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, June 22, 2014

Chris, You Don't Get It

In response to the viewpoint from Christopher J. Lewis in today's PNJ....


So your magic bullet to make it all better in Escambia County Schools is to make school board districts “at large”?  Really? Didn’t you think “at-large” council seats were the solution for the Pensacola City Council?  What happened there, Chris?  Never mind.

Let’s see what your idea would do to our schools.  First, in violation of a standing court ruling from the civil rights era, it would potentially eliminate the minority representation for district three.  Poof, gone, and we’d be in violation.  Guess you did not think of that unintended consequence, right Chris?

Secondly, in case you didn’t know this, we do represent the community county-wide, we are simply elected by geographical districts, in order to minimize the influence of the politically savvy and wealthy concentrated in some areas of town.  You see Chris, geographical representation is a balance to outside influence.  What does this mean?  Let me dot-connect for you.   It means I can walk neighborhoods and visit Thousands of households going door to door in my campaigns to target my message inexpensively in my district (which I have done on multiple occasions)—neutralizing, to a large degree, any outside money, influence, and power.  So your proposal actually takes power away from voters and candidates at the grass-roots-which seems counter to what you appear to believe in based upon your writings.  Paradoxical.

But, back to the response to Peacock’s article—I stand by every word of it, because it is accurate.  Chris, I understand from scanning your lengthy and rambling screeds that you see the world through rose-colored glasses instead of dealing with reality.  Folks like you that are naïve and glib on many

important issues improperly blame teachers when students don’t do assigned work.  You blame teachers when students and families move from school to school to school every 6-8 weeks.  You blame teachers when students don’t behave appropriately and must be disciplined to maintain a safe and appropriate learning environment for all students.  People like you think that changing this, or modifying that, or tweaking this will magically fix the system.

Here is the reality, though.  Our district is full of wonderful people (teachers and employees) who-by and large-care greatly for kids and work their guts out for these children who live in dysfunction in many areas of our community.  To constantly hear from the some in the community that it is the teachers’ fault, the administrators’ fault, and everyone except the students and families—this becomes grating and it ruins people and leads to the silent yet worrisome reality of staff-churn at the 12 schools in our district with the highest levels of social dysfunction.  That’s right John, people burn out and they move to districts and schools with less dysfunction.  Look in the mirror for the reason why—they have people like you, blaming them!?!

I’m sick of hearing people beat up on teachers, thinking this will somehow make things better.

Over the last few years, we have eliminated tenure for new hires, we have implemented a rigorous evaluation (no more pencil-whipped, everyone is fantastic performance evaluations) and we have focused our efforts on professional development for our staff.  We’ve pushed our teachers hard.  We’re ready, we’re standing by, and I’d stack the teachers I have seen and the ones I know in Escambia County against ANY from anywhere else.  We have the resources, we have the facilities, and we have the staff.  What we need to have is the wisdom and the fortitude to quit playing PC games and to call out the real reasons some areas of the community consistently fall short of potential achievement expectations.

Anything short of that is simply scapegoating the wrong people, attacking the wrong problems, and demonizing the wrong institutions while glorifying others that may not merit the accolades.  Do you get what I’m saying here, Chris?   I, for one, won’t stand back and let that happen.

And so I repeat, so that everyone can see it again, the five things we do control as a board that we must do to move all schools in Escambia County in the right direction if we truly want beneficial change (please re-read these carefully Chris):

1.       We need to stop the PC application of discipline.  One standard, let the chips fall where they may but strict, fairly applied school-wide discipline is an absolute must.  No more 39th or 50th try for “some” students who hate school and destroy the atmosphere for teachers and other students that are serious about learning.  These bad apples must be removed for the betterment of all.  No more out-of-school suspension for others who make (1) one bad decision.

2.       We need to stop the PC practice of social promotion which occurs rampantly in our district between the 8th and 9th grades destroying our 4 year, on-time graduation rate while simultaneously demoralizing students who are being promoted. Many new 9th graders are academically unprepared for the rigor of High School and this MUST be addressed.

3.       We need to establish one or more boarding schools for those students most at-risk, as have districts in Miami, DC, and Ohio.  For many of these kids who live in absolute dysfunction locally, this is the only way out and anything short of this or some other radical home-life modification is only a half measure that will not succeed long-term for them.  For those who want to wear red shirts and yell and scream on the steps of the capitol in Tallahassee for more “programs, money and resources”—here is what we need the money for!

