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.








Thursday, April 30, 2015

Newpoint Public Records Release Part I: First Contact

On Wednesday March 25th at about 7:45 PM I received the call. 

whistle-blower I did not know called me at home and we spoke for more than an hour. 

Then, this same whistle-blower sent me reams of documents detailing serious, startling allegations via multiple emails.  I stayed up late in the evening and early into the next morning reading it all-and I was deeply troubled, very concerned over the allegations in the documents.  

Because I knew the allegations were incendiary, I posted this blog entry at 6:27 AM that Thursday morning, not naming the school and not going into any specifics—but stating there was potentially a huge problem, about which the board did not know.  This was all happening right on the heels of the recent debacle over the PATS program, after all....


I did indicate in that very first blog post that this was going to be an explosive issue and that I was going to try and get answers as fast as I could.  I was angry for a number of reasons, but I knew I had to forward these allegations, emails, and all documents IMMEDIATELY to School Board Attorney 
Donna Waters and Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas, which I did early the following
morning, on Thursday, March 26th.  This is the email, below, I sent that morning. This email is a part of the raft of records released yesterday to the press and others under the Public Records Law.




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Newpoint Public Records: My Portion of the Records Request Ready for Release Today

On April 6th a huge public records request was made for the documents I have in my possession regarding the Newpoint Investigation.

I worked diligently to compile my part of the information in order to answer this request, but there was some disagreement between lawyers as to what was exempt and what must be released.



At the beginning of this week, the State's Attorney cleared up the issue and sent a letter to the Board's attorney, delineating clearly, with emphasis, what is exempt and what must be released.

So my thick stack of records has been redacted and the requestors of this information have been notified and will be provided this information today.

Because of the voluminous quantity of data, I have not yet determined what, if any, I will be able to link to this blog.

I may link some in a series of forthcoming posts.

Among the allegations found in some of my public records to be released today: (These are ALLEGATIONS ONLY at this point and much of this is the subject of a current, active, multi-agency investigation presently)

-Newpoint altered grades
-Newpoint jeopardized student safety multiple times and in multiple ways
-Teachers provided students answers "over their shoulders"

-ECSD failed to follow up on numerous phone calls, emails and written correspondence documenting

Monday, April 27, 2015

Newpoint Public Records Request: State Attorney's Office Gives Definitive Opinion, Says Records Must Be Released





#Amplifychoice 2015: Dr. Ben Scafidi on Economics and School Funding, Economics and School Choice

Dr. Ben Scafidi speaks at #Amplifychoice 2015 on the unusual economics
of School Funding

At the recent #Amplifychoice event held in Atlanta this past weekend, sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, several interesting presentations were given by multiple subject matter experts. 

One especially interesting presentation was given by an individual that knows a lot about economics and school choice. 

Dr. Ben Scafidi gave a riveting lecture on the economics of school choice on Friday afternoon.  Dr. Scafidi, whom I had previously had the opportunity to meet and speak with a few years back at a conference in Milwaukee, is a professor of economics at Kennesaw State University. In addition to this, he‘s also a senior fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and also the director of education policy for the Georgia Community Foundation, Inc. 

Dr. Scafidi wrote the bombshell report The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools and he co-authored the very influential report from 2013 More than Scores, an Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools.  In these reports, Scafidi detailed the troubling phenomenon of ever expanding public educational hiring of non-instructional employees and also the reasons why parents take such an active interest in choosing where their children attend school.  And these reports are amazing documents that every education policy-maker in America should read.

But the subject of discussion at this week’s event was the money behind education and the non-standard economic explanations those in public education try to give when discussing their financial challenges.  “The fact of the matter is that spending on education has risen dramatically in the U.S. since 1970, yet the vast majority of the spending increases have paid for increases in non-instructional and administrative school employees” said Scafidi during his presentation.  
Data courtesy of Dr. Ben Scafidi


He went on to describe the strange phenomenon that occurs when some educational administrators talk budgets.  “They’ll try to convince you on one hand that, even if their enrollments are declining, they cannot take budget decreases because all of their costs are fixed costs” Scafidi said.  “But this is simply not true from an economics perspective—and if it were—how do we explain the appearances of these same administrators at legislative committee hearings clamoring for more and more money to cover the costs of enrollments that rise?”  Scafidi asked rhetorically.  “They wouldn’t need more money if all of their costs were fixed—and this disproves the very arguments they try to make when their enrollments drop” he quipped.

