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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BP Oil Spill Litigation Representation for Escambia School Board--The Short List is Getting Shorter

The task of finding appropriate representation for the School District in our claim against BP has been ongoing.  Finding the right firm to tackle this complex matter has been a very high priority for the School Board since last summer when it was apparent that the district was going to be suffering economic losses due to the oil spill.

Initially, last September, the knee jerk idea that the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) put forth was for Escambia County Schools to join forces with a group of attorneys from Tampa, Houston, and Panama City that the FSBA had "assembled."  They said  "These are the firms we recommend for you"

I immediately took issue with this proposal and said I would not support out-of-area firms getting the job unless local firms got a look first.  Stiffing locally owned and operated, well qualified mass-tort firms to hire out-of-towners did not sit well with me. 

At a meeting of the full board, the guidance given to our attorney was to cast a wide net and look at all firms--not just the FSBA's hand-selected group.

Since then, our Attorney, Mrs. Donna Waters has served on a committee with her counterparts from the BOCC charged with selection of several qualified firms that could represent both the BOCC and the ECSD.

The School Board will not be bound by this committee's recommendations, and it is my understanding that the BOCC is not bound by these two recommended firms either.

However, these firms have gone through a rigorous vetting process and it is believed that these are the best of the more than a dozen entities who expressed interest in this matter.

The following are the two law firms that emerged from the joint BOCC and ECSD committee as well qualified to represent us in our attempts to seek restitution from BP:

--Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C. and McDonald, Fleming, Moorhead, Ferguson, Green, Smith & Dekozan, LLP

--Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor P.A.

Here is the email Board Members received from Mrs. Waters:

>>> Donna Waters 04/27/11 10:12 AM >>>


Good Morning:

As you know, yesterday I participated in Escambia County's review of proposals for attorney services in the BP matter. I am attaching the notice from the committee as to the selection of two firms, whose names will be forwarded to the BOCC for a final decision. I would point out that both are well-established Pensacola firms which have associated with out-of-state specialists in mass tort litigation. This allows the matter to be handled locally, yet the resources of larger firms will be available when needed.

I will be in further contact with these two firms to discuss specifics re representation of the school board, and I will update you as events occur.

If you are would like to see the materials provided by the two firms, I have placed copies in Ms. West's office for your convenience. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.


Donna Sessions Waters

General Counsel
Escambia County School Board
75 North Pace Boulevard
Pensacola, Florida 32505

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Escambia County Students of the Year Awards 2011

One of the events I truly look forward to attending every year is the Escambia County Student of the Year Awards Ceremony.

Over Sixty students were chosen from Escambia County Schools to be honored as Students of the year from their respective schools and programs this evening at N.B. Cook Elementary School.

These students have had to overcome tremendous disabilities, tragic family circumstances, hardships, and other obstacles to succeed in school.  Circumstances that some of these students have endured included the loss of parents, death of siblings, living with physical handicaps, being homeless, or not speaking the english language.

And these students honored tonight have succeeded in overcoming these hardships to thrive in our schools.

Nights like this make me especially proud of all of our students, parents and caregivers, and the teachers and staffs of our schools.

Congratulations to all that made tonight a special evening.

I especially want to thank the following sponsors of the Escambia County Student of the Year Awards for 2011:

Baptist Hospital

Escambia County Council of PTAs and PTSAs

Escambia County Foundation for Excellence in Education

PTA of N.B. Cook Elementary School

Plant and Flower Boutique

Stone's Studio, Inc.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Entitlement Mentality Threatens Bright Futures Scholarships

There is a growing call among some in Florida to reform the Bright Futures Scholarship program.  A pair of editorials last week called on the state to take a student's (and his family's) financial need into account when doling out the awards.

I could not be more strongly opposed to this.

I like Merit based programs-and I believe that the program should continue to operate as a merit based scholarship program.

I understand that the number of students who are attaining the grades necessary to win awards has been steadily increasing--and while this becomes costly I think this is a good thing.

But, what needs to be done is the requirements need to be raised to allow for the revenue available to fit the number of students who meet higher threshhold criteria.  (i.e. higher SAT, higher GPA, etc.)

