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 29, 2012

Is This Due Process----or a Fleecing of the Taxpayer?

Recently,  school board members received a list of 9 employees who have been  "placed on suspension with pay pending an investigation into allegations of misconduct".

This memo was labeled "for informational purposes only", and on the bottom of the memo was listed an appropriate district HR person to contact if Board Members wanted additional information.  So I called and received a brief synopsis of each of the allegations leveled against each of these employees.

I think the district moves cautiously, which is in most cases very wise to do---but my issue here is that we are moving so cautiously that we are costing taxpayers large sums of money unnecessarily. 

The offenses of these nine employees, while all are significant,  run the gamut from bad to really bad to

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Escambia County Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

The 5 Teacher of the Year Finalists for Escambia have been announced, congratulations to them for this achievement!

Fran Cook--Helen Caro Elementary

Marjorie Stradley--West Florida High School

Jeffrey Pribble--Escambia High School

Terri Pernia--N.B. Cook Elementary School

Catherine Rudd--Scenic Heights Elementary

The Escambia County Teacher of the Year will be announced at the Golden Apple Awards Dinner on February 23.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

FDOE School District Rankings = Flawed

Data Does Not Tell the Whole Story

Recently, a succinct 1-67 ranking of all school districts in Florida was released to citizens and the press by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE).  These rankings were based upon a series of calculations directly tied to the administration of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in each of Florida’s 67 Counties.   Some districts, like St. Johns (south of Jacksonville) and Santa Rosa (#1 and #2 respectively) have much to be proud of, as they ranked very highly.  Hats off to them for the great work they are doing.
For districts like Escambia (ranked #44), the data is much less palatable.
Are we to assume that because districts like Santa Rosa and St. Johns are ranked so high—that they are exponentially better at learning delivery than their lower ranked peers like Escambia?  [CAUTION, HUMOR AHEAD]   I actually think that if Escambia swapped teachers with Santa Rosa, and kept everything else equal, Santa Rosa Would be holding the #1 slot!   [INSERT: RIM-SHOT]   Okay, maybe that’s a bit simplistic and over the top, and was of course stated in jest,  but according to the press portrayals of this FDOE  data I have read—one could easily reason that the higher the district ranking the better the School District, period.
And therein lies the problem.  
The release of data like this without thoughtfully conceived disclaimers, explanations, and footnotes can and does lead to incorrect and negative public perceptions.  This is because data alone does not tell the whole story.  And Commissioner Gerard Robinson’s 5 second blurb about poverty being a factor during his 2 minute introduction of the data does not cut-it as a disclaimer.  Nobody (except me) watched that video.
Complex data should be carefully developed and the “press-release” of such data requires thoughtful deployment If accuracy is valued.  Apples should be compared to Apples.
A striking yet very apt analogy is the community crime statistics released yearly by the FBI. 
When statistics about murders, assaults, forcible rapes and other vicious crimes are released annually, these data are put into tables and organized by events per 100,000 citizens of a particular community.  For example, (Utilizing 2010 data) the murder/non-negligent manslaughter rate in New Orleans (pop. 356,000) was roughly 50 times higher than it was in either El Paso, Texas (pop. 624,000) or Lincoln, Nebraska (pop. 260,000).  Does this mean police departments in El Paso and Lincoln are way better than the Cops in New Orleans?  Of course not.  This is why the FBI takes great care in providing a carefully worded disclaimer on its website along with the yearly crime stats. Community issues, poverty, demographics, and a myriad of other social ills affect crime rates—and educational outcomes.  
So I propose that the next time the FDOE wants to release rankings, perhaps they should consider utilizing the following disclaimer (taken directly from the FBI website, School District substituted for Law Enforcement, Educational Failure substituted for crime)
“Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local School District jurisdiction. It is important to remember that Educational Failure is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. The efforts of a School District are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

John Maxwell Live Part 2--The Five Levels of Leadership, Chris Gardner, and the Dream Test

At the 10AM-Noon Session of todays Leadership training with Dr. John Maxwell at the Pensacola Civic Center, the five levels of leadership were thoroughly covered.

Level one--Position leaders (titled) leaders are followed by people because they have to--this is a good place for leaders to start but a teriible place for leaders to stay.  According to Maxwell, this level describes roughly 70% of leaders.

Level two--Permission leaders are followed because others want to follow these types of leaders.  The three key qualities of Permission leaders are that these types of leaders listen, observe and serve; this level leader focuses on relationships.

Level three--Production leaders are followed because of what these leaders do for organizations.  This level of Leader sets a good example, creates momentum, and attracts higher caliber people to an organization

Level four--People Development leaders attract followers because of what these leaders do for people.  People developers recruit, position and equip the next generation of leaders by utilizing a five step process, they model the behavior, then they model and train, then they allow the trainee to implement the procedure while the leader is present, then level four leaders allow their mentees to go out on their own, and finally, the level four leader encourages his protege to go out and become a people developer in their own right.

