Guidelines

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, October 31, 2012

Blue Angels Back Seat Ride--The Ride of a Lifetime!


On Tuesday October 20th 2012 I had the ride of a lifetime in a U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet. 
I was nominated to fly with the Blue Angels in late 2010, and my original flight was cancelled in the spring of 2011 after a safety-stand-down was announced for the Blue Angels team.  I had thought my flight was permanently cancelled until I received a call this past September from NAS Corpus Christi, Texas,  asking if I “still wanted to go on a flight. “ Of course the answer was a YES!
KEY INFLUENCER
The Blue Angels have a program called Key Influencer, by which members of the community can nominate a community “public figure” to fly with the Blues as a mechanism for local community outreach and for US Navy recruitment purposes.  I was nominated because of my position as a school board member, as well as my involvement with the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee locally from 2006 to the present time. 
After initial nomination, the local Command at NASP whittles the list down, and then the names are sent to CNATRA headquarters in Corpus Christi where the list is further refined.  Finally, the Blue Angels locally take physically qualified and vetted nominees and finalize the scheduling for the ride.  In my case it was a two year evolution---but worth every minute!



The interesting aspects of the experience were numerous, but the standout in my mind is just the professionalism of the entire team, from the support staff, to the briefing personnel, to the PAO, to the ground crew, to the Pilots.  I was amazed at the entire operation, as were the other guests.   The two other gentlemen who joined me on the flight were WEAR Channel 3 weather man Jim Carmack, and Santa Rosa County Teacher of the Year Jeff Baugus from Woodlawn Beach Middle School.  All three of us were treated like VIP dignitaries, which was very much appreciated (but also quite unnecessary in my case!)  They made us feel like visiting Royalty, which is something I have NEVER experienced before (and may never again).  We were photographed with the entire Blue Angels Team, Given a flight briefing, jump suits, safety instructions, and finally each of us was given a ride in the back seat of the F/A-18 Hornet.
LT MARK TEDROW
For our rides, the #7 Pilot, who also doubles as the team’s narrator, was tapped for the job.  Lt Mark Tedrow, a 2004 Naval Academy Graduate, was extremely gracious and accommodating.  In addition to his gregarious demeanor, this pilot was physically impressive; He was easily 6’3”, and when I shook his hand before and after the flight, I felt like I was shaking hands with a bronze statue—this guy was a rock—kind of what one would expect as a Naval Aviator from the movies.  I also learned that none of the pilots wear “G Suits” during their flights—they have to control the G-Forces' effects on their bodies via a muscle flexing and breathing regimen called the HICK maneuver.  As we taxied down the runway we talked a bit, and he told me he was a football player, wide receiver.  “On a team that didn’t like to pass the ball” he quipped.   An interesting thing I learned from Lt Tedrow was that as a part of the rotation process coming on to the Blue Angels, many of the pilots spend their first year serving as Narrator, before they rotate up to the actual demonstration team.  While serving as Narrator, these pilots still train and fly, and these are the pilots tapped for giving VIP rides.  Another thing I learned was just how lucky I was to get a ride; the ground-crew member who assisted with buckling me into the 14 point restraint system in the cockpit told me it took him 8 years to earn his first backseat ride—8 years serving with the Blue Angels before he got a ride! That puts it into perspective for me—I was SO LUCKY to get this chance!
BLAST OFF
My ride lasted 30 minutes, and started with a bang as Lt. Tedrow began our flight by executing a high-speed, high performance takeoff that pulled 6 G’s of force.  After we flew down the runway at 300 Knots, Lt. Tedrow put the nose of the jet straight up, vertical, and hit the afterburners.  The jolt of the sudden change in direction pushed my whole body forward as we quickly ascended into the sky.  Once we hit our cruising altitude of 16000 feet, we  flew  about 30 Miles off the coast, descended toward the ocean,  and performed a  series of  low and high speed maneuvers that resulted in various levels of G Forces on our bodies-between 3-5G’s sustained- during some of the turns. 
The highlight for me, aside from the ridiculously insane takeoff (FOX 10 News did a story on my flight, and captured video of the flight, takeoff, landing, and my reactions in the cockpit) was when Lt. Tedrow lit the afterburners and we broke the sound barrier and went supersonic.  I have never felt anything like that in my life, it was incredible!  ….And how many civilians will ever get the chance to break the sound barrier??
Flying upside down was also an amazing sensation—and the views out of the canopy when one is flying upside down simply defy description.  Awesome.