An interesting and unique thing happens in publicly funded education—a practice that occurs nowhere else and in no other occupation in America according to Scafidi.  

In environments of declining enrollments in school districts, according to Scafidi, policy makers still oftentimes fund school systems for students (customers) that are no longer even in such schools.  “You’re paying to serve customers that are no longer there!” Scafidi pointed out, with emphasis, to the wide-eyed room full of attendees. “What other industry has this as their business model?!”

Taking the long view, Scafidi points to some amazing numbers and some startling conclusions.  “Since 1950 public school enrollments have increased nearly 100 %, but staffing has increased at almost four-times this rate-but H.S. graduation rates have remained flat despite all of this spending” he stated.  

According to Scafidi, the increases in educational/academic attainment do not match the massive

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Uh Oh...The Educrats are Going to HATE this Bill!


What a profound shift in thinking, to think that we should put students, parents and families first?  Unbelievable, right?

HB 1145 just passed out of the House yesterday, a bill despised by the guardians of the status quo and nearly universally by Democrats in Tallahassee.  After all, how dare these taxpayers demand access to great schools, the audacity of it all, right?

But this bill did pass yesterday, and among other things this bill will allow Florida families stuck in failing school districts the flexibility to choose and attend ANY Florida public school that has capacity.  One county over, two counties over, or across the state.  If they provide the transportation, their children can attend.  What a great idea, this will drive careerists in suits nuts--- they will immediately start spinning around like tops, spinning all their opinions about how this is a horrible idea and is going to make things soooooo difficult.  Yeah, they hate this--even the educrats that have "R"'s by their name but govern like what they truly are, moderate "D's"  Yeah, the same ones that like to condescendingly, deridingly tell parents that "our system knows better than you what is best for

Friday, April 24, 2015

#AmplifyChoice Atlanta 2015: School Choice, ESA's, and the Economics of School Choice


The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity is sponsoring #Amplifychoice in Atlanta this weekend.  Featured speakers include Ryan Mahoney from The Foundation for Excellence in Education, Dr. Ben Scafidi from the Friedman Foundation, Virginia Galloway, and Kelly McCutchen from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

The attendees of this conference will be visiting local charter schools in the Atlanta area that have shown great academic achievement, and we will be given the opportunity to network with school choice advocates from around the US.

We will also be having group discussions on many hot topics in public education policy, to include tax credit scholarships, legislative battles surrounding school choice, the ethics of school choice, the economics of school choice, and thr rationale for the establishment of Education Savings Accounts.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Newpoint Schools and the Release of Public Records: Differing Opinions Slow Down the Release of Public Records



Multiple public records requests have been made now regarding the investigation of Newpoint schools.  I received one several weeks back, and I have compiled, literally, a phone-book thick stack of records that were requested and which I have produced.  As of today, the finishing touches on the redaction process is being accomplished by School Board staff. All student names are being redacted, as well as the names of all confidential, inside informants and information that would compromise the identities of these confidential informants pursuant to 119.071(2)(f).  

My records, my part of the request, could feasibly be ready for dissemination by this Friday or early next week.

But there has been a snag.  There is disagreement between lawyers for the district and the Board's attorney regarding what it is that is exempt from public records release, and what is not exempt.  If a record is part of an active criminal investigation by a law enforcement agency, such records are exempt from disclosure by any such agency.  There is unanimous agreement on this.

But what about records developed prior to the initiation of an investigation?

What about records that were developed by the school district prior to the current investigation?  AG Opinion 91-75 seems to indicate that these records are not exempt, and should be disclosed.

What about records that are in the possession of a Board Member but that refer to last school year,

HB 549 and SB 1114: Bills that Facilitate Freedom of Choice in Advocacy

           


Today is a huge day in the legislature for a bill that will solve many problems for elected constitutional officers, school board members, who want more accountability from their advocacy associations;  more importantly,  school board members that want and deserve more choice in advocacy, particularly when taxpayer subsidized advocacy groups sue the Governor and Legislature in court, will now have this--if some dominoes fall the right way today.

