Guidelines

I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.








Sunday, January 23, 2011

ACLU Email to School Board Attorney, Board Members, and District Personnel

This was the final email the board's attorney, board members, and district leadership received from ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson last week:




From: Benjamin Stevenson

To: Donna Waters

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2011 14:20:18 -0500

Subject: RE: ACLU Has Concerns with Proposed Extensive Drug Testing Policy

Donna,

At the Dec. 17th meeting you already had studied and rendered an opinion about the legality of the proposed policy. However, without the benefit of reviewing the policy and researching this issue, I could not and still have not reach my own conclusions. Therefore, your conclusions about what the ACLU will or will not do are your own.

BJS

Simpletons Who Attempt to Put Words in My Mouth Get it Badly Wrong

In a recent letter I submitted to the PNJ, I described a certain type of person who might disagree with my opinions. I used three descriptors to identify persons who might resist random student drug testing--Obstreperous, discordant, and “civil libertarian type”.

Several responders to my opinion piece have each deconstructed my words and reassembled them improperly. I do not label ALL civil libertarians as unruly or difficult to manage. I simply cannot and will not allow the flawed logic of some to distort my words or broad-brush my positions inaccurately. Steve Luther, Mike Horgan, Brandon Harvey--read this clarification, this is for you (and people like you)--read it  v-e-r-y   s-l-o-w-l-y   if necessary.

If I say I do not like pretentious, overpriced, and noisy restaurants—that does not mean I have disdain for ALL restaurants. I love restaurants, worked in them for years, and used to own one.

If I say I dislike disobedient, dirty, and smelly dogs—that certainly does not mean I dislike ALL dogs. I’ve been a lifelong dog owner/ animal rights fanatic.

If I say I dislike obstreperous, discordant, civil libertarian type [people]—that does not mean I dislike ALL Civil Libertarians, because--- and try to comprehend this---I am one!

I am a civil libertarian, a staunch believer in free speech (including anonymous free speech BY ANY AND ALL), the U.S. Consittution and personal individual freedoms.

I simply dislike the fair-weather civil libertarians who embrace left leaning, low hanging fruit type issues, i.e. defense of artists that desecrate Christian Images, defense of Flag Burners, support for removal of crosses from mountains, etc.. Yet these same types run away from less palatable issues like the westboro church lunatics demonstrating at funerals, Rev Terry Jones burning korans, Tom Burlington Case up north, etc.. If you want to be a true civil libertarian chest beater, you have to take the good with the bad--in for a penny, in for a pound. But that's just my take on it

Attempts by some to “put me in a box” will be futile.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

NJ Following Florida Policy, Calif. Judge Tosses School Funding Lawsuit, Minnesota Schools Scolded

These stories and many more interesting education related items can be found here

Board Attorney Responds to ACLU Email of "Concern" Over Drug Testing Policy

The ACLU sent an email to the School Board Attorney last week, expressing "concern" over our district's proposed random drug testing policy.  Mrs. Donna Waters, School Board Attorney, responded with the below email to clarify the district's position.  (I'm just perplexed as to why the ACLU may have a concern over our proposed policy--yet they apparently have no issue with Santa Rosa County randomly drug testing their athletes.  Santa Rosa County has had a random testing plan for athletes in their policy for a number of years.  One would have assumed the ACLU was very familiar with Santa Rosa Schools given the recent history--but I digress...)



>>> Donna Waters 01/19/11 12:18 PM >>>


SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS – DO NOT ‘REPLY ALL’ – RESPOND ONLY TO ME

THIS RESPONSE IS INTENDED SOLELY FOR THE ADDRESSEE LISTED. FORWARDING THIS EMAIL TO ANY OTHER BOARD MEMBER IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.

Benjamin:

I understand that the ACLU (and you and Susan as its representatives) do not agree with the concept of drug testing and have concerns about the district's adoption of such a policy.