Aside from the majestic beauty of the day which allowed for views of over 20 miles up and down the coast, the final highlight was coming in to NAS Pensacola for a landing amidst the beauty of our local beaches and emerald water.   After the flight, the Blue Angels presented me a signed commemorative photograph, as well as the complete cockpit video of the entire flight (Something my wife and kids now affectionately refer to, as their “endless source of entertainment” due to my facial expressions up there during the flight…) And to answer the one lingering question everyone has asked, NO, I did not black out during the flight-even while pulling G’s.  I did grunt and strain but never blacked out!


The 30 or so minutes I spent up there that morning are 30 minutes I will remember as long as I live.  I still can’t quite believe I was so fortunate to be selected for this honor, so much so that a part of me is still up there in the sky—on cloud nine!

County Choral Gala 2012



The 2012 All-County Chorale took place on Tuesday evening, Oct. 30, 2012 at the recently remodeled Saenger Theatre.

The High School, Middle School, and Elementary School All-County Honor Chorus participated in the event.  The Saenger was packed with parents, teachers, students, and staff from the district including the school board members and superintendent Thomas.

The works performed were choral pieces by such composers as Franz Joseph Haydn, Marta Keen, Bruce Trinkley, Keith Hampton, and many others.

The ensemble performed exceptionally well and everyone in attendance was delighted with the program-evidenced by multiple standing ovations.

We are fortunate in Escambia County to have a robust, effective Music and Arts program, and it will continue regardless of what transpires with the budget.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Employee Health Clinic Concept Moving Forward

In October and November of 2010, while researching ways self-insured entities like the Escambia County School District could save money on Employee Health Plan costs, I read a lot about walk- in Employee Health Clinics. 
I found that many municipalities, school districts, and county governments were establishing their own clinics to save money and provide employees a low cost alternative to going to the Emergency Room, a Primary Care Physician, or an Acute Care Facility.
Several school districts in Florida, Including St. Johns County and Manatee County, had clinics up and running that were successes at that time (2010). 
I spoke with the Risk Manager for the city of Ocoee, who told me their city’s clinic had been established for years and had been a huge success.
So I contacted some companies, gathered my materials and presented the concept to the school board at the November, 2010 meeting.  I explained that I felt this sort of an employee clinic concept could alleviate some of the pressure on our plan due to rising health costs.  The Board and the Superintendent’s staff were generally positive about the idea.
For the next year, the staff and our Health Care Consultant, Gallagher Benefits, studied the concept and formulated a plan and a cost estimate.  This estimate and a summary was presented to the school board one year after the idea was initially discussed, in November of 2011.
In early 2012, we terminated our relationship with Gallagher, and established a relationship with a new benefits consultant.  The new consultant, utilizing input from staff, the internal auditing department, the employee unions,  and the School Board, produced an RFI in early April, of 2012.  From the RFI, a group of several interested companies provided input into what a plan for the Escambia County School District could look like. 
From all the research and fact finding, an RFP was put out for an employee clinic.  A total of Eight companies responded to the RFP over the last few months.  Within that time span, the list was whittled down to two companies, and from the two companies, one company was selected, unanimously by the benefits committee and the Superintendent  to present their plan to the school board.
That Company, Marathon-Health of Vermont, gave an excellent presentation to the school board yesterday on the subject of the positive aspects of an employee wellness plan and clinic.  The presentation allowed for Board members to ask questions and elicit feedback from the company.  I was extremely impressed with the presentation by Jerry Ford and his team from Marathon.  The video of the meeting, including the question and answer session between Marathon and the School Board, can be found here

What a fantastic benefit this clinic will be for ALL employees!  A true win-win that will also save precious taxpayer dollars in the process.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bar Lowering for Political Expediency

