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, 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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who Are The Schmucks?

Is it outrageous to think that an organized governing body comprised of constitutional officers could blatantly violate state law and face no consequences? How about if dozens of governing bodies throughout a state violated a law and no action was taken against them?

This just happened in Florida.

The 2010-2011 school year was the final year for the phase-in of the 2002 class size constitutional mandate. Some districts, including Escambia County, followed the law and complied with it to the letter. And full compliance in Escambia County was not fully funded by the legislature—Escambia received just shy of $1 Million from the state for the final phase of compliance, yet the cost for full compliance locally was $4 Million. This was a giant unfunded mandate.

This situation resulted in a heated discussion at the School Board workshop of one year ago, May 14th 2010. There was talk at this particular meeting of “doing our best” and “trying” to comply with the strict provisions of the final phase of the law.

But our school board put its foot down at that meeting and said total compliance with the class size law was the only option for Escambia County Schools for 2010-2011.

Now, as the dust settles on the2010-2011 school year, we learn that over 30 Florida districts failed to comply. Several districts fell blatantly short and appear to have not even tried. Reasons have been universally weak.

“The legislature didn’t fund us for it” some districts said. But all districts receive the same per-student base allocations, so that argument fails.

“Amendment 8, if passed, would have relieved us from the burdens of the final phase of the law” other districts said. But this argument is preposterous because Amendment 8 didn’t pass and everyone knew it was going nowhere.

Insert into this chaotic mix the threats of “penalties” for districts out of compliance by the legislature, followed by threats of a lawsuit by the school boards association if the state penalized any districts, followed by talk of lawsuits by others if compliance did not occur and penalties were not levied.

Confused yet?

Don’t worry, all of this occurred under the backdrop of an oil spill, a lingering recession, statewide elections, and the worst economic mess this area has seen since the great depression.

So what was the result? Opinions vary. While the legislature and the department of education came up with a nifty formula for penalizing out-of-compliance districts--this plan has been winnowed down to a point that it’s toothless. Example—for spending $3Million over what we were funded for compliance, Escambia will receive a whopping $220,000.00, meaning we SPENT a net $2.8Million to fully follow the law. Congratulations, right?!

Palm Beach County, on the other hand (the most out of compliance district in the state) did not spend the estimated $59 Million it would have had to spend to fully comply, and for that it will be penalized $4Million dollars—meaning Palm Beach County SAVED as much as $55Million dollars via their non-compliance! And apparently there will be no legal repercussions for their failure to comply.

Perplexed, I asked our attorney her opinion on this matter. “How could these various constitutional officers get away with not following state law?” I’ve not yet received her official answer, but she has said it’s not a simple question and will require further research. So I’ll answer my own question with this rhetorical question.

Are we the Schmucks for following the law, when others saved their constituents $Millions by disregarding the law and apparently getting away with it?

You decide.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Class Size Penalties--Who were the Winners, Who are the Losers?

The figures are out as of this morning--those districts that did what was necessary to comply with the class size ammendment will be rewarded with additional funds from districts that did not comply.

But the question now becomes the following--which was the right play?

A.  Spending tons of money to comply in order to receive a fraction of the spent money back as a reward for being in "compliance"?

B.  Spending as little as possible, saving millions of dollars, and paying a fraction of what was not spent in penalties for not being in "compliance"?