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.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Newpoint Academy Charter Schools Coming to Pensacola--Open House March 1st

Two Newpoint Academy Charter Schools will be starting classes this fall in Escambia County.  These schools are currently enrolling students, and there is an open house scheduled for March 1st at 6:00 PM at the Tryon Branch Library on Langley Ave. in Pensacola.

The Newpoint Schools currently operate successful campuses in Tampa and Panama City, and the newest campuses will be here in Pensacola.

I'm told that Newpoint feels that if they can enroll 150 in their middle school academy, and 150 students in their 9th and 10th grade high school program-this will be a success.  There will be two lotteries for entrance, one in late March and a second in May.

The school does not yet have a location, however representatives from Newpoint have stated their campus will be somewhere within a radius of 5 miles from Cordova Mall.  (This does not narrow the location much, though)

For further information on Newpoint, their philosophy, and enrollment procedures, contact Donna Horton

Their website is here

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where Does All of That Lottery Money Go? Part I

The question comes up frequently, and the answer is that the majority of the $22+Billion that the lottery has kicked in to Florida Schools since the late '80s has gone into the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program and a part of the lottery money goes to School Recognition funding.

The Bright Futures program accounts for the lion's share of the lottery money.  I'll go into that in detail in part II.  The recognition awards go to the individual schools through their respective districts.  The table above shows which Escambia Schools got this money for last school year.

Essentially, if you maintain a n A school average or improve a letter grade or more over the previous year--you get an award.  The award is calculated by multiplying your student count by $75.00. 

School Staff and the School's Advisory Council determine, by a vote, how each school will spend the money.  More than 90% typically goes into the pockets of the teachers as one time bonuses.

Examples from this year.

The staff at West Florida High School spent their money as follows: (According to Principal Eric Smith)

$7,838.50 (8% of the funds) to be reserved to purchase various resource materials and equipment for the classroom.

$89,411.50 (92% of the funds) were spent on bonuses for teachers, administration, administrative support staff, custodians, cafeteria workers, SRO, and medical staff.

Jim Bailey Middle School spent their money as follows: (According to Principal Dr. Judy Pippen)

$6,200.00  (5.5% of the funds)  were spent on school supplies

$102,813.00 (94.5%) will be given to teachers and staff as bonuses

Although the majority of these funds statewide go directly into the pockets of teachers as bonuses--these funds can be used for a variety of purposes.  The complete description of how these funds can be used is here

Friday, February 18, 2011

Update from Tallahassee Pension Reform Legislative Hearings, from Mixon and Associates

Mixon and associates provided the below email update from Tallahassee this afternoon on the status of some of the pension bills.....

The Senate Governmental Oversight Committee has been meeting all morning work shopping the local and FRS retirement bills. They started with the local government bill first and it appears that the Committee will not hear from the public on the FRS bill today. They will begin testimony on the FRS bill next Thursday. The Chair, Senator Ring, a Democrat from Broward County provided a quick summary of the FRS bill. He stated that the bill:

1). Does not change the accrual rate.

2). Maintains the DROP program.

3). Preserves COLA (no freeze or reduction).

4). Keeps retirement age for current members.

5). Makes no changes in membership classifications.

6). Does not set employee contribution rate.

The bill ,Senate Bill 1130, DOES the following:

1). Closes the defined benefit (DB) program to new employees as of July 1, 2011.

2). Changes vesting in the defined contribution (DC) to a five year plan.

3). Requires employee contribution to retirement plan but not retroactive.

4). Maintains death benefit.

5). Includes a portability provision in and out of the system. M&A has worked this issue very hard.

6). Commences benefits for retirees for those employed after 7/1/11 at age 65 rather than 62.

It is expected that some amendments will be made to the Bill this next week. Number 5 above will be amended into the bill at that time. The actual employee contribution rate will be determined by the Budget Committee later in the Session. In addition, there will be a reduction in the DROP interest rate from 6.5% to an amount which will also be determined by the same committee. I expect that the employee contribution rate will be between 2-3%. Each % yields approximately $316 million in savings to the State and hence school districts The DROP rate should be between 1.6% (current CPI) and 3% based upon my conversations with staff. The adjustment in interest would yield about $89 million in savings.