The Florida State Board of Education has adopted a strategic plan (page 11 of this document) that sets differing achievement standards for different students based upon their race for the next 10 year period.
The highest expectations are for Asians, the next highest for Whites, the next highest for Hispanics, and the lowest bar is being set for African Americans.  (Ironic that these tiered-based expectations in the Florida plan mirror the average achievement-gap composition and  race-placement tier in Florida.  Wow, what a coincidence, right?)
Talk about lowered expectations leading to self-fulfilling prophecy! 
I cannot and do not see this as anything but policymakers waving a white flag and giving up, which is weak! 
But the cynical side of me sees this move by the Florida BOE  as a much more nefarious vehicle, a way for Florida to get a “participation-trophy” for “trying” to comply with NCLB--like some pee-wee athletic league doles out to all “participants”—regardless of whether or not such players can even play the sport!
This is the equivalent of parents joining hands overhead and “building a tunnel” for the tykes to run through after the 5 year-old soccer game that always ends in a draw.  Sad.
NCLB was flawed, yes.  The goals were unachievable, yes.  But the goals were noble and this law was moving us all forward.  Now, via waivers, presidential proclamations, state level machinations, and executive orders, this law is being gutted and skinned like a catfish nailed to a tree.  It not only upsets me—it disgusts me.  I’m convinced that Ted Kennedy, liberal as he was, would be sickened by this devolution.  He crafted the bipartisan NCLB along with George W. Bush.
I’m appalled by this development and I can’t think of any good reason to lower the bar in such a flagrant manner.  Since this Florida plan was first made public on October 11th, a firestorm of negative stories on the issue has been forthcoming.  Imagine what the Hispanic and African American communities must think of these lowered expectations??---“the soft bigotry of lowered expectations” as George Bush famously said.
I  strongly believe that we need to have ONE Standard in each area of curriculu for all students to meet, and we need to help students that struggle, regardless of their race, achieve the same ONE Standard.  Educational innovators know that lowering the bar is a horrible strategy that serves nobody well-maybe that’s why policymaker politicians, by and large, do not take these innovators' advice?
Lowering the bar for some races and keeping it high for others is just plain wrong, and is only being done for the sake of political expediency.
I never thought getting a waiver from the strict provisions of NCLB was a great idea, but Florida did this; now, those that have proposed these GARBAGE IDEAS about race-based achievement level targets are pointing at the Florida NCLB Waiver as the reason necessitating differing standards.  What a cop-out.  Do a rain dance, then blame someone else about getting wet when the sky opens up.
Florida citizens---Shake hands and make friends with this reality—Education is being dumbed down in stunning fashion right before your eyes.   Students are being boxed and stereotyped, and politicians are willingly accepting this.…And we, at the local level, are making it easy for them by standing idly by, saying nothing and doing nothing in total complicit complacency. 
I won’t be a part of that crowd-I know this is wrong and I’m going to say so!
To the State Board of Education—Change this badly flawed strategic plan, keep ONE Standard for ALL Students, and most importantly do not lend creedence to Bush's “soft bigotry of lowered expectations!”

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why One Teacher Joined the Union.....


I recently heard from a constituent about reasons why employees of this district join the union, even if politically these employees are at odds with the liberal, progressive political slant of the NEA.  from this teacher.....

"Jeff, teachers absolutely do not trust the school board nor the superintendent.  Most of the teachers I've known joined the union for the same reason I did--protection. The union will pay for an attorney"

entire email below.  Identifying characteristics have been XXXXed out-because while I have no reason to doubt what this individual states, I have no way to prove it either.




Jeff,

First, I'll tell you what happened to me.

My first teaching assignment was "regular" senior English at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.   XXXX XXXXXXXXXXX was the principal and XXXXXXXXXXXXX was an XXXXXXXXXX and friend of XXXX  XXXXXXX.  About halfway through the year, several of my female XXXXXXXXX students came to me with some disturbing information.  They reported that XXXX  XXXXXXXXX who drove the bus transporting the girls to their athletic events, had been XXXXXXXXXXXXX and had made inappropriate comments to the girls.  About the same time, one of my best behaved and most serious students--an ESE student--reported an incident between XXXXX XXXXXXXXX and the student's father involving XXXXX's cursing at the father.

As you know, teachers are mandated reporters, so I reported the incident to XXXX XXXXXXX.  XXXX  XXXXXX's first comment to me was "I don't believe you." Then, against every policy, XXXXXXXX  XXXXX     told  XXXX  XXXXXXX not only about the allegations but also my name.  From that point on, every time I was in the hall, it seemed XXXXXXXX was there.  As I walked by, he would make some pointed comment such as "Seen any XXXX XXXXXX lately, XXXXXXXXXXXX?"  I was so frightened that I immediately joined the union.  I never again heard from XXXXXXXXXXX.  By the way, XXXXXXXXX was the only XXXXX  XXXX in this county to receive merit pay.  

There was another incident.  Coming home late one Friday, I was told there had been five phone calls from  XXXXXXXXXX.  When I returned the call, I was told to be in his office on Monday morning with my lesson plans.     

Twelfth-grade students, honors and regular, all used the same British lit book.  The selections began with the Anglo-Saxons and continued through the centuries.  Just before the Shakespearean play, Macbeth,  were several passages from the King James version of the Psalms, written in the same King James language used by Shakespeare.  Apparently, the father of one student had filed a complaint with the ACLU.  I tried to tell XXXXXXXXX that the selection was in the text, that I had no choice in class materials, but those comments made no difference.  That Monday, I was told I had to write a letter to the parents and to meet with them.  Fortunately, we had a good high-school English "supervisor" in the district office.  When I told XXX about the incident, XXXX immediately called XXX   XXXXXX to tell XXXX that it was the county, not I, who was responsible. I'm not certain what would have happened had this supervisor not been there.