I agree with reformers who believe that this lottery funded program SHOULD NOT be subsidized by general fund tax revenue from the state--because feeding this program with tax revenue will only intensify the calls for this program to become a "needs based" program rather than a merit based award.

And look at what has happened in Georgia with their HOPE scholarship awards now that that state has instituted a needs assessment for their program.

Let's not do this in Florida-let's not water this program down, let's make it more competitive and raise the bar instead.

To summarize--I believe the money available annually from lottery proceeds should be looked at, and an adjustment to the eligibility criteria made as often as necessary to continue to make this a 100% lottery proceeds funded, competitive, merit based scholarship program.

Telling parents and families that make more than $100K that they "make enough" and do not "need" the scholarship money for their kids is ludicrous-- and ammounts to nothing but socialist class warfare rhetoric.  Luckily for hard working Florida middle class families, I believe our current legislature and Governor wish to keep bright futures a merit based program.  I'm thankful for this.

There are already TONS of needs based, entitlement programs for children from low income households--we don't need to destroy bright futures by buying into the propaganda of the PC, liberal entitlement set.

Friday, April 15, 2011

School District and Unions Settle Salary for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012

The proposed settlement was agreeed to by the School Board in executive session yesterday.

The School Board met in this executive session at 2:30 yesterday afternoon, at which time a proposal which would result in nearly a 3% increase for employees was formulated.At 4:30 PM, the School Board’s negotiating team met with union officials, and by 6:00 I received word via a phone call that the union had agreed to the district’s proposal.

I see in this morning’s PNJ online that the union already got word to the press about this proposed settlement of the salary issue for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.  EEA president Kathy Breakall was quoted in the story saying the following:

"While the salary proposal can't compensate our employees for continuing to go extra miles for the students in Escambia County, it is an attempt of both the union and the district to recognize that even in these gloomy budget years, we know their work is at the heart of any successes [in] the (school district),"

I would have hoped for a more magnanimous quote—perhaps reflecting gratitude that the employees will receive some increase in compensation from the taxpayers despite the dreadful economic landscape that currently exists in Florida—but instead we are told that the only reason for ANY progress in our schools is because of the EEA and its members.  Not Parents, not the students, not the volunteers from the community---Nope, it’s just the union members that make a difference.
Off-putting quotes like this one from today’s PNJ are why so many taxpayers have disdain for public sector white collar unions.   It takes a concerted effort between parents, schools, teachers and students to achieve high performance--but this quote pours cold water on that perspective.

To follow up on this quote this morning, in my email inbox I (and every other district employee) received this “announcement” from the union about the salary settlement.  (Which also doubles as a membership solicitation, by the way)

I’m not sure how I feel about the union using district resources and time for their recruiting effort—I mean, I know they want to reach 50% membership,(which they currently do not have) but they ought to recruit outside of utilizing district email; many employees will be opening and reading this union “bulletin” during working hours today.

Changes to Florida Retirement System (FRS)--Pending Legislation Analysis

The Escambia County School Board memebers have received the attached comparative analysis of the house and senate proposals for FRS reforms.

Many people are watching this issue closely, as the quality of their retirement rides on what is decided in this legislative session.

HB1405 leaves much of the law unchanged, except that this house version closes the DROP program to new enrollees beginning July 1, 2011.  (Senate Bill keeps DROP open to new entrants through July 1, 2016)

Employee contribution rates--House version stipulates everyone pays 3%.

Senate Version stipulates the following:

Effective July 1, 2011 each member, except members in DROP, shall contribute 2% of the first $25,000 of compensation, 4% compensation above $25,000 to $50,000, and 6% for compensation above $50,000 to their retirement account.  State Legislators, Governor, and Cabinet Members pay 3%, 5%, and 7% for the same incomes.

Everyone who is a participant in FRS needs to know what is pending in the legislature and should look at this chart

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Live Blog School Board Workshop 4-14-11

I am blogging live from the afternoon school board discussion workshop.

Items of interest:

Julie Collins--office of safe schools gave a detailed, powerpoint presentation on SESIR.

The big take-away from the presentation- SESIR does not police the reporting by districts-They are not an enforcement agency. I asked if it is accurate for the public to judge a school or district by the percentage of incidents reported to SESIR compared to other schools or other districts. The answer was not necessarily.

