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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brevard County Looks At Escambia County's Drug Dog Search Successes

About two weeks ago I was contacted by Michelle Spitzer, a reporter from "Florida Today" a Gannett Newspaper for Brevard County.  She had found, online,  that Escambia County had begun a robust anti-drug campaign in our schools. She was particularly interested in the canine search component.

We had a long talk on the subject and I gave her some of the information we have compiled locally.
In yesterday's edition of Florida Today, the drug dog search issue was one of the lead stories, with significant mention of Escambia County.  This article was also a featured story on yesterday's edition of "The Gradebook" blog from the St. Pete Times.   From the Florida Today article:

In use elsewhere

Escambia County, which is in the Panhandle and includes Pensacola, invited drug-sniffing dogs into schools this year, as part of a wider anti-drug program.School board member Jeff Bergosh said the 40,000-student district has already seen results.  During the 2007-08 school year, 75 students were expelled for drugs. The following year, that number increased to nearly 90 students. So far this year, expulsions have been cut in half.
"It's had a tremendous impact in that students know it's happening, and it's deterring them from bringing drugs to campus," Bergosh said. "It gives them a way to say no to the peer pressure."
Every day, the drug dogs randomly visit one to three middle or high schools. Initially dogs visited only one of the district's 16 middle or high schools per day. That changed when students started texting friends at other schools, telling them they were "safe."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rick Scott Signs Historic Merit Pay Bill

Last year, then Governor Crist vetoed merit pay for teachers. In a move which pacified the Democrats and the Teacher's Unions, yet alienated many Conservatives and Moderates within his own party-Crist killed SB6.  For this, he recieved golf claps from liberals, who in turn voted for Kendrick Meek, all but assuring the Senate seat for Marco Rubio and handing Crist a crushing defeat in November.

Fast forward one year and Governor Scott makes the first bill he signs the teacher merit pay bill, SB 736.  Scott has pushed aside the rhetoric and made a statement by making this bill the first bill he signs as Governor.

What a difference a year can make.  Let's get to Work!

Tate H.S. Incident Investigation--Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots!

When two constitutional officers from two different governmental entities have a disagreement, it can get messy.  With a local press that loves to stoke the fire and never lets facts (or lack thereof) get into the way of a good story-- the conditions become even more fertile for disagreements.   
I would like to hope that a recent, very regrettable and disgusting incident at Tate High School does not turn into something that takes on a life of its own; I hope this incident and the ensuing controversies, speculations, and prognostications do not create a wedge between school personnel, The Sheriff, SROs, Administration, Parents, students, and School Board Members.  Hopefully, we can all concentrate on preventing incidents like this Tate H.S. assault from happening, and not play "rock em sock em robots"  publically in the media over blame and responsibility.
But the Tate H.S. incident of March 1st --which was horrendous and disturbing-- continues to be discussed in the media.   Today, a report concluded by the school district Investigator was released to the School Board and the local “press”. 
In the report, we learn that an ECSO SRO was notified, in a luncheon meeting on March 2nd, of all information known up to that time by school personnel regarding the March 1st Incident.  The notified SRO was assigned away from the school on March 3rd. Two days later, on March 4th, that SRO turned in a report that  was apparently deficient, and that officer was reprimanded by his superiors in the ECSO. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tate H.S. Alleged Sexual Assault: Weak Reporting Locally=Finger Pointing =Rush to Judgment

Everybody is concerned about what happened at Tate H.S. on March first.  Nobody is happy about it, and nobody is saying the whole incident has been handled flawlessly by the District or the Sheriff’s office.  I’m certainly not happy- and I want answers just like everybody else does.  From what I have learned thus far about the incident—I am confident that local media has yet to get this story right. 
This is bad enough.
But when local media ups the ante, like  this post in “Rick’s Blog”-- and proclaims that the law is not being followed by school district personnel—that is different altogether from an accusation of a sloppy investigation or a procedure not being followed.  This assertion of law breaking produces a torch and pitchfork  mob mentality in the community and press which leads to inaccurate, biased reporting like this rubbish from the PNJ today.
Here is what is known-the incident was not reported to Tate H.S. Administrators until  the end of the school day on March 1st,.  The report came second-hand from a person not even in the class.  The next school day, On March 2nd, School officials did notice the Tate H.S. SRO about the incident.  The SRO did not follow up.  Why the lack of follow up by the SRO until two days later?  That is a question for the Sheriff's department.
This afternoon, Rick Outzen essentially backed away from his earlier assertion that the school district did not follow state law.  He does not apologize, but he does backtrack from the earlier rhetoric.   Information provided to him by the school board attorney, Donna Waters, via this blog post was verified by DCF and he admits as much in his post this afternoon.  Now he simply needs to retract the part about the school district not notifying law enforcement, because the district did notify law enforcement on March 2nd.  Even the PNJ got that part right.
Nobody has all of the answers yet, but the answers will come to light eventually, this incident will be handled, and the guilty will be punished.
Meanwhile—the rushing to judgment and finger pointing to whip up frenzied posters who are ignorant of the facts accomplishes nothing.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tate High Alleged Sexual Assault Case--District Followed the Law