When XXXX  XXXXXXXX, I was hired at XXXXXX XXXXXXXX to teach the same courses.  The principal, XXXXX  XXXXXXX and I had an extremely  good relationship at first.  XXXX once commented that I was the only teacher who always did what XXXXXX asked.  The year we received merit pay, more teachers at XXXX XXXXXX qualified than at any other school.  Reporters had come to the school to ask permission to observe and to interview one of the teachers, and XXXX XXXXXXX asked if I would be the teacher.  XXXX made some comment to the effect that I would do the best job representing the school.  

But two years later, our relationship changed.  Apparently,  XXXX XXXXXXXX had chastised XXX XXXXXX for our large number of lost textbooks.  XXXX was very upset, calling a faculty meeting where XXXX presented lists of textbooks that, according to records, had not been turned in.   I immediately realized that many of my students on the list had turned in their texts.  At that time, we had a wonderful "aide" who was in charge of textbooks.  When I asked her to check her records, she reported that she could not check them--for some reason, she was no longer allowed to access records. No one listened to the students--unless their parents showed up--or to teachers.  I was astounded with the rude, offensive manner in which both XXX XXXXXX and XXX XXXXXX treated me when I tried to support my students.  

One absolute rule at XXXXXX XXXXX was that students could not transfer to another class just to have a different teacher.  (Imagine the chaos if they could.)  At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, XXXXX XXXXXX was on my class list.  When XXXX didn't show up for the first two weeks, I reported XXX absence, only to be told XXX had been transferred to another teacher's class, a class meeting the same period.  I had also been asked to tutor XXXXXX as XXX third try to pass the FCAT would be XXXX last.  (I opted out when XXXX didn't show up the first two times we had scheduled a session.)  But what was really astounding was XXXXX’s new class was an honors class!!!  I had a reputation as a "hard" teacher, one who didn't use worksheets and films, but XXXXXXX’s new teacher did exactly that, making XXX honors class much easier than my regular class.  This teacher was also a XXXXX XXXXXX, with XXXXXX XXXXXXX all over her classroom.

In our first faculty meeting of the 2009-2010 year, we learned that our XXX XXXXX, who was responsible for XXXXX XXXXXXXX had been suspended without pay, for two weeks, as punishment for XXXX XXXXXX XXXXX XXXXX.  As XXXX XXXXXX told us of the suspension, XXXX was defensive about the XXXXXX’s suspension, claiming that "we [teachers] didn't know the whole story."  An appeal for money to help XXX XXXXX survive the two weeks was also circulated among the faculty (I declined to contribute).  I had many XXXXXXXXs in my classes that year, and I asked whether any of XXXXXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX, but was told the matter was "closed."

It was that next spring that we learned our XXX XXXXXX had been fired for stealing and reselling textbooks. It was difficult to believe that the previously suspended XXX XXXXX was chosen as her replacement.  I was astounded, as were the other teachers.  I had first believed in XXXX XXXXXXXX’s ethical standards, but after these incidents, I joined the union.  

Then there was the day I made a comment about our dress code in a faculty meeting. (We weren't consistent.  A student could get to his or her last class with an obvious violation.)  I could not believe the tirade from XXX XXXXXXX, a loud rebuttal that lasted at least 15 minutes and embarrassed me in front of the teachers and staff.  

 I guess I had the reputation of working well with difficult students, and the last year I taught--the year I resigned--I was asked to teach the most difficult students of all--the low-level incoming ninth-grade students.  The previous teacher had been "promoted" to a county job (don't ask me why), and I agreed.  Because I had so many ESE students, I also had an aide who had also worked with the previous teacher.  I was actually looking forward to working with the students until I learned there were absolutely no books, no materials whatsoever, for these students.  The aide told me that the former teacher had downloaded grammar lessons from the Internet, and I knew that he had read to the students a lot.  When I talked with XXX XXXXXX,  XXXX first insisted there had to be books, and I suggested XXXXX might look for XXXXXXXXX.  The next comment was there was no money for books--period.  I asked our reading coach if she could help, but she had no funds.  

I had already spent thousands of dollars on my classes, and I started buying books and other materials for these students, but by October, I was so disgusted that I resigned.  I hated to leave my students, but I felt that by being there, I was contributing to what I had begun to believe was an "evil" system.

Jeff, teachers absolutely do not trust the school board nor the superintendent.  Most of the teachers I've known joined the union for the same reason I did--protection. The union will pay for an attorney.  I've worked with two principals as a teacher and several more as a long-time volunteer.  I've also been the secretary of two advisory councils.  The unprofessional (and unethical) behavior of some XXXXXXXXXXX is unbelievable!  

I wish there were a way to improve communication--and I don't mean meetings with union representatives.  Why not have forums where school board members and the superintendent and his or her staff listen to teachers--average teachers, not the department teachers or chosen representatives. 