              HB 549 is on the agenda for consideration today in the House, and an amendment will be added from the  floor that reads:

(4)  Membership association dues paid with public funds, as defined in s. 215.85(3), shall be assessed for each elected or appointed public officer. However, if a public officer elects not to join the membership association, the dues assessed for that public officer shall not be paid to the membership association.


HB 549 has a similar, companion bill  (SB 1114)  in the Senate that did not make the special order calendar for this week.  

Because of this, many of us from around the state will be putting on a "full court press" urging

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Women for Responsible Legislation: Here Comes a Fiery, Red-Meat Conservative Speech on Education!



I love it when I do not have to be politically correct and can just honestly discuss conservative, red-meat issues that I feel are important yet not discussed enough.  Tomorrow will be one of these occasions!

The Women for Responsible Legislation of Pensacola have invited me to be their featured speaker for their April meeting tomorrow.

This meeting will take place tomorrow- Thursday, April 23rd --at 11:15.

The meeting will be held at Pensacola City Hall at 222 W. Main Street, Pensacola, FL. 32502.

Items that they would like me to discuss include all of the interesting yet controversial issues in public education today, including:

Common Core, School Choice, Accountability vs. Over-testing, Textbook adoptions, Elected vs. Appointed Superintendents, attendance boundaries, vouchers, backpack funding, Union Influences on school policy, homeschooling, school discipline etc. etc.

I anticipate giving a brief overview of who I am, where I'm from, how I ended up on the school board, my thoughts and opinions on hot topics in education locally, statewide, and nationwide (listed above)--followed by an extended question and answer session.

I anticipate this speech will be a lot like the "Red-Meat" conservative speech I gave last month at the Escambia County Republican Executive Committee meeting--and I am very appreciative of the invitation, and really looking forward to speaking to this group!

I think some of what I'll say, and most of my stances on these issues,  will resonate strongly with this group.

No Zero Grading Part VIII: What do the Report Cards Show?


When I was told that at some district middle schools teachers were being encouraged to not give any grades below 50, thereby self-implementing a de facto “no zeros policy” in contravention to existing board policy on grading scales,   I quickly asked the Superintendent and the Asst. Superintendent of curriculum about this. Both men denied this was occurring “to their knowledge.” After hearing that another board member had been told by teachers that “they could not, were not allowed-to fail students” I requested specific information from the district staff so that an analysis could be done on a small sample of report cards from several middle schools to either prove, or disprove, these claims.  The district deserves great credit here, for quickly providing the data requested so that an abbreviated

Monday, April 20, 2015

No Zero Grading Part VII: A Break for Students, or Breaking School Board Rules?


This past Friday morning, the School Board had a thorough discussion of “no zero grading” practices.  The discussion was interesting.  My issue, as I have discussed here via numerous posts, is that the system could potentially reward some students who did not do their work, and could result in disparate treatment of students, as Attorney Donna Waters stated at the meeting when she said:

“the practice of no-zero grading becomes more problematic when multiple grades are combined for a course, semester, or other average. To illustrate, assume two students in a class which has a project and an exam which are equally weighted as the only two grades assigned in a semester. Each makes an 98 on the semester exam, but does not turn in the assigned project.  Student A attends a school which adheres strictly to the grading scale in the SPP; he receives a 49% [calculated as (98 + 0)/2] and fails the class. Student B, in a no-zero-grading school, receives a 50% on the project and a 74% final grade [or (98 + 50)/2] and passes the class. Thus, there could be very serious consequences of such a non-uniform grading system.”

The unanimous consensus at the meeting was that teachers should have wide latitude and great flexibility in the way they assign grades to their individual students—they know their students better than anyone else in the schools.  This is important-- and like the Geico commercials--- everybody knows this.

Even still-several Florida districts unabashedly practice this policy--even though it appears to be at odds with state mandated grading scales.

Judging from the discussion at our workshop--I do not believe the Escambia County School Board would ever embrace this sort of a grading scheme institutionally.