School Board Votes 5-0 For Random Drug Testing Policy--Media Portrayal Weak

...But to read the accounts in the local Media there was a contentious crowd in opposition to the policy!

The reality? There were very few speakers present, and of those who spoke there was an equal number of speakers supportive of the policy--including serveral middle school principals.  Also absent from the media's weak coverage--the important reasons why the board was taking action and the justifications for this policy.

None of the important issues--legality, precedent (U.S. Supreme Court Rulings in support),  and necessity (how about detailing the two year drug related expulsion data-media?)--none of these issues which board members discussed at length with one another made it into any account of the meeting.

Nope--It is just important to show one parent saying "This policy bothers me"

And It is apparently much more important, interesting and informative to report that "Susan Watson of the ACLU" spoke in opposition to our policy.  Susan Watson was mentioned in every media account of last night's meeting, and I guess that, in and of itself, must be newsworthy.  Okay,I guess, if you say so....

I only wish the media showed or described her jumbled, stammering, awkwardly delivered prepared remarks which essentially parroted her counterpart Ben Stevenson's badly flawed and inaccurate PNJ viewpoint piece from a few weeks back.

                                                                     It was a "fail"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Updated Escambia School Drug Dog Search Results--Where the Drugs Are 2010-2011

The Superintendent's office today provided board members with the following documents.  This data is current as of Friday, February 11, 2011.

The first document, above,  lists which schools have been searched (and how many times each)and the number of times this school year drugs were found at each campus.

The next document, below,  lists additional information about what drugs were found and where at each campus drugs were found.

Interesting that out of 228 searches, 17 searches yielded drugs.  This equates to about a 7.5% hit rate, which assuming 2-3 campuses are searched daily, means on average the dogs are finding one location a week that has drugs.

I'm amazed that some schools have a much higher hit rate than one might expect-while others that many might expect to yield big finds-- have so far not had any significant findings.

I'm told the searches and the random nature in which they are being deployed is proving to be an effective deterrent to students bringing drugs to our schools;   Less drugs at schools equals safer schools.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Governor Rick Scott’s Proposed Budget— A $ 17.7 Million Cut to Escambia Schools?

"Bottom Line:  Assuming the property rolls remain relatively static at $15.1 Billion, our overall funding will be reduced this upcoming year by $17,791,464.00, or 10.54%.  "

Ever since the heavily anticipated release of Governor Rick Scott’s Budget this past week, people involved with Florida public education statewide have been studying it meticulously.  While many in the state are rightly concerned that this budget will have an enormous negative effect on schools, my personal belief continues to be that this initial draft was the “I’m going to get everyone’s attention”   version. 
After the legislators are done with it, I believe it will result in a 4-6% cut across the board for school districts around the state.  Is this a huge cut?—uh, well, yeah.  Is it the end of the world, though?  Of course not, and we will get through it.  But people are overreacting and getting all worked up before the final rendition is offered-- which makes little sense to me.  And I continue to believe that the Governor’s focus on fiscal austerity, while creating some discomfort in the short-term, will serve the state well over the long term.  (It’s just too bad lawmakers at the Federal Level don’t cut the spending like we are doing in Florida!)  Budgeting to spend no more than what is brought in is smart and is sound fiscal policy.  Doing it while simultaneously lowering property tax burdens on middle class Floridians and small business property owners is also a good idea.  Doing both of these things while at the same time lowering the tax burden on Large Corporations [READ: JOB CREATORS] completes the recovery trifecta.  These policies will stimulate hiring and economic development across the state, and making these hard decisions now will contribute to our state’s strong economic recovery in the years ahead. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rick Scott’s Proposed School Budget Cuts- “Oh, the Horror of It”