I've learned, through my own experience, that the best way to alienate people, to lose their trust is not to communicate--especially when the communication flows only one way.  I was a senior editor for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich when the textbook division of the company was acquired by Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.  We editors knew of the sale several months ahead, but were left totally in the dark about our future with the company.  By that time, I had already been responsible for a best-selling composition/grammar text for grades 7 - 12, and I had always gotten excellent reviews.  I remember the humiliation of the uncertainly and how I began to doubt my own ability and my judgment in the several months before I finally heard that I was being promoted to  executive editor and transferred to HRW.  

We talk a lot about taking lessons from successful corporate executives, but what no one has mentioned is the one quality that is absolutely consistent with the very best corporations-- good employee morale, based on employers' willingness to listen to employees and to make them feel a part of the company.  

I've already checked out XXXX XXXXXXX Thank you!!!  Your concern for and dedication to our schools is astounding.  Not only that, but you  have that XXXXXXXXXXX--you XXXXXXXX.  

I'd dealing with XXXX XXXXXX  XXXXat the moment, so if you don't hear from me for a few days, that's why.

Thank you again,
XXXX XXXXX XXXXXXX 





Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It’s Time for School Board Members to Network




I want to fundamentally change the way School Board Members (and other governmental bodies subject to open meeting laws) around the country approach their jobs. 

Why? 

Because the world is changing and we operate as if we are in the early 1900s.  Publishing hard-copy notices in newspapers, announcing meetings a month in advance, limiting communications on social media between policymakers, restricting discourse via antiquated agenda-posting practices, limiting discourse even during advertised meetings, etc. etc. etc. 

This inefficient, Jurassic method of operating is not serving policymakers and taxpayers well and it isn’t getting the job done in my opinion.

Every other category of professionals in the world has some mechanism to reach out to colleagues except for us, members of constitutional bodies subject to open meeting laws.  We have once yearly conventions that are fantastic, but I believe we need to be communicating more frequently about more subjects and I also believe newly elected Board Members need an “outlet” that they can access independently to learn and discover what their jobs are all about in “real-time”  with no distillation and dilution along the way.  And I realize that Open Meeting Laws and Open Records Laws must be obeyed--yet these laws severely restrict this sort of information sharing----.  So I’ve developed a potential solution….

Over the last two years I have worked, together with the input and help of 4 lawyers in three states, a graphic designer, and two computer programmers, to create MEYONTI.COM.

The word “MEYONTI” is an acronym that stands for “Many Eyes on These Issues.”  

I believe complex issues are best solved when many people look at the same issue and provide input and solutions and ideas. 

From such a concept to reality takes time, patience, and perseverance-  I totally understand and get this;  This is why I have slow rolled this idea out.  It is a radical departure from the norm, but one I feel is necessary.

So I will be advocating for Board Members around the state to start looking at this site for ideas, information, and knowledge sharing—and I am counting on the fact that some (hopefully many) Current Board Members, administrators, parents, retired school personnel, and others will take time to add content and participate in building the online community that will feed this site with valuable content.

  Because I know, as most will concede, that there are others out there doing the things we do better than we are.  And if those that are doing what we do better than we do are willing to share their best practices with us—we need to look at this and see if we can model their ideas and best practices in our local jurisdictions.

I feel so strongly about this need that I developed the site using my own resources to do so—because I could not find anything like what I’ve developed anywhere out there in cyberspace.   I have developed a patent (which is a very dry read, I must caution) which has been accepted by the U.S. P.T.O.

I have reached out to the Florida School Boards Association, and they have expressed a tentative interest in the idea. My game plan going forward is to “Beta-Test” this concept around the state, together with the FSBA if they choose to do so, to see if a site like this has a demand and to also work out any kinks in the software.

The next step, if things go well in Florida and I sense a level of acceptance among Board Members and the education community—Is I want to present this Idea at the NSBA conference in 2014 and get a lot more board members looking at issues together and coming up with solutions while at the same time not violating open records laws and/or open meeting laws.

I’ll be talking about this idea a lot more in the months ahead, Just as I did last May and also just today--- but for those who are interested in what the site will do, how it will work, and what I believe will be the site’s best attributes, additional information about the whole idea can be found here.