Because giving students nothing below a “50” becomes problematic legally if it is practiced as an unwritten rule at some schools.  It is even more problematic if  “no zeros” grading is dictated to teachers by administrators.  Or even if this practice is “strongly suggested” It is wrong. It is social promotion, and we should all oppose this practice as it does nobody any good.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Struggle over $21,000.00 Fee Highlights the Need For Individualized Board Member Dues Payments


The Volusia County School Board decided, by a 3-2 vote, to continue their board's membership with the Florida School Boards Association.  Along with that decision comes a $21,000.00. invoice payable for this one year membership for the board.  From the Daytona Beach News Journal:

"Political divisions between Volusia County School Board members underscored a debate Tuesday night about whether to renew the district’s membership with a statewide organization that provides training, lobbying and legal services.  The board ultimately voted 3-2 to remain part of the Florida School Boards Association, with board members John Hill and Melody Johnson casting the dissenting votes, during a regular meeting Tuesday night. Hill and Johnson balked at the $21,000 annual membership fee and the organization’s stance against a popular state program that diverts

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Zero Grading Part VI: Coincidence, or Corroboration?


I don't believe in coincidences, I think things happen for a reason.

I'm not Ron Fisher and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, either, but I can clearly  see something troubling in the two report cards I've linked above.

These are two report cards from this year reflecting the work of two non-ESE students from two different Escambia County Middle Schools.

But here is the thing:

When looking at all the "F" Grades from these two report cards on Q2 and S1--one can clearly see that there are no "F" scores recorded that are below a "50."  I have redacted the names of the students, the teachers, the courses, and the schools, but I can report that these six instances of "Fs" being registered as exactly "50" and no lower are from six different teachers at two separate schools reflecting the work of two different students.

So if we're not doing "No Zero Grading" institutionally at these schools--what are the odds that all six of these "F" grades would be exactly "50" on the only two report cards from these schools I have ever seen?   Why not 30, 42, 26, 48, or 19?  How are all the lowest "F" grades magically, exactly "50" and no lower?"  It would be fascinating to see how the ghost of Ron Fisher would write up the equation rationalizing these F's all  equaling exactly 50 and no lower...

As I have discussed in multiple entries to this blog over the last several days, I get the troubling sense that we, at some of our district schools, are instituting a different grading scale than that which is in Board Policy (and Fl. Statutes), printed in the Student Progression Plan, the Parents Hanbook, and that which is printed in the upper right corner of the report cards above.  This troubles me because I have been told by teachers that this is happening, that artificial grade floors are being created--and these two report cards appear to corroborate this claim.  

Yet I have been told by administrators that this is not happening, "to their knowledge."

I will be asking the top district administrator about this today.

I will get to the bottom of this at this week's School Board meetings.


No Zero Grading Part V: It's Like Baseball

Sometimes complex issues can be boiled down to essentials using an analogy.  

I like to use baseball as an analogy, as it is a sport I loved and played as a kid, it is America’s past-time sport, and most people understand the game of baseball—even if they don’t necessarily like it.

So as I began thinking about the accusations of students being given grades they did not really earn, regardless of the effort they actually put forth, I thought baseball made perfect sense as the object of a comparison.

In baseball, the object is to win games by scoring more runs than the other team.  It is pretty basic.  You utilize good fielding, pitching, and hitting to score more runs than your opponent while simultaneously preventing your opponent from scoring runs against you.

Many would argue that hitting is one of the most, if not the most, essential skills a good baseball player must possess.  That’s why people talk incessantly about a player’s batting average.

But becoming a great hitter takes years and years of experience, practice, and dedication.

Unless you are a naturally gifted Ted Williams or Tony Gwynn, this means you take batting practice daily.  

Or twice daily.

Some players take 1000 cuts a day.  In the cage, off the tee, soft toss, from a machine, from a machine that throws curves, under hand, overhand, half speed, full speed.  You name it.  It takes repetition-- lots of repetition.

It also takes dedication.

Because to win games you have to first get to base---and being a great batter allows a player to get to base more often than his opponent--- by either hitting, drawing a walk, or capitalizing on a catcher’s error. 

So if you want to make great players, successful at the game of baseball, you have to develop hitters.
  Bottom line:  Batting is hard---success actually is achieved if you get a hit one out of 3 or 4 tries.

But imagine if someone suggested a different way to play baseball. 