Level five--Pinnacle leaders are followed because of who they are and what they accomplish.

After the noon session, lunch was served and at 1:20 Chris Gardner, the real-life inspiration for the hit Will Smith movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" gave an inspiring account of his life and the events leading up to his successful career as a stock broker.

At 3:00 PM, Dr. Maxwell did the final segment of the conference when he delivered a 10 point "dream-test" where he helped the audience to refine and define what an individual's dreams are.  The ten  point self assessmnent was actually a series of ten questions which, if answered truthfully, will help identify where a person's true passions lie.

During the course of the day, Dr. Maxwell strongly encouraged attendees to acquire and read his novels
"The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership"  "Today Counts" and "The 360 degree Leader"

Carlan Consulting, Gulf Power, Pensacola State College, and many other civic organizations and local businesses sponsored this event and were the driving force behind the huge (7,000 + attendees) turn-out.

John Maxwell Live Part 1--What is Success?

Today has been an extremely enlightening day at the civic center as nationally renowned motivational speaker and author John Maxwell has provided leadership training. At the morning session from 8-10 am, after introductions and sponsor acknowledgments, Dr. Maxwell defined success as knowing one's purpose in life, growth to one's maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others. He has spent time expanding upon these points and mixing in anecdotes from his own life. In his mid-morning session Dr. Maxwell will identify and expand on the five levels of leadership.

Escambia Ranked #44 of 67 Florida Counties in Test Data

In a new ranking of all sixty-seven Florida school districts released this morning, Escambia county has been ranked # 44.

This ranking is simply based upon raw test score data, not weighted for poverty or other demographic factors. So, and you read it here first, Tomorrow's PNJ headline will be about how great Santa Rosa schools (#2 in the survey) and Okaloosa schools (#6 in the survey)are doing compared to Escambia.

And of course there will be no exploration of the significant differences demographically between the districts. And this will be frustrating!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

127 Bills Filed in the Florida Legislature Through 1-20-12

Once weekly the Escambia County Scool District is briefed on Educational Issues being debated in the Florida legislature.  After these briefs, we typically receive a synopsis of all the bills currently making their way through the process. 

As of this past Friday, there were 127 K-12 Education Related Bills currently working their way through the Florida House and Senate, some of which are quite interesting.  I am attaching the comlete list of these bills here for all to see.

I know more than a few of these potential laws have my attention.  Anyone wishing to research these bills further can create a senate bill tracker account here  (very informative, useful, free, and easy)

To track house bills of interest, create a tracker account here 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"We Can't Get That Deep Into the Weeds"

Okay, this quote needs to be put into context.....

I understand that the News Journal has limited space to expand upon ideas and quotations, and therefore I want to put the statement above into context.  My conversation with the News Journal yesterday after the meeting was on a number of topics, including health care, the fund balance in our benefits account, and also the teacher who was facing termination.

With respect to that situation (employee discipline) I told the PNJ that operational issues and personnel recommendations are the purview of the Superintendent.  With respect to terminating employees, we do in fact have a say in these matters, and I told the PNJ that I was briefed on multiple occasions about this particular employee and the circumstances surrounding her termination in the days prior to the meeting.  I felt comfortable making the motion and also voting

Friday, January 13, 2012

Memo to City Hall....How about letting us in on Your Grand Vision for OUR PROPERTY!

So at the Thursday discussion meeting of the Escambia County School Board, a frenzied last minute shuffle took place as various School District Operations Personnel left and entered the room, answered phones, then made calls, in and out of the meeting, up and down, back and forth.
Eventually, Mrs. Hightower told us all that she had received late word from an ECUA board member about a significant zoning change that was about to be discussed by the Pensacola City Council, that very night at 5PM, which would affect a large swath of downtown, the former site of the ECUA sewage plant, and also our significant property at 215 W. Garden Street.
“Were we noticed?”  Was the question from the assembled staff and School Board members?  The answer thus far appears to be no. 

Nobody was noticed officially, unofficially, in writing, or via a courtesy call—until the night of the meeting by a third party.    Wow!  Really?        
As a governmental entity that levies ad-valorem taxes, and also as a substantial property owner within this proposed district—The School Board and Superintendent Thomas and his staff should have been noticed about this meeting.  We should be

The “Thursday Morning Money Grab”

No, it’s not a catchy and fun song like “Tuesday Night Music Club” by Sheryl Crow.  And no, there was nothing warm and fuzzy about it.  Nope, as it turns out it was just a Thursday morning email blast (see the email below) that sent shockwaves through schools and colleges statewide.   And we found out about it today at this morning’s regular workshop of the Escambia County School Board.