And for those who are ready to jump in now, go to MEYONTI.COM  (..or .ORG or .NET) and sign up and start participating and contributing.  Lets work together to make our system better and more efficient!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Three Year State Funding Outlook from Mixon and Associates

Our legislative affairs consultantant in Tallahassee over the last several years has been Mixon and Associates.  Their expertise and insight has been invaluable to our district as we have navigated the ongoing financial woes of the state budget and its impact on funding public education.  Mixon sent out a three year budgetary projection late last week which is extremely informative and interesting, that I will cut and paste into this entry below.  Warning-this is somewhat dry reading, but if you can get through it you will know more about the upcoming state budgetary processes and factors than any of your friends  :)



MIXON AND ASSOCIATES
ADOPTED THREE YEAR FINANCIAL OUTLOOK
FISCAL YEAR 2013-2014 - FISCAL YEAR 2015-2016

The process by which the Legislature builds the General Appropriations Act (GAA) begins with the adoption of the Long-Range Financial Outlook by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) each September. The Outlook provides the Legislators and staff members with a comprehensive multi-year look at patterns of revenues, appropriations, policy issues and debt levels that the Legislature must consider while building the budget.

The data in the Three Year Outlook gives us some insight into the issues that will likely arise during the session and in the following years. There are many changes that will occur throughout the current and future budget cycles. It helps the district to keep staff members informed and aware of the issues for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-2014 and beyond early in FY 2012-2013, to help leaders to make sound decisions concerning expenditures and long term financial commitments that are more likely to be within the constraints that may develop.

The Long Range Financial Outlook for FY 2013-2014 through FY 2015-2016 is a complex 118-page report filled with charts and graphs and analysis of almost every aspect of the Florida economy. The report is based on results of the most recent revenue estimating conferences and attempts to apply recent Legislative policy decisions to the revenues that are forecast to result from those estimating conferences.

To keep this report from becoming too complex to apply, a few key points have been extracted. These key points can be used to inform fiscal decisions and to guide efforts to influence the appropriations process during the 2013 session of the Florida Legislature.

1.         There is no mention of increasing per student funding in the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) in any of the three years of this Outlook.

In prior years, included in the “Other High Priority Needs” reported in the Three Year Outlook was the application of previous years’ Legislative policies to increase per student FEFP funding.

This is a very important omission, particularly in light of the reductions in funding that have occurred during the past five years, and the increase in the amount of the Class Size Reduction categorical fund that has occurred as the total budget has decreased. It is well established that for the district to meet the class size caps imposed by the Constitution and punitively enforced in Florida Statutes it must use all of these funds to employ teachers in the core subjects.

Despite relatively low levels of inflation for the past ten years, the district has not been immune to cost increases that have been and are likely to be at least as great as the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The prospect of continuing the policy of no increases in per student funding for at least another three years presents extreme challenges to the district.

2.         The Outlook anticipates using available funds to pay for projected enrollment increases and to maintain per student funding that exists in the FY 2012-2013 FEFP.

A forecast that projects that the Legislature can maintain current year funding levels with the projected revenue is certainly more positive than previous forecasts that projected significant revenue shortfalls that foreshadowed deep budget cuts. However the Outlook does not hold out any prospect for restoring the cuts incurred during the depth of the recession. To stay in place for another three years at a funding level that is substantially lower than the budget that was passed five years ago, while trying to pay for increases in Class Size Reduction costs, and inflation in the expenses of essential parts of the operating budget is a forecast that portends substantial challenges and hardships. It is important for the district to be able to quantify and communicate those challenges.

3.         The Outlook projects using about $90.4 million in new recurring state general revenue to replace non-recurring revenue used in the FY 2012-2013 FEFP.

Replacing non-recurring revenue is a step in the appropriations process every year. Using non-recurring revenue, including revenue captured from sweeps of trust funds, is also a part of the appropriations process every year. Non-recurring funds and trust fund sweeps are not generally considered until the latter stages of the appropriations process. It may be that funds from these sources will be able to be used to build a more favorable FEFP budget.

4.         The Outlook projects that increases in local funds for the FEFP forecast to result from recovering property values will be offset by decreases in state funding.

The Outlook reports projected increases of local funds in the FEFP of about $45.3 million in FY 2013-2014, $219.7 million in FY 2014-2015, and $283.7 million in FY 2015-2016. It remains to be seen whether such increases will occur, or whether in fact the increases will be even higher than the forecasts.  The Constitutional amendments related to property taxes may or may not pass. Most of the proposed amendments do not apply to school property taxes.

In recent years the Legislature has used increased state funding to replace local funds lost to the FEFP due to declining property values. Prior to the recession, the Legislature used property value increases to raise the level of local funds in the FEFP and made other appropriations decisions about the use of state general revenue in that context.

The outlook assumes that the millage rates in the FY 2012-2013 FEFP will remain at the same level during the coming three years. It seems virtually certain that the Legislature will not increase the millage rates.  Whether the Legislature chooses to lower millage rates to offset increases in property values, leave them level and reduce state funds to offset the increase in local funds, or maintain or increase state funds and allow the increase in local funds to restore funding cut in prior years are all options at this time. These will be key issues for the district during the 2013 session of the Legislature.