Imagine for a moment that learning to hit didn't matter.  If you got up to bat and struck out, you would still be placed on second base, giving you a better chance to score.   If you popped-out, grounded out, or swung at wild pitches all day long and were thrown out at first every time—it would not matter.  If you decided you did not even want to bat at all, when it was your turn in the lineup-you could bypass the batter’s box altogether-- you would still get to go to second base.  Your team would

No Zero Grading Part IV: How Texas Addressed the Issue




It was easy.

The legislature received complaints from teachers about artificial grade manipulation being dictated downward from administrators--stymieing individual teacher discretion while simultaneously precluding such teachers from assigning students any letter grade below an artificially set "grade floor" of 50, 60, or even as high as 70!

These legislators passed the Texas Truth in Grading Act in 2009--and it passed the legislature with unanimous support.  Unanimous.

Here is the simple text of the original bill.  I think we may need something like this locally.  I'm bringing this to the board.


81R13223 EAH-F
By: NelsonS.B. No. 2033
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT
relating to adoption of a school district grading policy.
       BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
       SECTION 1.  Subchapter B, Chapter 28, Education Code, is
amended by adding Section 28.0216 to read as follows:
       Sec. 28.0216.  DISTRICT GRADING POLICY. A school district
shall adopt a grading policy, including provisions for the
assignment of grades on class assignments and examinations, before
each school year. A district grading policy:
             (1)  must require a classroom teacher to assign a grade
that reflects the student's relative mastery of an assignment; and
             (2)  may not require a classroom teacher to assign a
minimum grade for an assignment without regard to the student's
quality of work.
       SECTION 2.  This Act applies beginning with the 2009-2010
school year.
       SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives
a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as
provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this
Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this
Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

No Zero Grading Policy, Part III


One year ago, Orange County, Florida,  Schools adopted a "no zeros" plan.

This past January, several anonymous teachers stepped forward in Birmingham, Al, to warn the public about this sort of a no zeros scheme being implemented in their school--and the negative consequences of this.  From Al.com:

A "no zeros" policy at Birmingham's W.J. Christian K-8 School has some teachers upset, and concerned that students are taking advantage of the policy.."Students aren't learning because we can't get them to do the work," one of the teachers told AL.com. "When do we hold the students accountable?"

Read "No zeros grading policy awards students half credit for work they don't turn in"

The state of Texas took this bull by the horns, passing a statewide "Truth in Grading" Law disallowing administrators' ability to force teachers to artificially raise student scores to some artificial minimum, like 50.  This excellent blog post describes the resulting court battles over what that law's intention was--and the final appropriate outcome.

As I dig in and research the issue of "No Zero" Grading schemes, I find that they are being utilized widely. I'm told they are used right here in Escambia County. Often, these schemes are being utilized throughout entire school districts, in an "unwritten" manner, individually implemented by principals

Thursday, April 9, 2015

No Zero Grading, Part II

Like a loop of the commercial for the Samsung Galaxy III-- “The Next Big Thing is Already Here”—I’m being told that the “next big thing in grading for fairness and to help struggling students” is already here/has been here in some Escambia County Florida schools. 

 If it is, I want to know about it yet I’m told by administrators that it is not being practiced here. In a recent conversation with a high-level school administrator, I was told “Teachers have latitude in assigning grades, you know that-- but the emphasis is on getting the student to do assignments, getting the students and the parents engaged to do the work.”  

Well, that sounds good, but are we also recommending teachers give kids that refuse to do work no grade lower than a 50?

I hope not.

Other districts are, though. 


“The Fairfax County schools administration is considering sweeping changes to the grading system for middle school and high school classes that could help struggling students keep their grades up. In a message sent to thousands of teachers Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent Steven Lockard detailed a series of proposals under consideration to revamp how teachers hand out grades to students and to standardize exam scores across the county.. The majority of the changes Lockard outlined in his message to teachers would aim to create consistency in how students are graded and give those struggling in classes more opportunities to improve their scores. Under the new system, student grades could be calculated partly on classroom effort as well as test scores. Experts say the proposals are similar to changes instituted in school districts across the country. Education consultant and grading expert Ken O’Connor said movements to standardize grading systems are picking up steam. He also said that giving students a zero is “morally and ethically wrong.” “As 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

No Zero Grading?

There seems to be a new push coming out of the education establishment and it is spreading across the nation like a wildfire.


A student does not do his work, refuses to do it and teachers are told to record a “50” in the gradebook instead of a “0”. 

