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.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dialogue Opens between School District and City of Pensacola Regarding Allie Yniestra Property

On April 9th, the School Board members were copied on a letter from Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward to Superintendent Malcolm Thomas. In the letter, the Mayor states his opinion that while the city of Pensacola is not in direct need of the now vacant Allie Yniestra Elementary School property, he feels that there may be some adaptive reuse opportunities for this property, including housing non-profit organizations. See the Mayor’s letter to Superintendent Thomas below.

Superintendent Thomas answered the Mayor’s letter on April 19th, and this response was also copied to members of the School Board. The letter from the district restated some ongoing issues of concern, including identifying funding sources outside of the school district for building modifications necessary to house non-profits at Yniestra, as well as for ongoing associated operating costs of such a use. See district response letter to Mayor Hayward below.

Mayor Hayward has identified John Peacock as his liaison to the district for discussions regarding potential adaptive reuse of Yniestra, and Superintendent Thomas has charged Shawn Dennis, District Assistant Superintendent for Operations, with representing the school district in these initial discussions.

Any lease agreement, contract, or other use of the property for non-education purposes would then be brought to the School Board for consideration and a vote.

I’m looking forward to hearing what sorts of ideas this ad hoc city/school district group of two comes up with for this vacant facility.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Draft Employee Dependent Eligibility Audit Released

During Christmas break last year I received a letter from the District’s Risk Management Department asking for proof that my children and wife were/are eligible for the benefits for which they are enrolled. I gathered the requested documents and sent them it to the auditor within a week. Birth Certificates, Marriage License, and all of the requested paperwork—sent in. I was happy to comply with this request once I spoke to our Audit chief, David Bryant, and learned that EVERY employee with dependents enrolled in our plan had to comply and send this paperwork in for verification.

The goal was to ensure that every enrolled dependent was actually eligible—and that those that are/were not eligible would be removed. This process appealed to me because it will ensure efficiency with taxpayer resources that are utilized to fund our self-insured health benefits.

My only concern was that everyone be treated equally and that everyone be held to the same timelines for sending in the paperwork. I was assured by David Bryant and also by Kevin Windham from Risk Management that this was going to be the case.

I am now in receipt of

Monday, April 16, 2012

Is There a Reverse Achievement Gap with Respect to Student Suspensions?

Why Are Asians So Infrequently Suspended from School?

This is a true story. In my first year on the school board, while attending a state sponsored convention in Tampa in 2007, I attended a break-out session on “The Achievement Gap”. The lecturer in the small room had a PowerPoint presentation and some handout materials detailing his data analysis indicating that in the districts he studied- White student achievement was typically higher than Hispanic student achievement, and Achievement among African American students was typically below the Hispanic level. He went on to frame his conclusions and a group discussion ensued on how to narrow the “gap.” Before the group could dive too deeply into how the public school system was somehow potentially shortchanging Hispanic and African American students-- I raised my hand and asked, “Where are the Asians detailed in your analysis”----then the room went quiet like a scene from one of those old E.F. Hutton commercials. Then came the gasps and a few muted chuckles. I did not realize I had committed a faux pas by

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Law Enforcement Questioning of Students at School, Part V

At today's workshop of the school board, several members of the Sheriff's department attended our brief discussion on the subject of student questioning at school by law enforcement.

As I have stated numerous times, If there is no support for changing our policy, then I will not continue to discuss it.

At today's meeting, I  briefly stated my case for the necessity of a policy change. My main purpose today was to hear what my fellow board members felt about this issue.  Bill Slayton stated he did not feel the need to make a change, and Gerald Boone echoed that sentiment.

I, of course, stated my strong belief for the need of a change.  Patty Hightower said she had fielded calls on the subject, but did not go so far as to state a position on whether or not a change is necessary.

Linda Moultrie did not speak to the issue.

Where does this leave this policy?

Up in the air.

Meanwhile--parents, most parents in this community, are blissfully unaware that our policy does not require parental notification prior to police questioning of their children at school.  Ones that pay attention will have to ensure they explain to their children about how to politely say " I want my parents here before I speak with you"---If these parents want to be around for the questioning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Senator Bill Nelson Visits Pensacola Elected Officials

United States Senator Bill Nelson (D) met with about three dozen locally elected officials and other interested community members this morning at Pensacola State College.

Mr. Nelson is making stops today in Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach, Destin, and Chipley.

If the session in Pensacola is any indication as to the motivation for the visit—the RESTORE act and lobbying for its passage in the U.S. House of Representatives (free of any major amendments) is the impetus for the Senator’s panhandle visit; the inevitable media coverage his visit locally will garner during this heated campaign year is probably a part of the reasoning for the visit as well.

Mr. Nelson spent about 40 minutes explaining, in very detailed fashion, the way in which he and the other Gulf State Senators were able to get the RESTORE act passed in the U.S. Senate by a 74-22 margin. The Senator was very complimentary toward the Republican Senators that voted with him to pass the bill, however he had nothing to say about those who voted no. Nelson explained some of the technicalities of the bill and the fact that if it is passed in its current form, 80% of the BP fine money-which could be anywhere from $5- $20Billion dollars—would be dedicated to the gulf states that were directly impacted by the oil spill. The catch, according to Senator Nelson, was that in order to pass the bill to get the BP fine money, new revenue had to be generated to satisfy a GAO report stating the RESTORE act would cost $1.5Billion to implement. Nelson, deridingly described this GAO figure of $1.5Billion as “fiction”—but he did mention that, oh by the way, he had found a mechanism by which he could raise $2.5Billion to satisfy the GAO requirement (and then some!)! (He never fully described this “mechanism”, only saying that it was something already “on the books”, not enforced for 9 of the last 10 years, and that if implemented this year would

Monday, April 9, 2012

What Happens When the Lawyers Disagree?