Part of the Board's rule-making process is weighing the likelihood of a challenge and the costs of defense against the perceived need for a rule. In my role as legal advisor to the Board, I give my opinion as to whether a suit will be filed and how burdensome any litigation defending a rule would be. Based on my meeting with you and Susan on 12/17/10, I advised the Superintendent, Board and staff that I do not anticipate the ACLU filing litigation on this matter. That was, and remains, my understanding of our conversation -- that if the proposed policy complies with current case law, the local ACLU would be unlikely to file suit. In order to facilitate your review, I provided you the citations I had relied upon following the District's holiday break. If that is not your recollection of our conversation, please let me know.

There is a great difference between assessing the likelihood of litigation and determining whether someone actually supports adoption of a policy. If that distinction has been lost, I apologize and will ask the Superintendent to be sure that staff are representing your position accurately.

I will be forwarding you more regarding the budget and other questions you raised in your last email as soon as I get the information.

Donna



Donna Sessions Waters

General Counsel

Escambia County School Board

215 West Garden Street

Pensacola, Florida 32502

850-469-6362

Thursday, January 20, 2011

ACLU "Concerned" About District's Proposed Drug Testing Plan

ACLU Attorney Benjamin Stevenson sent the below email to our Board attorney yesterday, voicing his "concern" about our proposed student drug testing policy.  I'm sure he was a bit perturbed when a parent asked him why the ACLU was "okay" with our proposal....I guess he's not okay with it.  In his email he requests that people be apprised on his position, so here is the email....

>>> Benjamin Stevenson 1/19/2011 10:36 AM >>>


Donna,

An Escambia parent recently relayed to us that the school district informed him that the ACLU does not have an issue with the Escambia School Board’s proposed extensive drug testing policy. This is inaccurate; we have significant concerns about the proposed policy.

Moreover, I am unsure what would lead the school district to believe we were fine with the proposed policy. When we first met with you on Dec. 17 we expressed concerns, but postponed making any final conclusions without the benefit of case law you indicated that supported the board’s proposal. After you sent us the case law last week (after a couple of requests), we have continued to make inquires about the contours of the policies – again signaling that we may have problems with it. Also, I was quoted in the Pensacola News Journal on Jan. 8 expressing concerns about the policy.

I request that you apprise the School Board and other relevant district employees of our position so that they do not misrepresent it to the public.

Benjamin James Stevenson
Staff Attorney

American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida—Northwest Region

Post Office Box 12723
Pensacola, FL 32591-2723

Direct 786.363.2738
Office 850.429.9128
Fax 786.363.1985

Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself
www.aclufl.org

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Threaten Me, and You Get an Email Response Like This......

Got a rather passive aggressive email from a guy this morning which sort of ticked me off... I don't like the tone or the implied threat.  my response below...

XXXXXXXXXXX  Monday - January 17, 2011 8:05 PM
To:
Subject: No Drug Tests for Kids

Hello Sir,


My name is XXXXXXXXXXXX and I am a life-long resident of escambia county. In tomorrow's meeting I hope you will vote 'No' on implementing the proposed drug tests for students in our schools. From the PNJ and WEAR I know you are a proponent of this new policy. If you persist in supporting this policy I will vote against you should you seek re-election. I feel this policy is too reactionary and detrimental to our fine youth. Also, I am vocal in my opinions and will try to sway others to my line of thinking should you vote yay as opposed to nay. Sir, please return to the realm of reason and say no to random drug tests for children. It is too much. Stop. Focus on on-campus activities, programs and policies. What children do off their school premises is not the business of the schools. Knock it off.

Thank you and have a good day. I will be watching. Come election day, should you vote Yay to drug tests, I shall vote yay to your opponent.


My Response:


XXXXXXXX,


Not here to win popularity contests, not here to make friends, and not here to bow to the whims of people who are not in possession of all of the facts. I'm voting for this drug testing. Period. Break. End of text.---

this was my plan, and there is a reason for it.

I've got three kids in these schools, XXXXXXXX. Do you? Yeah, that's what I thought.

My kids have come home and told me they have seen drugs at school. When I went to these schools in the early 80's--drugs were a problem. As a board member I see the discipline reports monthly and I read them. Drugs are a problem in our schools XXXXXX, dont' fool yourself and believe otherwise. Don't be like an Ostrich.

