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, July 30, 2014

Is This the Best Way to Spend $375,000??

All dollars, regardless of what funding source they are from, are precious resources to be utilized wisely and I am extremely concerned about a recently approved contract that I think is exorbitantly priced.

This contract will provide three part-time personnel who will perform various subject area coaching and other administrative support at Warrington Middle School for the upcoming school year.  Initially, this $600K contract came to the board for approval at the June Board meeting.  I expressed my concerns at that time, and when I eventually received the contract the next day and read it, my concerns grew even larger.

I spoke via the telephone with Steve Marcanio, director of Curriculum, and with Marcia Nowlin, Title 1 director, on the 17th of June.  I told them both at that time on that call that there was no way I could support the expenditure.  I also had a lengthy discussion with the superintendent and I told him the same thing.  I said I would discuss it at the upcoming workshop with an open mind-- but that I would more than likely be unable to support the contract due to price.

Because of Sunshine Law, I could not discuss the item with the other members of the board who may have held similar concerns—because the initial agreement (which was for $600K for 4 personnel) was unceremoniously deleted from the agenda on the 19th of June.  I was told it was not due to any concerns I had raised about the contract;   nevertheless I was glad to see that item gone.  I would not have voted to approve it.

Fast forward to July, and I missed the first regular meeting of my career on the school board to take a once in a lifetime Mediterranean cruise.  I attempted to log-on and call in, however I was unable to connect from the ship in Europe.   Missing that meeting broke a streak of 92 previous regular meetings I had made without missing any.  But along with missing the meeting, I missed an important vote….

Upon my arrival back in the States, I soon learned that a revised version of the original agreement was put back on the agenda (not linked to the online agenda for review by the board and the public until July 21st, one day before the meeting) and approved by the three board members that were in attendance at the July 22nd board meeting.

While I’m quite pleased that the cost of the contract had been trimmed from $600K to $375K, I’m still concerned about this price-tag; additionally, the number of days that this company will be at Warrington MS has been slashed proportionately in response to the reduced contract cost, and the personnel that will be present under the approved plan amount now to just 3 persons under the revised agreement.

I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this vendorand his team, and I want to make it clear that I harbor no Ill-will toward them and I honestly hope they succeed in their efforts at Warrington Middle.  My

 concern is with the process, the way this contract was negotiated and approved, and the cost.

Also, I’m told that the school really likes this team and really wanted this contract.  Well, that’s fine too.  However, in the era of shrinking budgets and financial restraint, sometimes the spigot must be turned off…Warrington MS has been the recipient of an inordinate amount of money over the last 6 years and here we go again pouring more into it.  Of course the school based team approves of this, who wouldn't?  I don’t blame them. 

I can appreciate nice things like nice cars, but just because I like them and want them doesn’t mean I deserve to have them or that I can afford them. Especially at the expense of hard working taxpayers!  This contract is a Ferrari, when a VW could have sufficed.  Paid for by the tax-payer!

As I expressed to Dr. Young in my lengthy telephone conversation with him on Monday evening—it is a hard sell for me to expect veteran teachers who may have Masters’ Degrees in Math and 15-20 years of classroom teaching experience (and who may not even be breaking $45K in salary) to swallow the fact that the district is bringing in 3 part-time personnel at a cost of $375,000.00.  And the “Director of Mathematics” for this vendor does not have a degree in Math, and fewer than five years classroom teaching experience, so far as I can tell from reading her resume.  

  Now, I don’t claim to know what the Math Director’s abilities are, I’m told she is quite effective.  I do know she will also be doubling as the “community involvement” liaison-so her work will be divided and she will be stretched.  Additionally, I do not claim to know how this organization is paying these three personnel, or what their overhead costs might be. I will be asking them though.   But in the meantime,  simple logic and simple math says this cost to the district is $125K per person for 3 part-time employees, two of whom will not even be residing in this town.

Imagine what this knowledge will do to the full-time, boots on the ground employee with much more experience-- that makes a third of this amount?  Not the recipe for good morale.

Why not offer this as a full-time position (Math Director at Warrington) to a local teacher, already employed with the district, for half the cost?  This amount would have been as much as a $20K increase in salary for such a person!  We would have had them lined up around the hall center for a chance at such a job!
Why not do the same for the other subject area “Directors” listed under this contract?  And we still would have saved money.

I’m just not sold on the consultant company/coaching model.

We tried the consultant/coaching route at Montclair with a well-known, local educational consulting firm, and we spent HUGE $ ($300K over two years for two part-time employees)—only to meet with failure.

I certainly do not want to repeat that mistake and I’m very concerned that this contract won’t be what’s needed at Warrington to move the needle.  I hope I’m wrong, but I know of many organizations at many schools that have worked their guts out FULL-TIME and still met with results that were inconsistent at best, or anemic to non-existent at worst.  When success is achieved at some of these challenging schools, it is often impossibly difficult to sustain.

The approach to these schools needs to change and instead of going an inch deep and a mile wide, I believe we need to go a foot wide and a mile deep for the students who are in the most desperate need of help due to a deteriorating, dysfunctional home environment.

I’ve brought the idea to two school board meetings:  Boarding Schools!  Other districts find the money to make this happen, why not Pensacola?
Oh, it is too expensive, that’s what I’m told.  We’d have the money if we were wiser with what we do have and did not enter into exorbitantly priced contracts like this one for Warrington!

I intend to bring this whole issue to the next board discussion workshop, so that I can discuss all the concerns with the full board.  I’ll have a big list of questions for Dr. Young as well, so I will ask that he come to the meeting.  Additionally, since it appears this contract will be a go for this year, I’m going to request frequent updates on progress be brought to the board on a regular basis.   Maybe even monthly.  We don’t want Montclair part II.


Lorraine said...

Thanks for keeping us informed, Jeff.

This is interesting. I am going to research this company and their track record.

If they are experts and do turn around the school, than the money may be worth it. Just imagine the impact they could make in the lives of so many students if they actually make a difference. In that case, $375,000 is worth it.

That's my optimistic side, but I feel we don't necessarily need to go to these lengths. What we really need are skilled leaders like the principal from Oakcreast. Without going into details, I just think challenging schools like this need to develop it's social side. Develop a community among students, faculty, and staff. A skilled leader can do this. Why do I know this? Because I've only been a substitute teacher, and I've done it in a classroom within one class period. How school leaders handle problems sets a tone in a school setting; it can be positive and cultivating, or it can be depressing and countereffective.

Lorraine said...

I will add that I appreciate the school district seeking to solve problems at the school. That area really needs all it can to give those students a vision of a brighter future.

Anonymous said...

How much money will we be throwing at this one particular school? Will we have to continue this contract forever? What will happen when all this extra help is gone? What about the other failing they not deserve the same help? This is ridiculous and was not thought thru....Put another band-aid on the sore when you really need a antibiotic!

Jeff Bergosh said...


I share some of your concerns and that is why I wanted the opportunity to discuss this with the full board. It is a lot of money for three part-time "coaches"--and like you I see this as a lot of money at one school, where we have other schools with similar need (if not greater) however they are not receiving the same resources and dollars we have put into Warrington MS. Time for a different approach.....