Oil spill litigation-list of potential firms has been narrowed from 12 to 4. All day meeting will be held April 26th, at which time our Attorney will finalize her recommendation for the School Board with respect to which firm should be hired to represent our interests.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Democrat L.A. Mayor's Education Initiatives Look Pretty Conservative....

And this guy is a Democrat?? 

Rock-Star Popular Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is planning a series of vigorous reforms of the struggling LA Public School System, outlined in today's LA Times.

From the article:

"In his sixth State of the City address Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will turn his sights to education and call for throwing out the telephone-book sized teachers contract as a fundamental strategy for reforming the state's largest public school system....Villaraigosa's remarks offer his latest challenge to United Teachers Los Angeles, for which he once worked. In a December address he called UTLA 'one unwavering roadblock to reform'...The mayor believes the new contract should include a teacher evaluation system that is based, at least in part, on student test scores...Villaraigosa also reiterated his call for changing rules that grant virtually automatic tenure to teachers after two years. And he asserted the need to alter the quality-blind "last in, first out" seniority rules that govern who is laid off during budget-related cutbacks."

Some of these ideas sound familiar--a lot like our Governor and Legislators' proposals here in Florida.  Maybe it's not just the evil Republicans that the NEA and AFT need to worry about....

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Retire on $9,000.00 Per Month? This District Support Employee Did....

Over the course of the last school year I have spent some time weekly at one particular school where I mentor a young student.  During that time I have frequently had occasion to speak with one of the support employees who works at this school--we'll just say her name is "Jean"

About a month back, Jean seemed exceptionally bubbly and multiple personnel were coming in and out congratulating her, so I asked her what the occasion was.  Jean then proceeded to inform me that this day, this particular day,  was the last day she would ever be working in her life--she was retiring.  I congratulated her as well.  I asked if she would miss the job, the kids, and the people.  She politely smiled and said she was looking forward to not working anymore.

Some small talk ensued, and Jean then frankly said that, although she was not a highly paid district employee, she had been working for the schools in support positions since the early 1980s--and she had been diligent about saving money and investing these funds.

"I'm not even a savvy investor--I don't have a clue"  Jean explained.  I just read a few books about saving, and I followed a plan and did not deviate from it"

Jean explained that, even going through personal issues, including a divorce, she maintained her saving and investing regimen.

We discussed rising costs, the recession, etc. and I, feeling comfortable with the discussion and the topic, off the cuff asked her if she felt a state pension, social security, and her savings would permit her to retire in a comfortable fashion.

Her response about floored me.....

"I'll be retiring with an income of about $9,000.00 monthly"... "I'm going to sell my home here in Pensacola if I can, I owe very little on it.  Then, I'm going to move closer to one of my sons and grandkids about a twelve hour drive away from Pensacola. I am looking forward to enjoying this next stage of my life with my family"

I absolutely love stories like this--the American Dream comes in all shapes and sizes and can be reached by any and all that choose to go for it-whether it is a start-up business-the hare-or a retiree who made good, disciplined financial choices and will reap the benefits--the tortoise.

The American Dream is alive and exists even for those who earn low to modest hourly rates--as long as they make good financial decisions--as Jean apparently did.

Two Huge Accomplishments for Escambia County High School Students

I received word last night via email of two exceptional achievements garnered by Escambia County High School Students.

1.  The Escambia Academic team has won the state academic championship. Back to back championships have only occurred twice - 02/03 and now 10/11. The Escambia Academic team is the only team to win back to back ... And now they have accomplished the task for a second time.  The Escambia teams for the past ten year period have either won or placed second every year--an amazing achievement and a testament to the fact that Escambia County produces some exceptionally smart students!

2.  Pine Forest finished 4th in the ROTC national finals. There are over 600 units in the US. Only the top 25 make it to the finals.  The Escambia School Disrtrict had 2 schools in the finals: Pine Forest and Escambia.
Escambia won the Jason Harvey award which is awarded to the one unit that displayed character and integrity throughout the competition.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crime on Campus--Email of Concern and My Response

I received the below email this morning.