As is usually the case at our meetings, several interesting topics were discussed. Today, however, this unusual and troubling bit of information about this money freeze was passed along to School Board members by Terry St Cyr, Assistant Superintendent for Finance.
Our School District, along with every other school district and college and university in the state, received this email Thursday morning, a very matter-of-fact memo---- just essentially freezing hundreds of millions of dollars statewide—that’s all.   Just a hundreds of $millions.
Yes, every college and school district in the state has suddenly and inexplicably had their Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) budgets frozen.  What this means is essentially that any monies

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A.A. Dixon--the Financial Struggles Continue...

The financial woes affecting A.A. Dixon charter are not going away.

At a special meeting of the Escambia County School Board this Thursday, January 12, at 3:00 PM, the board will discuss the current state of A.A. Dixon’s finances.   Board members will be presented with a PowerPoint presentation by the finance department which projects A.A. Dixon’s fund balance to be a negative (-$63,090.00) at the end of FY 2012. 
This conservative projection shows a negative fund balance at the end of the FY, in comparison to the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) submitted by this charter earlier this year which projected a positive fund balance of around 5K at the end of the FY. 
I never thought the CAP’s fund balance projection was realistic, and I am actually somewhat skeptical about the final number this charter’s fund balance will be when the FY ends in June of 12.  I believe the final number will be worse that $63K, more like between (-$100,000.00 and -$150,000.00)
The presentation, which has already been provided to board members, also contains some line items which will create questions from me such as:

1.        How do you plan to pay for the repair of the district provided buses such that your transportation projection (7800-390), which is drastically lower for the second half of FY12, will be realistic, given your current fund balance is (-$30,970.00)
2.       What is the nature of the $10,000.00 expenditure in 7300-390, to whom was this expenditure made?
3.       What is the nature of the $4,688.00 expenditure in 7100-315, to whom was this expenditure made?  (My understanding of the CAP was that the school was no longer going to use consultants)
4.       Given the fact that your checkbook is essentially in the hole about -$30K, will you continue to be able to make your payroll for the rest of this year?
5.       Has your staff’s total “voluntary” pay cut been 10%, 15%, or a combination (25%?)
6.       If the fund balance increases as it looks likely to at the end of the FY—will this school close voluntarily per the agreement between Dixon’s Board Chair and the Superintendent, and the amendment to the CAP?
These are some of my initial questions; there will be more as this meeting (in room 160 at the Hall center) unfolds Thursday.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

5 Escambia County High Schools Earn Enough Points for an "A".......

....but only one High School earned the "A".  This due to a penalty assessed for the 2011 year for  on time at-risk graduation.  See the chart below......

..And compare the grades from last year with this chart, below....

The High Schools and all schools in our district are making signifigant forward progress.  As is illustrated in the first chart, five High Schools of Seven in our district earned enough points for an "A" but 4 were penalized back to a "B" level due to a newly enacted penalty on High Schools that do not graduate at-risk students within 4 years.

This is an issue that we are working on and we will have to focus more resources on solving this problem; but that does not  and should not diminish the accomplishments of the high schools in all other areas.

Congratulations are in order for the students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators that are driving these results!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Panhandle County Gets National Recognition for Cost Cutting

Not Escambia.  Santa Rosa is singled out in this recent article that appeared on Breitbart's Big Government site.  Santa Rosa's efforts at privatizing services has saved tremendous sums of taxpayer money--and has proven to be a wise course of action.....

From the article:

"Some Florida schools have managed to weather the financial storm on their own by tackling runaway labor costs. The Santa Rosa district is a good example. Like most districts, it has felt the effects of decreased state aid. Santa Rosa’s current operating budget is about $15 million less than last year’s budget.  But school officials did not have to hit the panic button, or demand tax increases to maintain their programs. Instead they made some “tough decisions,” including the privatization of their food, custodial and transportation programs, a gradual process that began in the 1990s.  “(The tough decisions) are paying dividends because we are very solvent and we are able to navigate through the next year without too much concern,” Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick recently told  Jim Crane, director of purchasing and contract administration for Santa Rosa schools, helped implement the district’s privatization plan, which was among the first in the state. He’s seen the benefits of privatization first hand.  “We’re saving millions per year because we contracted out, and we’re getting better service,” Crane told EAG. “It’s been a net plus for us.”
Crane notes the district’s switch to privatization was very gradual. Instead of replacing union employees with private sector counterparts immediately, Santa Rosa decided to replace employees through attrition. As they quit or retire, they’re replaced with contracted workers.  Eighteen years ago, two-thirds of Santa Rosa’s custodial staff were district employees, and were paid according to contractually negotiated salary schedules. That’s down to two percent today.  When salary and benefits are averaged out, a custodian employed directly by the district costs twice as much as a privately contracted custodian, Crane said. District-employed transportation employees cost one-third more than their private sector counterparts."

Read the full article here