5.         The Outlook does report the availability of new general revenue beyond what is needed to fund the current budget, “Critical Needs” and a reserve of $1 billion in each of the next three years.

The Outlook reports on page 15 the availability of about $1.1 billion in new State General Revenue in FY 2013-2014 after funding the current budget, “Critical Needs”, and a $1 billion reserve. The balance after funding those items in FY 2014-2015 is about $2.5 billion, and in FY 2015-2016 it is almost $5 billion.

6.         The Outlook projects the impact of Legislative policies to fund the current budget,  “Critical Needs”, “Other High Priority Needs”, and a reserve of $1 billion. Funding the “Other High Priority Needs” significantly decreases the new state general revenue available for Legislative use.

The Outlook reports on page 16 the impact of funding items identified as “Other High Priority Needs.” The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) identifies these items based on forecasts and prior patterns of Legislative policymaking. Including the “Other High Priority Needs” reduces the new state general revenue available to $71.3 million in FY 2013-2014, $53.5 million in FY 2014-2015, and about $600 million in FY 2015-2016.

“Other High Priority Needs” do not include increased funding for the FEFP in any of the three years. ‘Other High Priority Needs” in FY 2013-2014 include an additional $445 million in state administered funds. This is the projected cost of paying for part of the unfunded actuarial liability in the Florida Retirement System (FRS).  Also included are increases of $157 million for Transportation and Economic Development, $15 million for Natural Resources, about $150 million for Human Services, and $43 million for Criminal Justice. These data illustrate the range of discretion still available to the Legislature as members begin the appropriations process.

7.         The Outlook does not include any changes in the revenue forecasts.

After the problems encountered in trying to forecast the impacts of the recession, the forecasters are understandably conservative when making revenue forecasts. However, there have been some interesting trends in the monthly reports of revenue collections.

The Monthly Revenue Report from the EDR for August 2012 reports a collection of $93.4 million more in general revenue than was projected for that month in the latest revenue forecast. That same report shows a total of $108.1 million more in total general revenue for FY 2012-2013 than was projected in the last forecast. The June 30, 2012 Monthly Revenue Report showed collections were about $407 million higher for the period from January through June, 2012 than the January General Revenue Forecast. These trends of revenues in excess of forecasts have not been incorporated into the Outlook Statements from the most recent estimating conference.

Should the trends continue and compound in FY 2012-2013 and in the next three years, the result could be an increase of $650 million in FY 2012-2013, $1.3 billion in FY 2013-2014, and $2.6 billion or more by the end of FY 2015-2016. If the economy continues to improve the forecasts will too, and there may be more revenue available.

The Three Year Outlook does not include the potential impacts of events that will unfold before the 2013 Florida Legislature convenes. As district staff members implement the FY 2012-2013 budget and begin planning for the FY 2013-2014 budget, they may want to include contingency planning related to these potential impacts.

1.         The Florida Supreme Court will render an opinion in the FRS case.

If the Supreme Court opinion supports the position of the plaintiffs in this case there will surely be an impact on the state budget, and on the district budget.  If the plaintiffs prevail, the district should expect additions to the employer contributions to the FRS. The district would expect the employer rate to add another 3% to replace the employee contribution that is currently required. The district would also expect the employer rate to add another 2.5% to pay for the impact of the change in the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) should those components of the law be overturned. Revenue increases in current general revenue and ad valorem forecasts are not sufficient to support funding increases to pay those costs.




2.         The November General Election will render an outcome for proposed Amendment Eight to the Florida Constitution.

The actual short or long-term impacts of the passage of Amendment Eight have not been projected.  Supporters and opponents of Amendment Eight seem to agree that one eventual impact, should the amendment pass, might be an increase in school vouchers. Both of the incoming presiding officers of the Legislature and the Governor have expressed support for increased parental choice.  There are some religious schools with capacity. These factors could come together to increase the loss of students to vouchers.  Historically these losses have not occurred in patterns that allowed overhead costs to be cut at levels equal to the revenue losses.

3.         Competing policy positions may drive appropriations decisions that consume resources for other purposes.

The Governor, House Speaker, and the Senate President each have policy priorities.  Their priorities include reductions in taxes, such as the Corporate Income Tax, which provides significant dollars for state general revenue, and school property taxes, which provide significant local revenue for the FEFP. There are also priorities for infrastructure improvement and economic development that could consume available revenue.

4.         Efforts to transfer capital outlay revenue from district operated schools to charter operated schools may be adopted and the district may have to fund certain maintenance and other facilities needs from the reduced operating budget.

The 2012 session of the Legislature passed legislation requiring the creation of a task force related to charter school capital outlay funding to develop recommendations for legislation.