A student “Christmas Trees” the answers to an important class final exam, because he hates school, does not care, and does not want to be there—scoring a “20”--- and yet he receives a “50”.
Meanwhile, other students that try and earn 70, 80, or 85 legitimately after studying diligently and working earnestly to finish their tests get no upward bump.  This is like a liberal engineered, reverse bell-curve designed to totally dumb down education in our country even further than it is being dumbed down already rewarding those that don’t “do” while simultaneously punishing those students who “do”. 

We all know teachers should have latitude in grading.  A student ends the semester, after working his guts out and never missing class and working hard, and the teacher allows such a student to do an extra credit paper to raise his 69.4% to  a 70%.  Yeah—everybody gets that.  That is called caring about kids.

But what if a “everybody gets no lower than a “50” scheme is dictated to all teachers from Educrats, thus unfairly engineering winners while simultaneously diminishing teacher discretion?  Uh, YES, this is problematic.

Is this sort of a scheme fair to students who actually work and do their assignments?  Wouldn't this scheme serve to disincentivize everyone? Isn’t this just a glorified way to make everyone feel like a winner, and isn't this a blatant example of social promotion?

Of course it is.  It is a disaster and it does students no favors in the long run.  But it makes schools appear as if they are improving, particularly the bottom quartile of struggling students.  So, of course the Educrats EMBRACE this scheme

It is for this reason that this scheme is particularly abundant in struggling urban school districts.  A fascinating blog post on this subject, written by a Chicago public school teacher subjected to this policy, provides an illuminating read. 

“After our first year, our principal proposed that we move to what is called a “no-zero policy,” because a zero could bring a student’s grade down so far that recovery was not an option.  She had us read an article that argued that the traditional grading scale of 90-100 for an A, 80-89 for a B, 70-79 for a C, 69-60 for a D, and 59-0 as an F unfairly penalized students because the range for an ‘F’ was 59 points while the other grades spanned only 10 points.  The principal’s proposal was quickly put to a vote, and teachers had the notion that we could always change the policy if we thought it wasn’t working.  The majority of teachers voted in favor of the policy, which meant that if a student did not complete an assignment, he or she would receive a 50 percent.   Many students continued to fall into similar categories--the students who didn’t do homework still didn’t do it, those who didn’t do much class work still didn’t do much class work, and a few opted out of an exam.  But

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

ECCPTA Student of the Year 2015

One of the events I most look forward to on a yearly basis is the Escambia County Council PTA's Student of the Year Awards.

This ceremony honors students that have found success in school and in life despite significant challenges and obstacles.

In many cases, these very young students have faced life changing, devastating circumstances that would dismantle most adults.   Despite the dire circumstances-- these strong students have found a way to push ahead in school and in life!

This evening the district recognized 48 elementary, middle, and high school students.  One young man was born with no limbs.  Two young students lost parents, one young lady lost her house to last year's flood, and two young men lost their houses in a fire.  Lots of the honorees suffer from significant disabilities including blindness, Autism, and even one case of Cancer.

The resiliency these students have demonstrated is both admirable and inspirational.

Big thanks go out to all the students, parents, relatives, teachers, and principals for attending tonight's event and making it special.

Also, a huge thank you goes out to all of  the PTA volunteers that made this event go off without a hitch year after year.

Last but not least, I wish to thank the sponsors of this evening's event

Baptist Health Care
Escambia County Council PTA
Stone's Studio, Inc.
The Plant and Flower Boutique

Massive, Expansive Public Records Request Made of District Officials RE: Newpoint Investigation...



I have been notified, via the below email, that I am to turn over everything requested regarding the Newpoint investigation (emails, notes, text message screen shots, blog posts, blog comments, and any other written documents in my possession regarding this investigation)  I am currently gathering all of this documentation and I will be turning it all over to our Board’s attorney, Donna Waters, this week.