4.       We need to pay teachers a realistic, recurring, and cumulative yearly stipend for assignments at our 12 schools with the highest levels of social dysfunction.  Otherwise, we will continue to see churn as teachers burn out, quit and/or transfer out leaving inconsistency in these classrooms and instability in the instruction of students who need the MOST stability.  People who reject this idea, but that in practice do this themselves by offering 3 steps to school principals to take on tough assignments, are acting hypocritically.  Nobody is in it for the money, but if you want solid performers long term, you must recognize what they deal with and provide some additional compensation.

5.       Most importantly-we must recognize that there are no “quick fixes” or “new methods” that will solve this. Just look at what happened at one of our crisis schools when we brought high priced consultants in to fix the issue-it did not work.  I don’t blame them; but I had my doubts, which I expressed at a workshop last year, that what they were doing would work.  It didn’t and I do not think it was due to a lack of effort by this company or the two ladies at that site. This issue is social, not scholastic, and it has been percolating for 50 years as the entitlement state has dis-incentivized work, family, religion, and personal responsibility-- while society’s morals have simultaneously loosened to the point that we glorify celebrity and hedonistic, nonsensical behavior more that academic success.  This environment is destroying some schools.  The fix will take time, decades perhaps.



George Hawthorne said...

Mr. Bergosh,

Clearly, items 1-5 as you have listed are the primary measure of governance that the board is responsible for. The basic reasons for failure have not changed in the 30 years since the Harvard Business School published one of the first studies on the subject. The four basic reasons identified in the Harvard report and many subsequent lists are:

1. Unclear objectives leading to inadequate scope definition and the consequential underestimation of time cost and risk.
2. Wrong leadership from the sponsor down, leading to poor decision making, inadequate skills in the team and a failure to invest in team formation.
3. Poor or no planning leading to unrealistic timescales, unforseen consequences and ineffective controls.
4. Poor communication and a lack of stakeholder consultation/management.

The root cause of these failures is poor governance, most probably caused by the governing body being largely ignorant of the project management practices developed in the last 60 years, which in turn makes self-delusion much easier to sustain. As Richard Bacon reminds us in his book, Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong—and what we can do about it, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. While it is culturally acceptable to be ignorant of project and program management, governance failures will persist.

However, this tendency to use self-delusion to ignore implementation issues in favor of grand ideas is probably more than a simple lack of rigor and knowledge; it may well be a rational response to the fact that our public and organizational political systems confer more rewards for the shrewd deployment of symbols and generalized arguments than for detailed, realistic analysis and forecasting. The problem with this approach is that eventually the real world of implementation catches up with the grand ideas and, as Niccolo Machiavelli advised in The Prince, “a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation.”

Escambia County School District has a myriad of problems that in most cases are "self-inflicted wounds."

The areas "with the highest levels of social dysfunction" in the District are populated with poor people. primarily of color and afflicted with multi-generational poverty ..correct?

The children from these communities are in housing environments with uneducated parents that in many cases 2 generations deep in the same location... correct?

However, you fail to "connect the dots" on the failures, inadequate education and dismal performance of the Escambia County School Districts for the parents and the grandparents of the failing them GENERATIONS ago with poor governance and a systematic disenfranchisement of the least and left out poor of this county.

Let me connect these dots, "these children who live in dysfunction" are the by products and children of a failed education system that the Board's "plantation-style" governance and failed implementation of "best-practice" programs, policies and people that have been proven and successfully implemented in more progressive cities and school districts throughout the nation

Jeff Bergosh said...