As I dig deeper into what Governor Rick Scott has put out as his budget for the upcoming year, I see a very stern budget that forces fiscal austerity, and I kind of like that.  At a time when at the national level we are borrowing money from China and Saudi Arabia to give away to places like Eritrea, Pakistan, and  Egypt, I hardly think Rick Scott should be lambasted for doing something fiscally responsible for Florida.    I think it is GOOD for us to go from $70 Billion down to $65 Billion as a proposed budget—if $65 Billion  is all we have to spend.  Going to $63 Billion in 2012 is smart if all we have to spend in 2012 will be $63 Billion.  You see, I don’t like finding ways to spend more than I bring in.  I don’t like trying to find justifications, rationalizations and equivocations for spending more than I have in hand.   I like balanced budgets.   It’s kind of like how responsible families have to live within their means and not spend more than they take in.   And I hope the “so called” leaders of both parties at the national level are paying close attention to what Florida is doing.  These sorts of deep cuts need to be made at the Federal level as well—from ALL departments! And if Scott can pull this off while at the same time inducing more businesses to come to Florida by lowering tax burdens and providing property tax cuts for middle class Floridians—this will be unbelievable!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Unions Will Not Like This--But What Took So Long For the Legislature to Do It?

If I am a conservative, republican teacher in a county of Florida, but want what I feel will be the benefit of teacher's union membership-- why should I have to watch a huge portion of my dues money be spent on liberal, democratic causes and candidates at the federal, state and local levels by union political activists within my "association"?  Answer--I shouldn't have to deal with this as an issue.

And a Florida senator has a fix that makes sense to minimize or eliminate the above scenario for tens of thousands of teachers throughout Florida.

This Freshly submitted bill By Senator John Thrasher has the Public Employer Unions of Florida in a real panic.  Sen Thrasher's bill will preclude a public employer (like our school district) from collecting dues of their members from payroll deductions, and will also make unions give back the portions of members' dues that are used for political activities----unless an individual employee has given specific written permission for his/fer individual dues to be used in this manner.  Good luck to the unions in trying to herd the cats in a scramble to get waiver's signed...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big Education Reform Stories of the Week

Last week there were some very good education stories around the USA, and these below are some of the more interesting ones, in my opinion.

Kansas Watchdog Group Wants Florida Style Reforms
Group cites Florida's numerous successes over the last ten-year period

Tennessee--Movement Afoot to Eliminate Teacher's Unions?
Collective Bargaining bill would gut union powers

Florida Principal--Teacher's Unions Portrayal as "Villains" in Film "Pretty Much Accurate"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

ACLU / Benjamin Stevenson Viewpoint Gets it Dead Wrong

"Ben, allow me to put this bluntly, Your analysis (no pun intended) is flawed”

The overriding theme of the badly flawed viewpoint by ACLU lawyer Benjamin Stevenson is that the Escambia County School Board is overstepping its authority with our proposed random drug testing policy.

He carefully but tacitly attempts to draw comparisons between our School Board’s proposed drug testing policy-- “Government Run” --and the very unpopular “Government Run” healthcare legislation. Smart idea, but it does not work. You see, guys like Ben love Obamacare, so his attempted comparison immediately loses credibility. So Ben is going with Government Intrusion as the cornerstone of his argument against our authority. “Too Much Government Intrusion!!” Here’s the deal, though—we’re already “intruding”, Ben. I mean, do you want to take all government regulation and control out of schools and out of a school board’s purview? Okay, lets look at that hypothetically...

It is a big intrusion, imagine the audacity, of us wanting to transport your kids for you on our busses, Ben. The Horror! How dare we as a government agency transport your kids for you, parents. We know you can drive, but we’ll do it for you. And we know you can cook, but we’ll go ahead and provide breakfast and lunch for your kids as well-- and for some of you-- we’ll give you the meals free. Yes, we know it is a big government intrusion, but we want your kids to be healthy. And we’ll provide extra services at no charge to some students if they are disabled, and we’ll do free pre-school for some, and free after school for others, and vaccinations and immunizations for kids. We’ll even do summer school and home visits and extracurricular activities, and sports, and bands, and field trips. We’ll have government involvement in many aspects of your kids’ lives that go well beyond education. This is the state of public education in America—total big government involvement. And Ben knows this.