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.








Monday, July 27, 2015

The Unheralded Benefit for Teachers That Came from 2015 Legislative Session....


A very beneficial yet minimally discussed item that came out of the legislature's last session was the state's implementation of "paid-for" professional liability insurance for teachers statewide.

While many teachers currently receive such professional liability insurance from their unions, many teachers do not belong to their unions for a number of different ideological/philosophical reasons.  (Unions, particularly the teachers unions, lean heavily Democratic; (opensecrets.org pointed out that NEA campaign contributions nationally typically go 90%  or higher to Democrats.)

In Escambia County Schools, for instance, more teachers are non-members than members of the local NEA affiliate, the EEA.

Despite the ideological dissonance---some teachers, even socially and politically conservative teachers---  remain members of their union solely for the liability protection that the union memberships provide.  In the process, these teachers pay between $50.00-$75.00 MONTHLY for membership.

Although there are other organizations, such as the Association of American Educators, that provide low cost memberships and liability insurance ($198.00 yr.)--many teachers are simply not aware of this option.

In one South Florida county--the local union threatened to file an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against a school board member who was describing the benefits and low costs of AAE memberships to teachers as compared to the higher monthly costs of union memberships.

So to address this issue and provide support and potential savings for teachers, the Florida House of Representatives put forth  HB 587, and the appropriation for the insurance was added to the budget by the Senate and funded at the end of the legislative session.

When additional information comes out on the application process, I will post that information here.

Board Coordinator Opening Draws HUGE Applicant Pool



Our Coordinator of Board Affairs position is coming open for the first time in several decades, as the current coordinator Linda West is retiring in September.

The coordinator of Board Affairs assists all five school board members in the performance of their duties, and the job can get hectic and stressful at times.

The position pays well, and therefore there has been significant interest in the opening.  At the close of the advertisement, we had received 119 applications!

Board internal auditor David Bryant is leading the search committee for the school board, and this committee will assist the board with going through the applicants to identify the best candidates for the position.

Of the initial 119, as many as 39 were deemed to be highly qualified thus far and have advanced in the process.

Of this 39, only 10 will be short-listed for interviews with the school board.

Mr. Bryant's committee will reduce the pool from 39 to 10 over the course of the next several weeks.

The "open to the public" interviews of the final 10 candidates by the full school board will take place in the third week in August.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Seminole Solution

Dr. Walt Griffin, Superintendent of Seminole County Schools, has sent an intelligent, common-sense proposal to the Florida Department of Education.  His simple plan/solution to Florida's continuing standardized testing problems is documented in his letter below.
The letter with a very intelligent, common-sense solution, now being coined the "Seminole Solution" was answered within a week by Education Chancellor Pam Stewart, who politely nixes the plan saying the standardized tests Seminole County proposes in the Seminole Solution "do not measure the state specific Florida Standards."  

I think the response was weak, and I think the average Floridian just wants us to use common-sense, previously time-tested and trusted norm referenced tests. We need to be more efficient, more practical, and less parochial, in my opinion.  Otherwise, the "Opt-Out" groups will only continue to grow....and they will be right in wanting to opt out based upon Florida's horrific track-record on test-administration over the last few years!

Pam Stewart's response....





Here's Your Answer Jim


Former school district employee and frequent School Board meeting attendee Jim Nims has a question.  He's asked it of me a few times, at a few separate meetings now so I thought I'd go ahead and do him the courtesy of responding.

Knowing I'm a conservative that supports school choice, Nims apparently finds it amusing to take jabs at me and make snide, crass remarks about me.  recently he has repeated a question over and over,  asking:

"If the District 1 Board member has sent a letter to Newpoint asking for the taxpayer's money back." 

Jim---The answer to that question is No.  I did better than that.

You see, there is more to the story than just answering your question with a "NO", Jim. 

Let me explain it for you, let me break it down for you Jim so that you might understand the issue. 

