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, June 24, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part II: Middle Schools

As we are moving toward a plan to build a brand new middle school in order to accommodate growth in the Beulah/Pine Forest Road/9 Mile Road growth corridor, a plan I strongly disagree with, it is instructive to look at our current middle school utilization district-wide.  

As is stands right now, according to figures from the latest 2015-2016 FISH report compared to the EOY attendance figures from 2015---we have excess capacity district-wide in the middle schools of nearly 24%--meaning we are utilizing only about 76% of our existing capacity.

The troubling thing that is on my mind continues to be Jim Bailey Middle School----the most over-crowded middle school in Escambia County----get's no relief from the over-crowding as a result of the proposed building plan that is being contemplated by the district.

The second troubling thing on my mind is the move of Brown Barge Middle School out of District 3, which would leave no middle schools at all in District three, meaning every middle school student in district 3 would now be bused out of district three-- to attend schools in other districts.  Are we going back to busing like in the 1970's here?  This is problematic.  BBMS is a solid facility, and can be upgraded with some remodeling and renovations to fulfill its mission for years to come there.  To those that scoff at this--Warrington MS is older than BBMS, and yet we have spent $millions there renovating that facility, making it quite nice now from a facilities perspective.  Why can't we renovate BBMS like we did Warrington, an older facility?  Answer:  we can and should--and we ought to consider raising the cap on that program as well to alleviate crowding at Ransom, Baiely, and Ferry Pass.  Parents want that, and the program is solid--so if not for political considerations why should we not consider listening to the will of the people and raise the cap at BBMS by 1-200 students?  And, the idea that IF Warrington can be improved, Jim Bailey will be less crowded--that is not a realistic solution to Jim Bailey over-crowding although it appears as if it is the de facto plan which I find unacceptable. (The big problem with Warrington now is its continuously dwindling attendance--now down to just 660 students representing  a 57% utilization as a facility.  It is the oldest middle school facility in the district and it is the least utilized.  So tell me why,  if not politics, why this is not the obvious choice for closure/consolidation?  Oh, that's right--politics and political implications are infused in this current building/relocation plans.)

Our district needs an independent, non-biased, non-political assessment of needs done by an independent consultant that is free of political or other bias.  We've done this in the past here, and other districts do this routinely. We must make smart decisions that are free from bias or other political considerations.  Our middle schools, with the exception of Jim Bailey, Ferry Pass, and Ransom, are dramatically underutilized.  We should engage SAZAC immediately and we should put every option on the table before a knee-jerk building of a brand new, unnecessary middle school in Beulah.  Everything needs to be on the table--to include re-purposing Molino Park's use (only 42% utilized right now) as it was initially designed to be a K-8 to alleviate over-crowding at Ransom.  (Yeah--that was another instance where politics muddied the waters to the detriment of students, parents, and taxpayers.) or Ernest ward, currently underutilized by as many as 200 students, being used to absorb extra students from the northern Ransom boundary.  Everything must be on the table so that the best utilization of taxpayer resources, free from politics, can be accomplished.

We have made blunders in the past with respect to facilities (Northview/Tate locations, Three schools together, Molino Park K-8, West side K-8 deleted, and there are many others) --let's not do a repeat this time through. Let's get it right this time.


Jen said...

I'm confused by the comment about BBMS creating a district 3 void for middle schools and kids being bussed out. BBMS is a lottery school and is not a "district" school for anyone. Can you explain what you mean with this?

Jeff Bergosh said...

Jen--BBMS is the last district middle school physically located within district 3. Yes, it is a magnet program and additionally it is, according to many students and parents, one of the finest academic programs in our entire district. It certainly is one of the highest performing on a perennial basis. But it is the last middle school sited in district 3--so if it is moved out and over to district 1 as is the current plan, all middle school aged students that reside in district 3 will be bused out of district 3 --it will be the busing of the 1970's in reverse, that really what we want to do? (Woodham Middle, the other district 3 middle school, is being re-purposed as a High School to accommodate West Florida High School, and the students currently attending Woodham MS will be bused out to Beulah to attend school in a new facility there---that is the current thinking and a plan I believe to be badly flawed....

Jen said...

Can you explain what this "FISH" report is- who compiles it, what, if any, official capacity is it used for?
If I'm understanding it correctly, its saying that (BBMS as example) only 64% of their available spots/space are being utilized? They have the ability to take 800 students but only have 500? If this is the case, then why are students being turned away from there? I understand Warrington, Woodham, etc being low capacity because the district student/parent is choosing to go elsewhere, but how does this happen at BBMS?

Jeff Bergosh said...

Jen-FISH is the acronym that stands for the Florida Inventory of School Houses. It is compiled annually by individual districts and sent to the state so they can monitor district facility needs at the macro, statewide level. BBMS is artificially capped at an enrollment that is less than their facility capacity. I believe the cap should be raised, allowing more parents the option to send their students there. Every time I bring this up, I am shouted down by staff and others who exclaim that "If BBMS's capacity is raised, more good students from our traditional middle school will choose to go there--leaving fewer of these high performers in our other schools!" ...or something similar to that. To which I always respond "So What--give parents this choice" I'm in the minority on this issue, but I'll be bringing it up once again on July 20th at the special meeting on facilities.

Jen said...