George I don’t buy into your flawed arguments. Let’s identify the real problems that have led to high levels of social dysfunction in some areas. Let’s identify the real culprits.
The liberals that created the “Great Society” and the re-distributionists that have perpetuated and compounded its devastating effects on some minority sub-groups over the last 50 years—these are the culprits! They’ve trapped so many in poverty and dysfunction! They’ve made work punitive in comparison to an entitlement check!
The fallout from the idealistic yet fatally flawed entitlement programs that have destroyed many minority households over the last 50 years is here!
Hard -working professional educators in the public schools today often become targets of blame assignment from people like you for problems outside of their control.
Educators today frequently deal with families that have checked out of child-rearing altogether- in favor of drugs, hedonism, abandonment of God, and destructive social choices (crime).
So please George, don’t facilitate the shooting of the rescue chopper that’s trying to pluck folks off the rooftops. Don’t shoot the messenger. Assign blame properly and resist becoming a mouthpiece for the PC elitists. Find the stats on two parent households, of all races, from the USA in the 1950s and 1960s, and compare it to today’s numbers. This data is out there, the war on poverty fails. Expensively.
The first part of solving a difficult, complex problem is admitting it exists; more important and more difficult is the will to admit what the real problem is. This also takes the most soul-searching, particularly when it conflicts with one’s flawed worldview and ideology.
To blame a school system, or curriculum strategy, or teachers, or administrators, for all the social ills in huge segments of the population locally is a naïve fool’s errand. It’s scapegoating. It’s akin to saying that the lack of a third coat of paint on the hull is the biggest reason why the titanic could not survive the impact with the iceberg.
Schools and communities that succeed—regardless of racial composition or poverty levels-- consistently have high numbers of 2-parent working families. Look at Byrneville charter school for an illustration of this; mired in poverty with nearly 7 of 10 students receiving free/reduced lunch—this school scored higher than any other school in the Escambia district in multiple categories!
The majority of our students do succeed, George!
Case in point: We’ve had many minority students come to our schools recently not even speaking English (from Southeast Asia and North Africa primarily); these same students have broken achievement records on subject area exams within two years of their arrival----in Reading and Writing!
We have extraordinarily successful students graduating yearly, of all races and from all income levels, with GPAs in the 5.0 + range! How does that happen if we are such a bunch of failures at educating, George?
Answer: You are wrong, we know how to provide a world class education to our students and we offer it daily. I’m offended by your characterization that we perform “dismally.” George, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.
We get it done.
We can’t do it alone though- Education is a two-party proposition. We need parents and students to step up and do their part as well. Absent this-- it will be a continuing, ongoing challenge for some.
So let me connect the real dots for you, George.
People must stop shooting at the “rescue choppers” (public school employees) that are trying to save the “flood victims” (children from irresponsible parents)—lest we have no more pilots willing to fly these difficult, dangerous missions.
Let me put it a different way: If we keep attacking the doctors trying desperately to save the terminally ill patients—the doctors will leave, the patients will die, and the whole system implodes.
If that happens, and folks like you who constantly attack the public schools get your pyrrhic victory--who will the real losers be?

Lorraine said...


You know anything about corporate welfare or a flawed tax system? Maybe you do, since you worked for a defense company who's got tight reigns in DC.

I mean, redistribution is such a problem! The middle class pays a higher proportion of taxes, while major corporations pay nothing! Not a shiny red penny! And talk about welfare! Corporations milk the government! From 2008-2010, GE made $7.722 billion in profit (BILLION!), paid no federal income tax, and received $4.737 billion back from the U.S. Treasury. Good thing the roof of a classroom at Workman Middle School isn't collapsing, or else I'd be pretty mad! FedEx loves the roads built by the dubiously evil government, but they don't want to pay for them, nope. I can give numerous examples of our flawed tax system and of corporate welfare, but I think you have the point. Surely you know a thing or two about lobbyists and clever corporate tax lawyers. Don't even get me started on the billions of dollars of subsidies they get. At this point, it isn't a partisan issue, but an American issue.

While you are concerned of a struggling black mother, who has lost hope, "milking" the government for a $300 check a month, I will be concerned about GE milking the government of nearly $5 billion dollars whose CEO gives him $25 million a year. Or McDonalds, who works employees full-time, yet provides "McResources" to teach them how to get federal aid. I guess they're experts at it.

Just keeping it real.

Lorraine said...

More inconsistencies on so-called redistribution: How is that so when the the top 20% in America take home 84% of all wealth? If there were such a distribution, I'd expect it to look more like Sweden, which is apparently a very happy country. It's not like some folks in Warrington aren't struggling to buy clothes for their kids. Not that ESCD has opened a clothing closet in the last month (that's not a criticism, but to point out inconsistencies).

Not sure what even caused that recession either, where middle class families lost their jobs but top corporate executives and Wall Street bankers still seemed to profit.

Just throwing out tough questions for you think about on your own terms, and again, keeping it real.

Jeff Bergosh said...


I want to take a hard look at all the entitlements, even the sacred cows-some of which you mention. But I'll buy into the flawed mentality that somehow if I work hard and am successful and have more money and property than someone who does not work-that somehow this points to a flawed system. And if you want to talk percentages, the bottom 50% of American earners pay 0 in tax, The top 15 % pay more than 90% of all the tax. yet the bottom 50% receive earned income credits and actually get cash back although they put NOTHING in!! We've got 50 Million on disability, 50 million on food stamps, and the labor participation rate is the lowest in our nation's history. We're fueling the fire by recklessly devaluing our currency issuing public debt (aka printing money) to the tune of $40Billion monthly, and we wonder why gas is headded to $5.00 per gallon. Lorraine, don't get me started on issues of economics, as I study these things much more carefully than do you; On this subject you have met your master. Not trying to sound crass but if you come in here with talking points regurgitated straigt out of MSNBC or Huffington Post, you will get slammed. This economy, this presidency, is in shambles by almost any way you can measure it-and we'll all be paying the bills for this DISASTER for decades.

Lorraine said...