---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Donna Waters
To: Jeffrey Bergosh
Cc: Jackie Dwelle , Malcolm Thomas , Norm Ross , Sharon Goshorn
Date: Mon, 06 Apr 2015 11:03:16 -0500
Subject: Fwd: Public Records Request #486
Good Morning:

Ms. Lovett of Newpoint has made the attached public records request. I have conferred with the Superintendent and the State Attorney, and they concur with my opinion that these records are not exempt from Public Records disclosure.  Please forward me all such documents in your possession (including, but not limited to, emails, letters, blog posts, etc.) and I will review and redact them as appropriate, then forward them to Ms. Dwelle, who is coordinating the response.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Donna

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


Portion of the email requesting the records, below:


“As a result of the allegations raised against Newpoint Pensacola, we will be hiring an external investigator to do a complete and thorough investigation of the allegations raised.  Because this investigation will be intensive and look at all aspects, we are including here a public records request.

Pursuant to the Public Records Act, Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes, we are requesting the following:

All emails and any other correspondence and all written documentation that is related to or 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Step up for Students and Florida's Tax-Credit Scholarship Program: Today's PNJ Covers the Positives!


I wrote a piece for Watchdog.org a few months back on a local private school that receives tuition tax credit scholarship students from our local community via Step up for Students.  I was very impressed by what this school does for some local students--and I remain a staunch school choice supporter, knowing full-well that sometimes this can be a rocky-road to travel.  

From  NAACP aligns with the Florida establishment in attempts to kill school choice :


"Locally, we have fine private schools that have accepted the challenge to teach struggling students under the Florida tax credit scholarship program.  These schools are educating Florida students at about half the cost of what the state of Florida spends per pupil-and in the eyes of many parents these schools are doing a much better job than the public schools! Colin Hendrickson runs three such schools in our local area.  He and his wife, Johanna, have grown their program from one location and 12 students to three locations serving nearly 300 students in two counties from Pre-K through 12th grade. “Our growth has been exponential” Hendrickson stated when I spoke to him recently.  “Parents are coming to us from word of mouth referrals.” Colin described to me some of the attributes of his program that his parents and students appreciate.  “They feel safe here and they are safe here.  Parents are confident about the rigor of the curriculum, the quality of the learning environment, and the safety of the atmosphere here at Lighthouse Private Christian Academy [the academy run by the Hendricksons].  With our small classes and lots of one-on-one attention, our staff knows these kids by name, and parents really like that.” When asked about the financial ramifications to his program if the tax credit scholarship is eliminated by the special interests in court, Hendrickson is less optimistic.  “We have at least 120 students on the scholarship program, so if that goes away this will be a devastating blow to our school, costing us between $700,000 and $900,000– it could potentially shut us down. Lots of students would be uprooted and sent back to programs that are not meeting their needs, and that would be very sad to see,” Hendrickson said."

Today's  (Sunday's) edition of the Pensacola News Journal has a front page piece on one of the local

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Universal Pre-K: Myths and Reality Part II


I've discussed this issue plenty on this blog.  Universal Pre-K, funded by tax dollars, touted as an "educational program" panacea that will benefit students throughout their lives, is a myth. It is an expensive one, to boot.

But these programs enjoy broad bipartisan support from politicians of every stripe that love the money these programs inject into their jurisdictions.  Everyone loves money, right? And if it funds a program "for the children"---- it becomes all but  unstoppable, a juggernaut.

Even if the best, most well-constructed studies debunk the lofty claims Universal Pre-K proponents espouse (lifetime benefits,7 to 1 ROI, value to communities, etc, etc. etc.) --these  ideologues married to the notion that the government must fund these programs will never stop proclaiming their view of the benefits of these programs, intentionally disguising the fact that these programs are job creating entitlements, not long-term, effective educational programs...

Earlier this week US News and World Report ran an article on this same subject.  From the report:

"Pre-K for all” has become a rallying cry for progressives, underscored last week by Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Center for American Progress' discussion on “Expanding Opportunity in America’s Urban Areas." In her seven-minute talk, Clinton emphasized the “overriding issues of inequality and lack of mobility” in America, and praised New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K program as a model for helping the struggling middle class. There’s no question that the rapidly growing cost of child care has become a huge burden on middle-class families. Since 2000, the cost of child care has increased twice as much as median income of families with children..Pre-K advocates

The Shadow Economy Part II: District Booster Clubs and Outside Support Organizations


School carnivals, snack bars at football games, school dances, chain-gangs at Friday night football games throughout our county-none of these things would occur were it not for the work of volunteers and Outside Support Organizations (OSO's).  The work that these volunteer groups do provides vital assistance to students and to our school district.  But when significant sums of money start to roll through these organizations, there must be uniform accountability.  Currently, according to a soon-to-be released audit report on the subject of these organizations' compliance with School Board policy, we have many organizations that need additional guidance and support to be in full compliance.

