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, August 20, 2012

Adding Some Planks to the FSBA Platform for 2012-2013

The school board briefly touched on the FSBA Legislative Platform at our most recent workshop.  The platform is the framework of general beliefs of the organization that the membership votes on, and that is eventually disseminated to members and legislators throughout the state.
In general, I am in agreement with most of the document. My key areas of disagreement, which I discussed briefly at the last workshop, are these two issues:
1.        The support for the expansion of federally funded VPK for 3 and 4 year olds.  My issue is twofold with this one.  First, I want less Government control over local decisions, to include preschool.  Asking for more money equals asking for more Federal Government top-down, underfunded mandates.  Second, from the studies I have read, achievement among similarly situated students who attended VPK before kindergarten when compared to students who did not attend VPK cannot be distinguished once these students all reach third grade.  Any positive benefits are statistically negligible.  As I said in the meeting, it is more of a jobs program, and therefore will not be touched by policymakers-regardless of the results.  My rhetorical question, though, is this:   if it is statistically neutral, why are we spending billions per year of taxpayer monies funding it?  And why, therefore, should FSBA be clamoring for more of this federal spending?  As I mentioned, it is a huge job generator nationwide, and because it “seems” like it should be beneficial, people just naturally assume it to be—like lowering class sizes and increasing funding as drivers of better public school performance.  (Seems like it ought to work, so let’s push for more of it!)

2.       The idea of taxing internet sales—I’m extremely leery of this one, to put it mildly.  First off-I kind of like having a zero-tax shopping alternative, that being the internet.  Secondly, from a business standpoint, asking a company that is based in Vermont to know all the nuanced local taxing regulations of every state and municipality in the USA is a lot to ask.  It will be extremely burdensome and expensive to some of these internet companies, and may push some into insolvency or non-compliance.  Secondly, the statement that “brick and mortar local companies can’t compete, and they have to pay taxes!” is only partially right.  For one thing, a local “brick and mortar” retail store consumes local government services, i.e. the employees of such stores use our schools, roads, emergency services, social services, etc.  Customers of these “brick and mortar” retailers use our roads, sidewalks, and highways—internet customers do not.  These brick and mortar local employees are paid lower salaries than many (most) other industries.  An internet retailer uses no local services, yet has a hand in employing local workers via the delivery services utilized to deliver their products.  It is a complex issue—but I lean strongly toward remaining status quo on this one…. 
With the exception of these two items, I am in general agreement with most of the rest of this platform.  Over the next few days we have been asked to add some of our own ideas for consideration as additions to the platform.  I brought up one big one during last Wednesday’s meeting, that met with unanimous support. 
1.        No Texting and Driving:

We must unite behind the idea of a stiff penalty for texting and driving.  In other states, most recently Alabama and California, the laws have been enacted.  Texting and driving is causing thousands of accidents and a staggering number of deaths and injuries throughout our state yearly—and we simply must not ignore it any more.

Everyone in the room seemed to agree that adding a platform position for the banning of texting and driving would be beneficial to students and school districts.

One other platform position I will add is the following:

        Compare Schools and Districts to Similar Districts Demographically Statewide:
Other states, most notably California, are already doing this and we should be as well.  As a school board member in one of the largest, most poverty stricken and crime-ridden districts statewide, I’m tired of being compared to homogeneous, wealthy, and low-crime county school districts like Santa Rosa and St. Johns.  Group and compare our schools and districts more fairly based upon a series of metrics which indicate and account for social blight and poverty. Perhaps we should compare districts based upon all the traditional metrics as well as the following:
a.       percentages of Free and reduced lunch populations: (Compare schools that have 90% free lunch students to other schools that have a 90% free lunch demographic—so the comparisons can be levelized)
b.      socioeconomically  disadvantaged population: ( where a student comes from a single parent household or a household where neither parent has a H.S. Diploma or the family lives below the federally established poverty level
c.        Ethnically Diverse Districts: (Compare similarly situated districts, with respect to ethnic diversity, instead of comparing all white districts to districts that are made up of large percentages of multiple ethnicities.
d.      Add a county crime level metric to the comparisons, if possible (areas of high crime may have impacts socially that affect public schools acutely more than communities where crime rates are lower)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dixon Rebranded

A.A. Dixon Charter School gave a presentation to the school board this morning, updating their progress as the upcoming year approaches.  The school has fired their entire staff and re-constituted the faculty; 4 of the previous teachers were re-hired based largely upon learning gains those teachers produced in their students.  The media center has been completed and volunteers have been instrumental in making that happen.  Rev. LuTimothy May has resigned as board chair and has assumed the position of Executive Director of the school.  Upon inquiry, May responded that he believed the Executive Director position will be a paid position.  The School has re-branded themselves;  Dixon Charter School of Excellence no longer exists.  The new name is "Dixon School of the Arts".  A trio of retired educators will be teaming up in the principal role, and a new emphasis on arts will be implemented.  Because Dixon is a double "F" School, they will be required to submit a waiver request to the State Board of Education and this waiver must be granted or else the school will close.  The school's finances have been audited according to Dixon staff, and that audit will be provided to the district next week.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

SPLC Lawsuit Raises Uncomfortable Questions.....