You see, I support charter schools so when the allegations surrounding Newpoint, a school I strongly supported before all the misconduct was alleged, arose in March---I took the issue seriously.  
Unlike others who knew of the same allegations and stood by and did NOTHING, I went to red alert,

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Facilities Plans Move Forward for Escambia County.....No Independent Study Will Occur



After a two hour meeting on the subject of student growth in Beulah and how to best meet facilities challenges district-wide going forward, the plan remains the same despite my objections.

I brought a PowerPoint presentation where I delineated some of the rationale for the need of an independent, unbiased study to provide the board sound recommendations based upon science, facts, and trends.  Such a study would have been good as it would have either validated the current plan or perhaps it would have illustrated a better plan.

I've previously stated my legitimate objections to this plan here, here,  here.  here, here,  and here.

In a nutshell, I strongly feel that current capacity should be examined and school attendance zones re-balanced before new large scale construction is funded.  We have too many schools that are way, way under capacity, to include Molino Park that sits half empty and Warrington Middle School that is less than 60% occupied.

The next school in Beulah should be either an Elementary or a K-8---that is what is desperately needed there; Re-locating the Woodham Middle School population out to a brand new school in Beulah is not the answer when currently, as a district, we dramatically under-occupy our existing middle school capacity already---we only utilize 76% on average----and our student population is declining.  This is occurring even as big housing  projects emerge Beulah--which is another problem all together:  Why are parents choosing Pace, Gulf Breeze, Baldwin County or even Okaloosa over Escambia when they come here for jobs?

Brown Barge Middle School and PATS center sites should not be shuttered and moved, that building, despite its age, is in decent shape.

Bottom Line:

We have made BIG facilities mistakes in the past and we're about to do so again in my opinion, with the taxpayers footing the bill and too many students in portables for too long even after this plan is implemented..

With an independent, unbiased planning firm conducting a study--- it would have more than likely been free of political influence and the board could have chosen a better path.  Only two board members felt this was a good idea ( a study ) so instead we go forth with the plan which puts a new middle school next to an existing middle school, does not remove students from the Beulah portable farm, and does NOTHING to help Jim Bailey Middle School's massive overcrowding issues.

Yes I'm disappointed, but at least I'm on the record with an alternate plan that would have revealed the optimal plan.  But I  realize this is politics and decisions will not always go the way I want them to go.  Doesn't mean I will ever go along with a plan that is badly flawed....

The PNJ covered the meeting, you can read their piece here.

or, you can watch my presentation to the board beginning at minute 42 of  the meeting here.

Mission of Mercy: A Project to Benefit Residents of Escambia County that Need Dental Service



Dr. Kim Jernigan of Pensacola is working to help the residents of Pensacola who are in desperate need of dental work but who cannot afford the costs.

She is working with the organization Mission of Mercy to bring a huge contingent of Dentists to Pensacola for one incredible weekend in order to treat up to 2,000 Pensacolians for free.

Root canals, extractions, impacted teeth--these folks are going to help ease the pain for many area residents if they can get the right facility on the right date.

Dr. Jernigan is hoping to utilize the Travis Fryman Gymnasium on the campus of J.M. Tate H.S. for this one weekend in May.  Trouble is---school will be in session at this time.

Because of this, I brought the issue to the board for discussion with the hope that we can find a work-around to allow this beneficial event to be held in our community.  According to Dr. Jernigan, not only does this benefit individuals who need dental work- this event will reduce local hospitals' ER costs for treating dental patients by an average of $70,000 per hospital.

We have to find a way to say "YES" to this event, no matter what.

The issue will be discussed once again at the August discussion of the school board.

Learn more about Mission of Mercy here

Watch the school board's discussion of this topic here

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Escambia County School Board Settles BP Claim for $2 Million Dollars



Just a little more than 5 years after the Gulf Oil Spill of April, 2010, today the Escambia County School Board has settled its claim with BP.

The district will receive a lump-sum, $2 Million Dollar payment to settle all claims related to the oil spill.

This is an excellent resolution to this matter, and this money will be put to good use for the benefit of our district's students.