The drug problem still exists. We are kicking more and more students out of school for drugs and someone has to confront the issue with a comprehensive plan. For the kids' sake, it's a good thing we are not counting on folks like you who lack the facts and the intestinal fortitude to embrace a common sense comprehensive approach like the one we are putting on the table---even if some small vocal minority disapprove.

Drug testing students is one tool in a multi-faceted approach to try to curb student drug use. If this ONE issue is a make or break deal for you then by all means vote against me next time--I neither need nor want your vote if you are this shallow.

This is about kids and safety, not about seeing which way the wind blows and voting in such a way as to "not offend" people like XXXXXXXXXXXX.

BTW, just so you know, in the last recent election I won nearly 7 of 10 voters in my district in a three man race--- because people want politicians that don't always bend to the whims of special interests. Dead people on ballots around the country have produced more votes than my last two opponents combined, which either says something about them, or me, or both.

I'll leave it to you to try to figure that out, XXXXXX.

The tone is harsh on purpose because I don't like when people like you attempt to threaten me. to use your words on you--"Knock it off"


Jeff Bergosh

Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

850-469-6147

www.jeffbergoshblog.blogspot.com

jbergosh@escambia.k12.fl.us

Monday, January 17, 2011

Drug Test Students?? Why?

I received the below email from a constituent yesterday afternnon.  My response is below...

From: "XXXXXXXXXXXX"
Sunday - January 16, 2011 2:11 PM

To:

Subject: Fw: drug testing??

Jeff.... I remember talking to you once by phone and mentioning that I supported some of your ideas regarding our educational system. But recently I read that you are proposing random drug testing for public school students. Why?

Has it ever been demonstrated anywhere that drug testing increases test scores, betters classroom ambiance, or improves teacher quality? It would seem this is not only a waste of public funds but an unnecessary intrusion into individual privacy that sends the wrong message to students.
I would think that we would more constructively devote our efforts to creating a performance based school system where "zero tolerance" would be directed towards incompetent teachers and poorly performing and disruptive students.
Is it consistent with conservative principles to implement a nanny state controls focusing on such things as drug use and compulsory attendance? If we had performance based schools the issue of drug abuse would self correct... i.e. students demonstrating impaired performance due to drugs, attitude or lack of cognitive ability would be automatically excluded from the general student population. (I don't know where these people belong... but they should not be allowed to infect and destroy the classroom atmosphere for those who do want to learn.)

Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Email: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX



XXXXXXXX,


Thanks for the email. I’m concerned that the drug problem in our schools was getting worse and that is why the new comprehensive policy is underway.

Every month we expel students for drug use/possession, and over the last two years the number of students expelled is up nearly 17%. The recession is only exacerbating the problem, and drugs continue to be an issue in our community and on our campuses.

Obviously, district staff was alarmed at the number of suspensions for drug offenses.

Unfortunately, the initial response from the district staff to address the problem was to take drug possession off of the “zero-tolerance” offense list so that we would not be kicking so many students out of school. Wrong answer.

I was not about to go along with that, and I essentially went ballistic at the workshop on May 14th 2010; (here is a link to the minutes, in case you’d like to see what went down)

http://www.escambia.k12.fl.us/board/PDF%2010/July/minutes_05_14_10_regwrkshp.pdf

I called out the district and the school board to do more. I also offered a five point plan at that meeting which the district has essentially adopted.

I have been trying and trying to get this district to do more on drug eradication since my first year on the board, and I was constantly told “Mr. Bergosh, we’ve got this covered”. I asked for drug dog searches over and over and over and over and was pooh-poohed by my counterparts and various district personnel.

It has taken me three years to wear down the staff and my fellow board members to a point where they’ll go along with what I’ve suggested—so I definitely own this if it does not bear fruit. It will be my albatross to be hung around my neck if it doesn’t work. But I do believe it will work—it is working already!