Today in "Rick's Blog," the accusation has been made that school district staff violated state law in its handling of an alleged sexual assault on a student at Tate High School.  From today's post on Rick's Blog:

"The moment the school officials were notified by a parent that a possible sexual assault, involving a 14-year-old victim, happened in a classroom at Tate High School, there were required by law to report the incident to Florida Dept. of Children and Families and law enforcement....The school and the district failed to follow the law."

As a district and  a school board--we take our share of criticism in the media for various decisions we make, for property we sell (or do not sell), for how well our students do on tests, or how we stage the flag at our monthly meeting.  We get criticized and second guessed ad nauseum from the peanut gallery and from our local media for many different reasons.  This comes with the territory.

However, if someone alleges that we have violated a law, I take that very seriously.  If involves the well-being of a child, I go to Red Alert.  If things go sideways and issues end up in court--it is the School Board that gets sued.  So, when I read this post in "Rick's Blog" today--I immediately asked our attorney to look into the matter and render a written opinion for the board.

Based upon the what is known about the facts of this incident at this time (and additional information is coming in still) our attorney, Donna Waters, believes that the district did not violate the statutes Rick Outzen cited in his blog post this morning.  Late this afternoon, I met with our attorney and discussed this matter with her at length.  I have her written opinion, and I have her permission to quote from it, however she asked that the memo not be released in its entirety at this time and she has labeled it   "ATTORNEY WORK PRODUCT APPLIES - DO NOT RELEASE WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH GENERAL COUNSEL."

Rick Outzen and his attorney have requested a meeting for this coming Monday morning at 10:00AM to discuss this issue further, at which time Mrs. Waters will undoubtedly challenge these assertions from "Rick's Blog"

The important aspects of Mrs. Waters' rebuke to the allegations from today's Rick's Blog are as follows:

"As with so many issues, the answer depends a great deal on the specific facts involved in the incident. §39.201, F.S. provides that:  Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare, as defined in this chapter, or that a child is in need of supervision and care … shall report such knowledge or suspicion to [DCF]. School personnel are required to give their names when making such reports, and thus can be prosecuted for failing to make a report when required. If a report is not required by law, failing to report an incident does not violate the law.
Reports are required when the following elements are met:
 1.  “A person knows or reasonably should suspect” – Actual knowledge is not required. If a reasonable person who has this person’s knowledge of the facts would suspect abuse or neglect, the report must be made.

2.  “That a child” – For this section to apply, the alleged victim of abuse or neglect must be under the age of 18.

3.  “Is abused, abandoned or neglected” – the law gives specific definitions, but in general, reporters can rely on a reasonable person’s understanding of these terms.

4.  “By a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare.” – The alleged perpetrator must be a parent, caregiver or other person who has legal responsibility for the child’s welfare.

Element 4 is commonly misunderstood by the public. An assault by one child upon another is not normally a child abuse situation which must be reported to DCF. Reporting would be mandatory only if the perpetrator is a babysitter or older relative who has been left in charge of the victim’s welfare.

...This analysis does not mean that a perpetrator is not criminally liable for a child-on-child offense.  § 800.04, F.S. makes it a second degree felony for any person to engage in sexual activity with a person between the ages of 12 and 16...The statute provides that neither consent, prior sexual experience of the victim nor the offender’s ignorance as to the victim’s age are defenses to the crime."

Taxpayers, Students, Parents--1 Teacher's Labor Union 0-----Historic Teacher Quality Bill Heads to Governor Scott for Signature

The much discussed, controversial Florida teacher quality bill has now passed the house and is ready for signature by Governor Rick Scott.  Last year, a similar, much stronger bill passed both chambers of the legislature only to fall victim to a veto from then governor Charlie Crist.