Lawyers argue their side of things, oftentimes disagreeing--this is a normal thing.  But when the Superintendent's attorney and the School Board attorney disagree on an important matter up for Board action-- things can become interesting.

On the subject of Employee discipline recommendations, the superintendent's attorney, Joe Hammons, believes that the board can only accept or reject the superintendent's recommended punishment for employees.

While not advising that the board modify a superintendent's recommendation--School Board attorney Donna Waters, on the other hand, believes that the board can, in fact, modify a  discipline recommendation.

I understand that discipline recommendations are the purview of the Superintendent, and in the rare instances where I have disagreed with one of these recommendations (4 times total in 6 years), I have simply voted against a particular recommendation.

I  agree with our attorney in that  a fight with the superintendent over something of this nature would serve no good purpose, and would in all likelihood result in litigation--Board vs Superintendent.  I do, however, agree with Mrs. Waters' side of this argument--it is well researched, and she has reached out to several peers around the state to come up with her opinion and subsequent memo to the board.

Read Mr. Hammons' opinion here.

Read Mrs. Waters' opinion here

Friday, April 6, 2012

Law Enforcement Investigators Questioning Students at School Part IV

This is a subject I have discussed numerous times at length at School Board meetings and also on my blog here, here, and here.

Parents need to be engaged before their young school aged kids are questioned at school for law enforcement purposes, and students should not be yanked out of class by police for non-school related matters, except in certain limited circumstances. These are two issues which I feel need to be put into our policy in Escambia County. Many districts around the country are modifying their policies to delineate and define when students can be questioned at school by police for non-school related, law enforcement purposes as well as protocols for parental notification prior to such questionings. I have put together a list of some policies from around the state and nation side by side with Escambia County’s current weak policy.

I really like the way our neighbors in the Santa Rosa County School District define this process in their policy—and I’d be happy if we could mirror their language—although I like the Chesapeake, Virginia, policy even better! See some different policies here.

So, as I said I would do, early last month I met with the Sheriff’s Captain of the School Resource Officers and also a staff attorney from ECSO. I felt like the meeting went well.

I brought the initial draft policy I asked our attorney to write for Escambia Schools, which was built on a very well thought-out, well written statewide guideline from the Illinois Council of School Attorneys. The goal was to find what parts of this policy were disagreeable to the Sheriff, and then work toward a compromise. At this hour long meeting that occurred on March 7th, I felt really confident that we were at the precipice of the collaborative development of a better policy for Escambia Schools.

On March 27th, I received this response to the meeting from Sheriff Morgan. His response was mailed on March 15th, to the wrong address, and thus I did not receive it until 12 days after it was mailed.

The response from the Sheriff was somewhat terse, and it subtly hints that I somehow seek to subvert the school board’s decision making process by developing a policy on my own without input from the other board members.

This is simply not the case, though, and I pointed this out in

Thursday, April 5, 2012

School Board Discussion Meeting, Thursday, April 12th 3:00PM

The Escambia County School board will be meeting for our once monthly discussion meeting this coming Thursday, April 12th at 3:00 PM in room 160 of the Hall Center.

Board Topics that will be discussed at this meeting include the following:

1. Purchasing of Tablets - Bill Slayton - 5 minutes
2. School Board Member Networking Statewide (and Nationwide) for Best Practices/
Idea Sharing - Jeff Bergosh - 10 minutes

3. April and May Calendar and District-wide Calendar - Bill Slayton - 5 minutes

4. Promotion Requirements - Bill Slayton - 10 minutes

5. Overcrowding at Global Academy - Gerald W. Boone - 10 minutes

6. Televising Workshops - Linda Moultrie - 10 minutes

7. Proper Time-line and Communication with Board Regarding Disciplinary Items
and Late Adds to Agenda - Bill Slayton - 10 minutes

8. Protocol for Questioning of Students on School Property by Law Enforcement -
Jeff Bergosh - 10 minutes

9. Update on Meeting with District Staff and the Mayor's Office as Proposed at
the February 21, 2012 Board Meeting - Linda Moultrie - 10 minutes

Items the Superintendent has placed on the agenda for the discussion Workshop include:

1. Update on Back File Conversion - 5 minutes

2. Compass Learning Presentation - 25 minutes

3. LllS Presentation - 20 minutes

As is always the case for all of our meetings-- the public is encouraged to attend and afforded the opportunity to speak to the full Board.

Football Helmet Recertification to be Expensive this Year

Recently one football booster club in our district was told that 74 of the team’s helmets could not be re-certified and would need to be replaced. This has set off alarm bells within that school, as a replacement helmet costs up to $250.00.

District wide, I’m told approximately 270 helmets total at our 7 high schools will no longer be useable. Costs to replace these could run as high as $60K.

Typically, helmets are sent in yearly for reconditioning and re-certification. At a meeting last year of the organization that represents athletic equipment re-conditioners, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA), a new rule was adopted that mandates helmets that are more than 10 years old no longer be reconditioned and re certified. The emphasis on player injury in general and concussions, specifically, appears to be the motive for the policy change.

I admit I know little about this subject, and I am amazed that we can get 10 years out of a helmet given the punishment these helmets take at practices and games.

My concern now is, how are these replacement helmets going to be paid for? I don’t think the schools or the Quarterback clubs can absorb a $10-15,000.00 hit to their individual school budgets to replace these helmets all in one year.

It is my understanding that district administrators have been alerted to this issue and are formulating a response.

Whatever level of district funding support is offered to the schools that need replacement helmets—I’m going to be requesting equity in this funding; some booster clubs are more successful than others, and the really active clubs should not be “penalized” by having to pay a greater share of the replacement costs than