According to attorney Brian Barr, this was a settlement that the board should take, and the recommendation came with an interesting observation from Barr.  "I've never seen, for my entire professional life in practice, a Federal Judge send letters to my clients and to the opposing side, recommending that all parties take the settlement as written."

Vote was 5-0


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Huge Court Victory for School Boards Statewide



The word came late yesterday afternoon that the School Board had prevailed in a challenge to the utilization of  the Value Added Model (VAM) for computation of teacher evaluations.

In Cook v. Stewart, the Escambia County Teacher's Union and others challenged the VAM calculations for utilization as a factor that helped to determine teacher pay.  School Board attorney Donna Waters argued the case in April of 2014 in Gainesville before the Federal District Court.  The plaintiffs appealed to the Federal Circuit Court, and in April of 2015 the Board's attorney presented the appellate argument before this court in Montgomery Alabama.

Yesterday, the court issued their ruling--affirming the lower court decision in favor of the School Board and the Florida Department of Education.

This decision is another huge victory for students, parents, and taxpayers around the state.

read the complete ruling here

Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part IV: Where is the Growth in Escambia Actually Happening?

The attached map is a portion of the approved/proposed developments, totaling nearly 1,400 new single family homes, planned for the Beulah area (south of I-10 and north of or parallel to Mobile Highway)  over the next 12-24 months.  (This diagram does not include the nearly 300 additional home-sites in Nature Trail that have yet to be built, nor the 400 that are currently already constructed or under construction.) 

"Beulah" he said simply.  "Beulah is where the growth is right now, and it is accelerating."  The engineer was quick to respond to my question about where the growth is in Escambia County right now.

His answer was incredibly fast and his opinion is reliable and relevant--he is one of the busiest Engineer/Site Planners in the County.

During a lunch I had with this individual downtown last week, I wanted to ask this question of him, as an apolitical, un-biased professional who is intimately familiar with the current growth patterns throughout the county.

Of course I had my suspicions already as to what his answer would be, as I live in Beulah right across from NFCU;  I drive these areas all the time, I have met with and spoken to various leaders from NFCU about their expansion to this area, and we have all read this article from Pensacola Today late last year.

So my concern with the current, recently altered plan to build a middle school in Beulah, but not an elementary school or k-8 facility, continues to escalate.  I'm not sure we are making the best decision.

Beulah elementary is swollen to the point that it is over 1000 students right now---and with the students generated when 1400 additional units are completed in Beulah (the majority of which will be built south of 9-mile road), any relief garnered by Beulah  by re-locating 300 or so students from

An Interesting Take on the Downside of "Helicopter Parenting"



Everyone knows the helicopter parents among their circles of friends.  I always thought it was fun to watch from a distance, and overall that such helicopter tactics were a benefit to the children of such parents.  According to this article from Sunday's Slate, I might need to re-think my assumptions as apparently this child-rearing tactic is creating a generation of stressed-out, depressed students...

From "Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out"

 In 2013 the news was filled with worrisome statistics about the mental health crisis on college campuses, particularly the number of students medicated for depression. Charlie Gofen, the retired chairman of the board at the Latin School of Chicago, a private school serving about 1,100 students, emailed the statistics off to a colleague at another school and asked, “Do you think parents at your school would rather their kid be depressed at Yale or happy at University of Arizona?” The colleague quickly replied, “My guess is 75 percent of the parents would rather see their kids depressed at Yale. They figure that the kid can straighten the emotional stuff out in his/her 20’s, but no one can go back and get the Yale undergrad degree.”Here are the statistics to which Charlie Gofen was likely alluding: In a 2013 survey of college counseling center directors, 95 percent said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, 70 percent said that the number of students on their campus with severe psychological problems has increased in the past year, and they reported that 24.5 percent of their student clients were taking psychotropic drugs. In 2013 the American College Health Association surveyed close to 100,000 college students from 153 different campuses about their health. When asked about their experiences, at some point over the past 12 months:
  • 84.3 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do
  • 60.5 percent felt very sad
  • 57.0 percent felt very lonely
  • 51.3 percent felt overwhelming anxiety
  • 8.0 percent seriously considered suicide