Using approximate figures, the school district receives about $7 Million dollars per year that supports various student organizations.  One million flows through George Stone Technical School, Three Million runs through school internal accounts, (and this money is subject to Board rules on cash handling, fundraising, and most importantly is subject to district audit) But Three Million dollars yearly flows directly through OSOs --they have their own checking accounts, their own treasurer, and very little oversight.  These organizations are required, under our District's 13 year old "OSO Manual", to provide each Principal of each school whose programs are supported copies of minutes, financial statements, and IRS documentation demonstrating their compliance with applicable law on non-profit organizations.  The problem is that many of these documents could not be readily obtained at several schools when a recent district-wide audit of these organizations was conducted.  Many clubs do comply--but there are a significant number that do not.  From the report:

"School principals may not be fully aware of the requirements that OSOs must operate under, and what their monitoring responsibilities are, including what documents they are required to have submitted to them..Throughout the process of obtaining financial information related to this project, we noted principals were not provided required information by their OSOs, nor were they actively seeking out this information until our office asked for the information. We began requesting this information in December 2014. The information from the 2013-2104 year should have been 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Newpoint HS Investigation Errupts

Investigations into allegations of misconduct regarding Newpoint HS in Pensacola are now, officially, being initiated by the State.




After I received explosive information about one of our charter schools at 7:45 in the evening on March 25th, --I passed this information directly over to our attorney and the superintendent of schools.   Last week, I mentioned what I could in two entries into my blog because I was told by multiple insiders that “nothing was being done to address the significant allegations” at this school.

Now, multiple media outlets have picked up on the story I alluded to on my blog.

Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this story is growing--which appears to be exactly what the whistle blowers who initially contacted me wanted.

Rick’s Blog was first, PNJ was next, followed by WEAR channel three’s Ricki Vann.  Next was WCOA, then AM1620.  Early on, I’m told that Pensacola Today and NorthEscambia.com were informed of the allegations but chose not to follow the story.  PNJ was notified, apparently, months ago about some issues at Newpoint according to a source.  PNJ chose not to follow the story at that time.

Since this all went down last Wednesday--I’ve done three radio interviews and had conversations with media outlets from around the state; yesterday I even spoke to a reporter from as far away as Miami!

I keep telling everyone that calls me the same things:  I’m not the school board’s spokesman, I’m not the investigator, I’m just one member of a five member board of constitutional officers, I’m just a guy that received some explosive allegations and passed them along expeditiously to the appropriate authorities.  I continue to receive information from sources, and I continue to pass this information along to the school board’s attorney. 

What I’m also saying to the media is this:  Everyone and every entity that is facing these allegations is innocent until proven guilty, everyone will get due process, and the issue is now getting a thorough investigation.   I’m telling everyone to call the district, call the Board Chair, call the spokesman, call the attorney—yet these folks still call me!

I haven’t and I won’t divulge anything that would ever compromise any investigations; but I also won’t sit silently like a wax statue when nobody else from our district seems willing to even acknowledge the issue and make a statement to anyone in the media------ as my phone simultaneously rings off the hook!!

Keeping the public informed on basic facts can be accomplished (and should be), while at the same time not jeopardizing “active investigations.” That’s why organizations do press conferences.  Hello?  I’m not a private eye, an attorney, a PR spokesman, or a detective –but even I know this.

Sitting in a cone of silence regarding basic, publicly known facts that are useful to constituents when a situation like this erupts only makes the public more and more distrustful and suspicious of the district. 

Look at incidents recently in the Midwest that were handled initially via a “cone of silence”—those incidents were mishandled very badly and information that could have been passed to calm an angry, restless crowd was unnecessarily withheld, leading to significant problems as that whole incident devolved….Information helps in these instances.

NOW INVESTIGATIONS HAVE BEGUN
In Rick’s blog on April 1st, our Deputy Supt. of Schools is quoted stating the district’s investigation commenced two weeks ago.  In the April 3rd PNJ, however, the Superintendent of Schools, in an