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, May 30, 2012

Revenue Estimating Conference Points to Continued Austerity

Our Tallahassee Consultant/Lobbyist, Mixon and Associates, regularly sends analysis and research papers on areas of interest to the school board. Yesterday afternoon, a point paper was sent regarding our budgets for the next year. It is an analysis of the revenue estimating conference report from last week.
While the report points to some areas of encouragement, namely that we look to be on track to have an additional $300Million in General Revenue statewide over the January forecast, there is also concern that other areas of the state budget will be clamoring for additional revenue—potentially leaving K-12 FEFP vulnerable to static funding. From the report:
“This is an austere picture. It is made more difficult because many other budget areas, such as the state university system, had significant impacts in the FY 2012-2013 budget, while $1.063 billion were used to fill FEFP budget holes. Those other budget areas will compete for new resources in FY 2013-2014. In addition, the Legislature recently has been reluctant to allow revenue increases to be realized from local school property taxes. If the FEFP received an increase of $407.3 million, it is uncertain that the cost of student growth and other increases in state required expenses would be covered by that amount.”

The report goes on to illustrate the effects of the recession on funding levels:
It may be instructive to see what has happened to General Revenue since the start of the recession. The table below shows some comparisons.

Fiscal Year and Report Date Recurring Funds Available Non-Recurring Funds Available Total Funds Available

FY 2006-2007

July 12, 2007 $26.6549 Billion $5.3952 Billion $32.0501 Billion

FY 2007-2008

July 12, 2007 $27.5685 Billion $3.6052 Billion $31.173.7 Billion

FY 2012-2013

May 23, 2012 $24.1042 Billion $1.949.0 Billion $26.0532 Billion

During the same time GR funds were decreasing, total local funds available in the FEFP dropped from $9,405,486,287 in the Final Conference Report of April 28, 2008 for FY 2008-2009, to $7,625,433,481 in the Final Conference Report of March 6, 2012 for FY 2012-2013.

The full report with lots of additional information is here

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Holiday Weekend DOE Document Dump: Let the Gnashing of Teeth Begin Part I

Charter Schools—the Good News and the Bad News........

Today the DOE dumped a lot of information on the public, just in time for some significant commotion prior to the long Memorial Day weekend.  As was the case a few months back and even more recently with the writing test scores fiasco, the data does not look good. 
The attached spreadsheet below illustrates data from 3rd grade reading and mathematics which I have downloaded from the DOE site and sorted.   I’ve organized third grade reading and math results, then sorted them from highest percentage of proficient sorcerers in each subject to the lowest number.
The scores for the most part are low.  Much of this is due to new, tougher scoring and more rigorous standards, which we all knew would be coming.

But some of the scoring issues have to do with parents that have not 100% fully bought in to their end of the partnership with our district and their children’s schools.  That’s right, it is a partnership. 
Teachers are not miracle workers.  Schools, teachers, volunteers, administrators, the latest technological gadgetry and educational pedagogy combined with the best of intentions and stacks of Title I money cannot overcome complacent, dispassionate, and apathetic parents.

Those who are familiar with our local communities and schools will see from the chart above that the schools that are scoring the best have parental engagement, input, and “buy-in”—this is a large part of their success! 
Many of the schools that have low scores, unfortunately, do not have the same level of parental engagement.  This is a chiefly a societal problem—not a scholastic one.
I’m not going to do the usual dissertation on Poverty in our district to explain low scores away, though;

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished---School District prevails with Summary Judgment in James Benny Washington Case

From an email sent by Board Attorney Donna Waters this morning:


            Good Morning:
            Mr. Hammons' office just advised us that a summary judgment in favor of the School Board has been granted in the Case of James (Benny) Washington v. School Board.  This means that the Court found that there were no material facts in dispute, and that based upon those undisputed facts, there was no legal basis on which the plaintiff could win at trial.
            I will provide a copy of the court's order to you upon receipt.
            Congratulations are due to Mr. Hammons and his staff for this success!
            Donna Sessions Waters
            General Counsel
            Escambia County School Board
            75 North Pace Boulevard
            Pensacola, Florida 32505