The Smart Way to do Education Reform



Andy Smarick has an interesting column in National Review Online this morning.  From the piece:

"Count me among the conservatives who are riled up that the Obama administration has dramatically expanded the federal role in schools. Our longstanding understanding that local and state leaders should lead on K–12 education has been replaced by Secretary Arne Duncan’s belief in a bold federal agenda backed by a federal “sense of urgency.” As a result, we’ve had a bossy Uncle Sam insert himself into Common Core, common assessments, teacher evaluations, and much more. Conservative leaders understandably want to use the rewriting of ESEA to clip federal wings. But conservatives should guard against the impulse to overcorrect — to remove any semblance of a federal role in ensuring that billions in federal taxpayer dollars actually generate better results."

Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/420770/nclb-keep-what-works

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part III: Elementary 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 elementary school utilization district-wide.  

As a district, we have lost students over the last 10 years, our growth is stagnant, and we cannot refuse to accept that reality as we simultaneously "hope" our enrollment grows as a result of Navy Federal Credit Union's expansion or any other potential  catalyst.

Unfortunately, according to high ranking NFCU personnel I have spoken with--many new employees of that growing firm are already residents of the county--- so this will not/does not generate new students for our schools.  

Disturbingly, I'm told the lion's share of the new NFCU transplants, according to these same NFCU executives, are choosing to live in Santa Rosa, Baldwin, or even Okaloosa counties as they commute to work.  and many that do stay here and buy in Escambia county are choosing private schools.

So we have to plan based upon reality, not pie in the sky.  Even if this creates un-related, uncomfortable questions about why new residents of this area make the school choices they make.

That's a different discussion all together, unrelated to facilities for the most part. (unless, perhaps, if we're talking about parents not wanting their students to attend school at Beulah Elementary in it's current state, where there are portables, modulars, and built-on classrooms all over, resulting in 

Newpoint Schools: The Quicksand Effect


Newpoint schools in Pensacola are no more.  

Two have been closed by the Board of Education, and the third school was closed at the direction of Newpoint themselves.

The State Attorney's office is investigating these schools, one arrest has been made already, and the investigation into other aspects of Newpoint and the school district's handling of Newpoint continues, I have confirmed this via a conversation with someone intimately familiar with the investigation.

But left in the wake of Newpoint's implosion, though, is the quicksand effect--innocent bystanders caught in the mess.  

-Teachers want to be paid and feel they have been treated unfairly.  More than one former Newpoint teacher has told me they feel their reputations have been tarnished as a result of their affiliation with the former Newpoint Pensacola operation;  one has confided in me that she has applied for 12 positions within the Escambia district and has not been able to find a job.  She feels she has been blackballed. 

-Parents and students feel betrayed by this organization--and have expressed this in the media and to me personally

-Vendors and lenders are coming forward now, demanding payment. 

Now comes an action in Federal Court:  A writ of Garnishment has been filed and now the district has to answer in court, delineating what monies we still hold from Newpoint, and what it is we are owed by Newpoint.  Similar to a bankruptcy proceeding--eventually a Judge will rule on who's monetary claims take precedence and where the remaining monies should be allocated.  This writ is looking at $70K--my understanding is we're holding less than $30K from Newpoint. 


 

And then there is the issue of the former Newpoint teachers and where their monetary claims will be prioritized by the Judge.

I hope the employees, purveyors, and every other monetary claim is paid, I hope the Judge rules this way, and I hope this is made to happen before this organization (or any re-constituted version of this group)  receives one $.01 cent from any other state, city, or school board anywhere else in America.

I hope the Judge hammers them and punishes them for what they have done here in Pensacola.

The quicksand effect this mismanagement of Newpoint created will unfortunately give a black-eye to legitimate charter-school operators nationwide, and for that the damage is incalculable.