"I'll buy into the flawed mentality that somehow if I work hard and am successful and have more money and property than someone who does not work-that somehow this points to a flawed system."

1) The criticism that our system is flawed does not mean success is impossible -- it means that it has become increasingly more difficult. That's where you go wrong in your understanding. Your focus on understanding policy is a focus on the individuals, and not on the trees. You are not seeing the complex relationships that occur from a big picture perspective. You fail to properly realize the complexity at which external factors and factors beyond one's control govern human behavior. Intelligence, cultural differences (there are cultural differences among white and Black Americans, broadly speaking), poor environmental circumstance, and unconscious stereotypes about races, privilege (e.g. your gender and race works for you), and even your birth year can make a difference in your life outcomes for success. (See Malcolm Gladwell's "The Outliers" as a fine example). I haven a hypothesis that one who has inherited more grit than average will be more likely to succeed from extenuating circumstances than those who haven't (And yes, those psychological capacities vary from person to person. I do believe those things can be encouraged/taught, though). Our policies need to take into account these complexities as we strategize the best ways to ensure everyone succeeds.

And when you understand the world from this angle, you can begin to understand how policy affects outcomes. Our current economic policies have made it difficult for even people of average intelligence and/or grit to make a decent living. Most people just want a nice family and a job to take care of their kids (and be something like a car salesman or manager; they don't ambitions to be a CEO, doctor, or lawyer, and that is quite okay. Last time I checked, that is middle class America, which is dwindling as we speak since everyone is living pay check to pay check as the cost of living increases.

2) Jobs are hard to come by. An extreme case occurs for even Ivy League graduates: they can't even get jobs.

3) People lost their jobs due to automation and outsourcing. Not sure how I feel about this, but it is a problem. I also prefer the friendly greeting of a person at Starbucks and Burger King than a computer.

4) Let's define success, which I was alluding to in my first point. Success is a hard working middle class family. They have average intelligence and work 40 hours a week. They should have enough to pay for their bills and some left over to save or use for recreation. In light of this definition of success, we are finding that the middle class is dwindling as more hard working families are living paycheck to pay check. DVD players and iPhones may be relatively cheap, but the cost of housing, higher education, health care, drugs, cars, and public transportation, have increased.

You shouldn't have to be a corporate executive to be financially stable. But they're the ones laying workers off as their CEO pay gets bigger and bigger. Workers work longer hours (ask my mom), have a less secure retirement, and are prone to working pay check to pay, while top executives profit off their backs.

**In such circumstances, the ability to succeed and be financially secure for all types of people is certainly undermined.** Is success being a registered nurse yet living nearly pay check to pay check and having no health care for your kids?

If these points don't strike you as perplexing, then I am not sure what else I can do to convince you that being a middle class worker with financial security is hard to come by nowadays.

Lorraine said...

"The top 15 % pay more than 90% of all the tax. yet the bottom 50% receive earned income credits and actually get cash back although they put NOTHING in!!

First: I am going to say this. I claim not to be an economic expert, and frankly, I doubt you are too. Anyone who has a life doesn't have the time to study this issue in depth unless you literally work for a think tank or government. I do, however, find those two statements to indicate that you don't have as strong of a grasp of this complex issue that you think.

1) The poor do pay taxes. Surely you know that our tax revenue comes from various sources. It is true that the rich pay their fair share of **federal individual income taxes.** But to say the poor pay NO taxes it just a flat out falsehood. The media focuses a lot on the federal income tax, which is just one source of tax revenue, and it makes up roughly 40%-50% of total revenue (depending on the year). The other large source of tax revenue is payroll tax, which generates about 40%-45% of our revenue. ***Poor and middle class families pay a higher percentage of their incomes on these taxes than the rich.***

Furthermore, there are state and local taxes, which the poor and middle class pay a greater share of. A CBPP sources states, for example: "When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average. The second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent."

I say in the most lighthearted manner, I am not sure how you are going to "smash" me when you totally made a bogus claim that most of the poor pay nothing! At the least, they pay sales tax! But again overall, they actually pay at least 16% of *all* tax revenue, which includes state and local taxes. Your number has totally neglected that distinction.

This is a pretty good chart I've bookmarked to show the tax burden is distributed too!
But do consider this chart:

2) When considering tax burden, we need to consider the tax rate to relative income as well. As I mentioned, the tax rate for payroll taxes is regressive in that middle class families pay higher proportion of their income for this.

I made a $900 check, and about $150 bucks was taken out. :-( I don't mind paying $50, maybe $100 in taxes, but $150?!!! That's nearly two days of work for me, and it is a burden.

Our tax code is too complicated and is need of major reform.

Just ideas. I'm done. Debating you is getting old.