At the regular meeting of the Escambia County School Board on December 18, 2007, Superintendent Jim Paul  recommended that the board terminate then  employee James Benny Washington.  After reviewing the entire issue, including looking into the appropriate files and speaking with numerous district administrative personnel with direct knowledge of this employee, I made the difficult decision at that time to not support the termination recommendation.  At the regular  meeting that December evening, Superintendent Jim Paul was stunned  as the board voted down his recommendation and instead allowed this employee to resign.
It became somewhat personal to me, as I made the recommendation that this employee be allowed to resign, which was voted on and passed by the board over the objection of Superintendent Paul.
This employee had some significant issues, including a legal issue in the courts, which would have provided ample support to the termination had the board decided to take that path.  My fear in terminating this employee was that an appeal might be successful—and we would then be compelled to bring this person back with back-pay and be “stuck” with him forever.   Nobody wanted that.   Also, the compassionate side of me felt that to allow him to quit might provide him the spark necessary to get back on track with his coaching/teaching career.  I harbored no personal animosity toward this employee; rather, I felt that if he voluntarily quit, as he was pleading with us to allow, then we would have the benefit of a clean break from him.  No DOAH hearings, no arbitration, no Union Grievances, nothing.  He would be gone, and that would be that.  Plus, we would not have to spend oodles of cash fighting him through these grievances, hearings, appeals, or in court because ----he wanted to quit.
To me it seemed so clear.
But I was wrong—at least initially.  After James Benny Washington quit, it became one legal fight after another---racking up huge legal bills for the taxpayers of this county to eat in the process.  In June of 2009, Washington  filed a two count complaint against the School Board in Circuit Court.  We let him quit, which he requested, then he sued us.  And this has been expensive--  I have requested and will get the exact figure, but for now the outside legal counsel expense is estimated to be between $25-30K, plus countless hours of our in-house attorney’s time, and add to that staff time in preparing documents and doing research and attending meetings on this issue.  Yes, this person quit and yet we were incurring huge costs.   I was infuriated  when the lawsuit broke in 2009 and wanted so badly to come forward and discuss this travesty earlier and in the media—but I was admonished not to do so for fear of jeopardizing the case .  So I’ve kept my mouth shut, my opinion to myself, and gritted my teeth as the legal bills mounted and the taxpayers continued to be soaked.
Eventually, this issue faded into the background with all of the other legal matters, until about six months ago when the issue again bubbled up to the surface as one of the two counts alleged by James Benny Washington vaporized via a summary judgment in our favor.  One Count down, one to go!
Fast forward to last week,  and the issue came up again, as I was subpoenaed to appear in court!  Unbelievable—I lead the charge to allow this man to quit  after he pleaded with us over and over--and I end up getting subpoenaed to appear in court as huge legal fees continue to mount for the taxpayers!!

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. 
Thankfully, I won’t be going  to court next week after all—as it appears  that the Saga of James Benny Washington’s Case is finally over—nearly four and a half years and tens of thousands of  taxpayer dollars later, the second count of his complaint is gone as of today.   A summary judgment in favor of the School Board has been granted in the Case of James (Benny) Washington v. School Board.
Meanwhile, the moral of the story is that even when you are in the right and you try to make a good decision and do the right thing by giving somebody something they want-- you can still get socked with a costly lawsuit,  which is incredibly frustrating.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New District Video Recording of Workshops Underway

The Escambia County School Board has installed new cameras and a new software system which will enable all board workshops as well as regular meetings to be archived. The workshops and all regular meetings will be available for the public to view online, anytime. I am very impressed with the system and after watching the archived copy of our last workshop I must say I believe this is a huge step forward for transparency. The meetings can be accessed by going to the district homepage, then clicking on the board members/meetings link, which will then take the reader to a chronological list of the previously held School Board Meetings and Workshops.

See and access recorded board workshops here