The map above and corresponding data reflects the product of yesterday's excrutiating, tedious, deliberative, and meticulous 3.5 hour joint session. 
My prediction is that this map will be the final draft rendition, as I clearly heard at yesterday’s open, advertised joint meeting that at least three BOCC members and three School Board members indicated support for this map, as proposed, to be the best rendition under all of the constraints that guide the redistricting process.

Once each respective body conducts public meetings and takes input from the community, the maps will be voted on by each board.  If the maps change as a result of public input and/or any other reasons, the School Board and BOCC would most likely hold another joint session to iron out any changes.  While not mandated by law, (again I'll restate) that my impression is that the majority of the BOCC and School Board members want identical districts;  The common goal, from what I've heard after attending all of these meetings, is to follow every law and rule and have identical BOCC/School Board Member districts after this mandatory redistricting process is completed.
This map will be discussed again briefly at the school board workshop this Thursday morning at 8:00 AM, Room 160 of the Hall Center.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Escambia Schools Make Impressive Letter Grade Gains

The Elementary and Middle School Grades for Escambia County Schools were released today by the Florida Department of Education.  Escambia Schools as a whole made solid gains.  Several schools improved markedly, including Montclair Elementary School—which went from an “F” to an “A” and Weis Elementary that went from a “D” to an “A” 
The chart above shows the comparison in achievement between 2010 and 2011 for Escambia
County Schools.  Schools that have this year’s grade highlighted in green have improved over last year. There is a lot of green on the chart—so much so that the PNJ is covering this fantastic achievement with a top of the page article on their online edition.  Even our most ardent detractors acknowledge this is vast improvement.  These naysayers will still find things to snipe us on, but that’s to be expected I suppose.  Apparently the doubters have not seen this chart--showing the dramatic gains our district has made from 1999 to 2011.  Negative downer people will always be among us.

I, however, choose to concentrate on the positives: 
We are moving forward as a district, we are headed in the right direction. Even though our funding this year is $50Million less than it was just a few years ago, and we are being cut more and more every year, we still continue to improve.  Despite generational poverty and other challenges unique to Escambia in the 4 county panhandle area, we in Escambia County have managed to meet class size (unlike Santa Rosa and thirty other counties in the state  that didn’t), make drastic improvements on our school letter grades, give employees raises, consolidate functions to create efficiencies for the taxpayers, and create one of the top rated high school programs in the nation.  We have also stedily improved on our FCAT scores even as the bar is being raised and in 2011 our schools are being measured on FCAT 2.0 standards with an increased writing score required to demonstrate proficiency.

Yes, we are making huge strides forward despite numerous challenges.
The students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, volunteers, corporate partners, and everyone associated with our school district deserves congratulations for the efforts put forth over the last year!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Interesting Look at School District Demographics

At the School Board Workshop this Thursday morning, the board will discuss the demographics of the school district as a whole. 
Once per year the district must submit an Equity Report which gives detailed analysis of the makeup of our student population by race and gender, our workforce by race and gender, and our administrators and professional employees by race and gender.
This annual report is mandated by the Florida Educational Equity Act and is the reporting tool which enables our district to demonstrate compliance to the appropriate state agencies and to the general public.
Some interesting facts from the report--Males are very much under-represented in the teacher job classifications, Hispanics (who now comprise 5% of our county population), appear to be severely under-represented in the administrative job classification--as we appear to not have one (1) hispanic in an administrative job  in the district.

I always thought it would be great to hire the BEST candidate for any given position, regardless of the race of the applicant,  and I'm told that is what we do in this district
But to not have one Hispanic person in an administrative position in our workforce stands out to me as an area of concern which may necessitate additional recruitment efforts by our district hiring teams.
The full report can be viewed here