Ironically, XXXXXXXXX, about that same time as the May workshop where I went off-- my son Nick, who attends middle school here in our district, came home one day and was telling me about his day at school and how one of his classmates had brought a “big bag of weed” to school. When you hear about your own kids being offered drugs, it kind of hits home hard. Luckily I have a very good rapport with all three of my kids who attend Escambia Public Schools, and I told them, as a policy maker in this district, that I was going to try to do more to get drugs out of our schools. And that is what I’m doing.

But we are not just drug testing, XXXXXXXXXX.—we are also using drug dogs daily at randomly selected middle and high schools, we are monitoring the results and managing the sweeps. We’re not finding much, but we’re finding some drugs and paraphernalia. Most importantly, though, students know we are aggressively looking and we are slowly modifying student behavior by not letting up on our searches. We are also getting students involved in the cause by developing anti-drug slogans and setting up a more robust “campus crime-stoppers” so that students can report on other students who are bringing drugs to school and earn cash rewards.

We are taking a comprehensive approach, which is the best thing we can do under our current constraints (legal and budgetary). Will we “Win the War on Drugs” with these efforts? NO. But we will help many students get on the right path, and that makes it worthwhile—kind of like the “Starfish Story”.

I could not look at myself in the mirror and say I was doing everything I could do to try to stem this problem if I had not spoken up and become vocal last May to the point where the district took action.

Now, we could write a novel the thickness of War and Peace on the ancillary issues you bring up, the Nanny State, Teacher Effectiveness, Performance Based Evaluations, Compulsory Education, Etc.—but most of those things are outside the purview of an individual school board member in Escambia County, Florida. Those are State, Federal, and Societal issues which are beyond my capability to change in my current position.

And I hate many aspects of the way things are done currently is our country’s public schools-- and would do things differently if I was “The King of the World”—but I’m not the king and I must work diligently (within the boundaries of current policy/law) to develop consensus in incremental bursts to effect maximum change. That’s what I do.

I’ll leave you with this, XXXXXXXXX. I voted for Rick Scott in the primary and General Election, and I support what he and the legislature are working towards with respect to Education Reforms in Florida. We are improving-- but we all know we can do even better and I believe over the next four years our schools will continue to improve and the taxpayers of this state will get the MAXIMUM value for the education dollars spent. This improvement will manifest itself particularly as compared to many states where self-serving unions and entrenched special interests “run the show” by proxy via a chokehold on elected officials in those places.

Luckily, I’m not one of those “owned” officials and this is not one of “those” places—the special interests around here know where I stand and they cannot control me.

And they hate that fact.

Thanks for the email, XXXXXXXX.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bergosh

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three Interesting Education Stories From Around the USA

Floridians who read this story about Education Reform Plans In Idaho will have deja-vu --this story very similar to SB6 debate from last spring.

This is interesting.  The Huffington Post, the bastion of Liberal Ideals, Gives their hero Barack Obama an
"F-" on his education policies.  (Maybe that's why of all of Obama's ideas and policies, his education policy is one area where we have agreement--charters, choice, merit pay, and data driven accountability systems)

The long term Cost-Benefit of the tremendously expensive pre-K programs takes center stage in this piece from Indiana.  Governor Daniels wants to focus the limited resources on existing K-12 programs, with less emphasis on pre-k.  Educrats and many on the left do not like this.....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Florida Schools Now Rank #5 in the Nation--Thanks to Bold Policy Initiatives From Conservative Leadership

Florida education has been steadily improving over the last decade, in large part due to excellent student achievement, parental involvement, and effective teachers.  But data driven accountability measures that Florida has instituted beginning in the late 1990s have also factored into the recent surge in the rankings.  In 2008, Florida ranked 10th, in 2009, Florida ranked 8th.  This year, Florida is #5. 

The conservative education policies of the Florida Legislature, and leadership over the past 12 years from the Governor's office, have helped this ranking to be achieved.  Amazing how these policies are paying dividends and yielding tremendous results, even as these same policies are constantly under attack from unions, entrenched special interests, and those on the left.

Watch as the union in Florida attempts to step in front of this achievement, smile for the photo op, and hijack the credit for this.

Amusing.