5.         The national general election may have an impact of state budgeting.

Changes in national health care policy and efforts to change the Federal budgeting dynamic may result in less state funding available for public schools due to increases in health care costs, or less Federal funding for public education.

Another way to discern trends for future budgets is to listen carefully to the public statements of the incoming leaders of the Legislature and the Governor. For example, recently the News Service of Florida (NSF) quoted Senate President Designate Don Gaetz as he spoke about public school funding for FY 2013-2014.   The NSF reported the following.

Incoming Republican Senate President Don Gaetz of Niceville, a former school superintendent and school board member, said funding shouldn't be the main issue when discussing education anyway, dismissing the central element of the Democratic criticism. ‘I can attest that more money does not always equal better student performance,’ Gaetz said in an interview. ‘It depends on how that money is deployed.’ The schools budget isn't likely to go up this year, either, he noted. Any extra money expected to come in, as a result of rising tax collections is "a footnote" when compared to the budget as a whole, Gaetz said. ‘There is no new money,’ he warned.”
These and other sources will be monitored. Additional data will be forwarded to district staff members, as it is developed to help keep everyone informed throughout the budgeting process.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Are These Issues the Next Big Civil Rights Issues in our Schools?

There are tons of issues swirling around right now in Education nationally and locally;  To me,  these three are the big ones that I’m going to focus on in my next two years on the school board, as I feel we can and must improve with respect to these areas:
1.    Providing greater access by ALL students to equal course offerings; ensuring equality of instructional ability and instructional materials between A/P and Honors classes and “regular classes” and not lowering the bar and expectations of kids based on arbitrary score "cut-offs" that do not take a students unique circumstances into account.
2.  Providing access to a streamlined process for identifying and providing services to students with disabilities without stymieing parents; Putting families through bureaucratic processes which are at odds with Federal law—in the hopes these students and parents will be worn down-and then assigning blame to “the school site” or the “case worker” or “the student’s family.”  This is unacceptable.   The buck must stop with us.  And,  once services are offered, a better system of ensuring plans and the LAW are followed must be put into place. If this means additional audits, internally or via a third party, then I'll support and advocate for this-we must get this right.
3.   Ensuring kids are not trapped in failing schools by allowing unions, bureaucrats, and others   in the Government Education Complex to roadblock charter schools, school choice, and inter-district transfers that  enable ALL students to attend great schools if these students and their families request this.  Trapping kids in chronically failing schools is shameful, no matter the excuses.

Have it Your Way?


In the late 70s and early 80s, Burger King’s trademark slogan was “Have it Your Way”.  I can even hear the melody of  the song in my head~~”have it your, way, at burger king, have it your way”  It was catchy…
If Unions around the country could “have it their way”, would their dream scenario be something like the Michigan “Protect our Jobs” 2012 Ballot Amendment?
Answer:  ABSOLUTELY!
Yesterday’s evening edition of the WSJ ONLLINE had an illuminating story about this ballot measure in Michigan that will give tremendous expanded powers to unions, public and private, to challenge and invalidate any current or existing law that is inconsistent with the unions’ collective bargaining agreements.  Outsourcing to save taxpayer dollars on non-educational functions?—potentially eliminated under this law if passed.  School Choice?  Eliminated if the Michigan State Education Association is successful in getting this law passed. 
The article should be a wake-up call to Michigan voters, as well as taxpayers and others interested in labor issues nationwide.  Everyone  should pay attention to this, particularly those in public policy-making.  If it can happen in Michigan, it can happen elsewhere!
From the article:
“The amendment says that no "existing or future laws shall abridge, impair or limit" the collective-bargaining rights of Michigan workers. That may sound innocuous, but according to Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the amendment would hand a broad mandate to unions to challenge virtually any law they don't like. Mr. Wright says that passage would almost certainly mean the end of Michigan's Public Act 112, which made the privatization of schools' food, busing and custodial services off-limits in collective-bargaining negotiations. More than 60% of Michigan school districts have privatized these services over the past two decades, resulting in annual savings of about $300 million……Even if unions didn't prevail in court in every instance, notes Mr. Wright, the sweeping scope of the initiative would allow them to mount endless challenges to local governments' personnel and pay decisions, making it prohibitively expensive to risk crossing union wishes.Thanks to media leaks, we know that already the Michigan Education Association has drawn up an internal wish list of all the laws it will challenge if the initiative passes. The targets include a cap on the health-care benefits of teachers, and reforms to teacher tenure that recently enabled schools to promote teachers based on merit rather than seniority alone. But what's really exciting the teachers union is the prospect of killing "interdistrict or intradistrict open enrollment opportunities"—which would otherwise promote some competition in education by letting parents vote with their feet and send their kids to better schools. The Michigan amendment could also mean the blocking of future laws challenging union privileges.”