>>> XXXXXXXXXXXXXX 04/08/11 9:13 PM >>>

Dear Escambia County School Board members: I am a parent of a XXXXXXXXX school student. I want you to know that both me and my daughter want you to work on developing a plan to address violence of any kind in our schools. I also want to be very clear in that I demand to know immediately if my XXXXXXX is suspected of either committing a crime, or being the victim of one, a crime of ANY kind. All crimes which happen on your campuses should be handled in the same way they would be handled should they happen at a local hospital, restaurant or home. Local law enforcement, the public servants our tax dollars train and depend on to be knowledgeable and experienced in responding to crimes, must be notified immediately.
I also want you to know that if my XXXXXXXXX is sexually assaulted and proper procedures are not followed (meaning a trained investigator be called immediately) I will hold each and every one of you personally accountable for that crime. I do not know if you are parents or not (in which case the depth of my feelings may be misunderstood); I mean no personal offense by these words. I just want to be clear in my expectation of you, our elected officials charged with educating in a safe environment the most precious part of our society, our children.


My response: (redactions to protect writer's identity)


Thanks for your email of concern.

We report crimes, we do not condone or attempt to cover-up crimes. A fringe element of our local so-called media has reported erroneous data in his publication which becomes dangerous; He essentially said we broke the law by not notifying the DCF about the Tate H.S. Incident. Of course he was proven wrong when our attorney confirmed that we had followed the law and the statutes he quoted were inapplicable to the Tate HS incident. Now this same individual is hurling new allegations our way that are incorrect regarding protocols for SESIR reporting. He will be proven wrong on his allegations here as well-at a special board meeting this Thursday at 3PM. Of course I do not expect he will retract his allegations when they are found to be baseless--he will then move on to some other topic he can sensationalize for maximum hit counts on his blog.

XXXXXXXX--We care about all of the kids in this district--and I can say that to the best of my knowledge on our campuses if crimes are committed and discovered--these crimes are reported, that is the law and it aligns with our school board policies on reporting of such incidents.

The guilty are punished, and Escambia Schools are, save for the isolated random incident, safe.

XXXXXX--I, too, have a student at  XXXXXXX, and my XXXXXXX went there for three years. My wife and I are in the XXXXX  PTA(XXXXXXXXXX) My youngest son XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. I have three kids in this school system, one of which is at PHS (a school I graduated from in the 80s) and believe me, I care about student safety. I'm the driving force behind a drug awareness program that has cut expulsions for drug possession in half. (Ironically, the same media personality that is attempting to demonize us for the Tate incident and SESIR reporting DISAGREES with drug dog searches and random testing of athletes for student safety--pretty ironic. He feels that this is simply too "invasive") But the truth, XXXXXX, is we expel students who are violent or who harm other students, period. That is the way this works.

Bottom Line: We have great personnel in our schools who care about kids. My advice to you would be to be involved, go to the schools, meet the faculty, and observe the environment for yourself. Don't allow third-hand, unreliable and inaccurate souces to frame your opinion for you; I would also strongly caution you against putting too much stock in believing in the paper monsters that one local newsblogger attempts to incarnate in order to vent some sort of passive agressive disdain he has for our current elected superintendent of schools and school board.

Jeff Bergosh

Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) System--Data Interpretation

Several local blog posts recently have sought to draw conclusions about the Escambia County School District and its schools based upon data from  Florida's School Environmental Safety Incident Reporting (SESIR) System.

The data is complex and there are many factors that go into the reporting of incidents to the state via SESIR.  It would not be difficult to imagine local bloggers not comprehending this data and therefore misinterpreting it.  Data is complex yet some bloggers are not. 

Of paramount importance when attempting to draw conclusions about schools and districts is the following statement from SESIR regarding data interpretation. (page 7 from Introduction)

"When examining data contained in the Statewide report, caution should be exercised when comparing school districts. Numerous social and environmental factors, such as the size of the district population, can significantly impact SESIR data between districts. The number of incidents may vary among districts due to differing interpretations of incident definitions, varying levels of consistency with which schools report incidents, and variation in the amount and level of training provided to school personnel who report SESIR incidents. It is not recommended that data from the Statewide report be used to make general comparisons between districts without taking into consideration external factors and variables. "

If one is attempting to demonize schools--at least they ought to get the data right, right?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Elimination of School Board Salaries in Florida a Real Possibility

This afternoon shortly after 1:00PM in Tallahassee-a committee will decide the future of a proposed Senate Bill that would eliminate salaries for elected school board members in Florida.