I’ll start this post by saying I honestly believe we treat all students equally.  We give all students equal facilities, textbooks, athletic opportunities, and academic instruction.  When students misbehave, we discipline them equally as well, utilizing established school board policies, rules, and state law as the guide.  If two students of two different races commit the same

 offense and have essentially the same disciplinary history—these two students should receive equal punishment.  And in this district they do.  If this is found not to be the case, I will be the first one in line demanding immediate change.  But I do not believe there is a systemic issue in our district where students are disparately treated.
I think the issue is much more cut and dried.  It comes down to personal responsibility.
Does personal responsibility matter?  The complaint filed with the Department of Education’s office of Civil rights yesterday by the Southern Poverty Law Center glosses over personal responsibility.  According to the SPLC---It is the schools’ fault that non-white students are expelled at a higher rate than white students, when their percentage of the schools population is factored in.  But what the SPLC fail to address is this:  Why do these students misbehave at a higher rate?  Would they really have us believe that all races of students are misbehaving at the same rate?  Would that even be possible?  Of course this is not the case….
I would ask the SPLC to dig deeper into this issue, drill down the reasons why bad behavior is rampant among some, moderately high among others, and nearly non-existent among others.  A California study recently looked into this very issue, and the results were intriguing.
But the SPLC won’t do this-they will come down and call a press conference, get the liberal media to buy into their pseudo-scientific, superficial and fatally flawed analysis of selected statistics, and grab a quick headline for it.  The truth?  I don’t think they are really interested in the truth, particularly when this truth is that we as a district are doing our jobs, but some segments of our population are not doing their jobs as parents!   

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

ACLU Seeking to Modify Behavior at Escambia County Charter Elementary School...

The ACLU of Northwest Florida has sent a letter to the Escambia School District requesting (demanding) that we curb behavior at Jacqueline Harris Preparatory Academy, an Escambia County Public Charter School, which the ACLU asserts is unconstitutional:
The ACLU takes issue with the JHPA website, requesting the district have JHPA staff:
“Remove the unconstitutional religious content from its web page”—apparently, the biographical statement about the school’s namesake is just toooooooo religious… here is what the JHPA web page says:
“The Jacqueline Harris Preparatory Academy was named after the late Jacqueline Watson Harris who demonstrated clearly her faith and belief in God. She loved children and believed in each child's innate ability to learn, however, she believed that the school, parents, community, and church must form a linkage and work together to help our children withstand and overcome the ills of society”
I tend to agree with that statement above—and I’m not certain that this biographical stub, in and of itself, is unconstitutional.  Just my opinion.  But more importantly, is not the statement above true?  With all of the ills in society these days, particularly in the inner cities and at schools mired in poverty, such a strong statement of the course of action necessary to address these problems is WHAT WE NEED!  Is saying the founder of the school, in biographical context, was a person of faith UNCONSTITUTIONAL!! ..Or is this a freedom of speech issue, and does not JHPA have the right to identify their namesake as a Christian??
So now the ACLU is going on the attack against a school that is trying, and succeeding, in educating some of the most difficult populations of students in our area----because the ACLU feels students are being pressured into Praying.  WOW!
The letter we received today demands that the district:
1.        Issue an immediate directive to JHPA employees saying prayer and prayer leading by staff is not tolerated
2.       Investigate instances where JHPA officials have used their public position to advance religious beliefs
3.       For each violation, have the violation individually addressed and appropriately instruct officials involved (counsel them) to prevent further instances
I hope JHPA tells the ACLU they are exercising their right of free speech by presenting the founder’s biographical information on the webpage-- and would expect no less from the ACLU than the ACLU’s complete support of their right to do so!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Going All In on the Nanny-State School Model--Is Paying Students for Achievement Legal?

Would it be legal to pay students for performance?  I asked our attorney and the answer, below, is murky....

>>> Jeff Bergosh 7/16/2012 10:13 AM >>>

Would it be legal under state law for the district to, at one of our highly impoverished schools, devise a cash reward system to umpire and motivate students?

They do this in inner-city schools in Britain and France, and some schools in Ohio, New York, and California.

Just curious about how Florida law would speak to such a plan. -Also, I just really don't have a lot of confidence that one extra hour and three million dollars at six schools is going to turn the tide. I think to get the parents on board takes direct cash payment.

Thanks for any insight you can give on the legality issue.


Jeff Bergosh
Escambia County School Board, Dist. 1

<<< Donna Waters>>>   Mon 7/23/2012 10:09 AM


Just wanted to follow up in writing -- as I indicated at the Board meeting last week, I can't find any legal authority for/against the proposed action.

Let me know if you need anything else.


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

Note that Florida has a very broad Public Records Law. Virtually all written communications to or from School District Personnel are public records available to the public and media upon request. E-mail sent or received on the School District system will be considered public and will only be withheld from disclosure if deemed confidential pursuant to State or Federal Law.]