Current Governor Rick Scott will sign this year's version.  Governor Scott said in a piece from Reuters:

"This bill is going to improve our system to the benefit of our students...We will make sure the best teachers stick around, that we retain them, we train them and we'll find the money to make sure they are paid fairly."

The measure passed right along party lines, supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.  (Ironically, this bill, Senate Bill 736, aligns itself with the goals of  Democratic President Obama's Race to the Top Education Reform Initiative--which unions and Democrats opposed )

Next up, the union dues and political activities legislation.

This is going to be a tough session for Democrats and organized public sector labor unions and their supporters

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Difficulty in Voting "No" on Superintendent Recommendations....

As a board member, it is difficult voting against recommendations that come to us from the Superintendent.  It happens so infrequently-- that it actually gets noticed and becomes almost a scene at a meeting if every item is NOT a 5-0 Sweep.

So in 5 years on the board, I have only voted "no" maybe 8 or 9 times.  It is rare that it happens.  It is really rare that any board member votes "no" on anything recommended by the superintendent and his staff.  It just does not happen much because we work out most of our issues at workshops before the meeting.  Or we (individual board members, one on one with the superintendent) talk things through and compromise prior to things being added to an agenda or put forward for a vote.

Generally a "no" vote happens when something is politically supercharged--like the closure of a school.

For me, my no votes typically come with recommendations that I cannot come to grips with; typically it is an employee or student recommendation that will significantly impact someone's life.

Interesting Thoughts from Tallahassee, 3-14-2011

I spoke to our School Board Consultant in Tallahassee yesterday about several key issues currently in the legislature.  I also spoke with one of our local state representatives and listened in on a group teleconference regarding the status of the state budget shortfall and some other hot-button issues.  The following are some points that were identified:

---House Teacher Bill--will pass out of the house this week, may not need to go back to senate, could be signed into law as early as this Friday by Gov. Scott.

---Revenue Estimate revision will happen Friday.  Overall the picture is bleak-looks as though the shortfall may be announce as  $4.6 Billion rather than $3.6

---Schools should brace for 10% funding cut (although this could be mitigated slightly, resulting in a 5-9% cut overall)

---RLE budgets will continue to be based on collection percentage set at 96%

---FRS conference-discussion about a tiered approach to employee contributions were discussed, with employees making more than $75,000 yearly paying 4 %, employees making $45-74,000 paying 2%
and employees making less than $40K paying none.  Discussions settled in on everyone paying 2%-but this is very much subject to change

---Union Check-off bill by Thrasher-passed committee 5-4 and looks likely to move forward

---Class size penalty procedure not settled as of yet

--Gaetz bill SB 1160 discussed, lots of consternation surrounding this bill (which would preclude retired Florida State Workers from collecting a state salary and a Florida Pension simultaneously)

Could Senate Bill 6 Be Reincarnated?

Several Bills that were vetoed by former Governor Charlie Crist may be poised for a second life according to House Speaker Dean Cannon.  Writes Speaker Cannon in a memo from yesterday:

"Several bills vetoed by former Governor Charlie Crist remain available for override by the Florida Legislature. I am directing the committee chairs to evaluate potential veto overrides in their area and, should they find a candidate for an override, to conduct a public hearing on the bill. The House will take up any override formally recommended by a committee."

Senate Bill 6 is on list.  read the full memo with a full list of potential override targets here

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brownsville Property Sale in Limbo....

In our board meeting which is currently underway, the viability of the sale of the Brownsville Middle school property has become the subject of discussion.

Mr. Hawthorne, the party that had expressed significant interest in the property, has not returned numerous calls from the district. According to the superintendent and his staff, the idea that we may no longer have a viable interested party is appearing to be a reality.

We have no contract with this buyer, we have no good faith money, and it is looking like we don't have a deal.

Disappointing but not entirely surprising.......

UPDATE  3-11-11  5:30AM--At the conclusion of Yesterday's school board workshop, the Superintendent let the board know that during the course of the meeting, Mr. Hawthorne had made contact with the district and that he was still interested in the property and intends to move forward..But we were also told that there is no signed contract with this individual or good faith money on deposit.  The PNJ today reports that a contract was signed on January 17th by George Hawthorne to purchase this property.  If a signed contract exists-we haven't seen it.....