The committee will be comprised of three Republicans and One Democrat.  A 2-2 vote will stop this bill in its tracks.  With a 3-1 vote, the bill moves forward.

The author of the bill, a lame duck serving his last term in the Senate, apparently has an issue with part-time elected  constitutional officers earning a salary  (except for part-time legislators like himself, part time city councilmembers, part time county commissioners, part time utility board members, etc.--which are all apparently okay to receive a state paycheck for part-time service in this senator's opinion)

This Senator (that many do not take seriously, by the way) apparently has a long standing beef with the executive director of the state school boards association--and now that this senator will term limit out and is a LAME DUCK, the word is that this bill is an attempt at settling a score on his way out the door.
  If true, what a petty, small minded, and weak way to get even.

But the unintended consequences of this bill are huge.  This bill will consolidate power 100% to superintendents around the state, with no real backstop to challenge their every proposal.  A volunteer board simply will not have the credibility and/or courage to challenge anything a superintendent (elected or appointed) puts forth.  Example--"Superintendent Recommendation--today will be the sky is purple day.  School Board votes 5-0 to accept the purple sky recommendation, adjourned" 

A volunteer board will not attract the same caliber of person, period.  Slowly, statewide, boards will lose talented individuals that will seek employment elsewhere.

Let's just put the Booster Clubs in charge.

But this Senator will get his jab in the backs of the 355 Sitting School Board members as he walks out the door, while he collects a STATE PENSION for his many years on the public dole, the last 14 of which have been as a PAID, part-time, legislator working 2 months per year.

What a hypocritical piece of work this guy is.

Fed. Gov't Providing Guidance on Sexual Assaults on Campus

Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan unveiled a message to America's Universities and School Districts yesterday.

The message:  Sexual harrassment, intimidation, and assault will not be tolerated on American campuses.  Following a brutal gang-rape of a 14 year old female student in the stairwell of a DC public school that went virtually unmentioned among the staff of the said school--a teacher came forward and demanded action.
"It wasn’t handled at all, she said. At a staff meeting the Monday after the attack, she said, the school administration didn’t even bring it up. “After the meeting, I had to go up to my classroom and pretend that nothing happened,” second-year teacher Jessica Lilly wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “For the rest of the day, I attempted to teach how to write an equation of a line in slope-intercept form in between student conversations about the attack.”

Read more here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Parents, Students, School Choice Reform Advocates 1--ACLU, NEA, AFT--0

In what can be best described as a devastating punch to the guts of the ACLU and organized teacher's labor unions nationwide, The Supreme Court has just today ruled in favor of parents, students, and school choice reform advocates in upholding  an Arizona voucher plan.

From Fox News:

"The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an Arizona school voucher program that critics say improperly directs taxpayer funds to religious schools.Monday's 5-4 ruling expands long-standing court precedents that citizens don't have standing to legally challenge taxes they don't like simply because they're taxpayers.....The ruling drew immediate praise from Arizona groups defending the voucher system.  "Parents should be able to choose what's best for their own children. This ruling empowers parents to do just that," Alliance Defense Fund Senior Counsel David Cortman said in a statement. "The ACLU failed in its attempt to eliminate school choice for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide and also failed to demonstrate that it had any constitutional basis for its clients to file suit in the first place."

Full article here:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Inside the Under-Construction Global Learning Academy

The Escambia County School Board toured the currently under-construction Global Learning Academy this morning in Downtown Pensacola.  Construction on the facility, which is slated for completion by the end of summer 2011, is moving along at a brisk pace and the personnel associated with the project anticipate timely completion.

The Facility is being built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard, a designation meaning that the facility is being constructed in an environmentally friendly manner. The building materials are being recycled where possible, with an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainable building. Once completed, the facility will use natural, ambient lighting throughout.  Additional information on LEED can be found here.

The one hour tour highlighted the various features of this facility, which will be 118,000SF upon completion and will house nearly 800 Prek-5th grade students.  According to Mr. Ron Peacock, District Director of Facilities Planning, the facility is coming in significantly under-budget.  Mr. Peacock estimates that at completion, the costs for construction of this brand new school will be at about $125.00 per SF, a figure which is reasonable compared to costs of similar structures around the country.