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.








Friday, October 30, 2015

FCSBM Releases Legislative Priorities for 2016

The Florida Coalition of School Board Members  (FCSBM) Legislative Task Force (LTF) has approved the following positions and priorities for the 2016 Legislative session. After a three day comment period by the voting members, it was unanimously ratified by the executive board October 27, 2015.
The 2016 platform can be characterized under three main themes: 
1. Flexible Accountability; 2. Equality; and 3. Freedom of Choice 
Select 2016 Legislative Positions & Proposals
  • Assessment and Accountability -
    • Allow flexibility for Districts to use concordance scores on nationally normed assessments, including those offered with paper and pencil, to meet the statutory requirements of FSA.
    • Progressively raise Florida’s proficiency “cut scores” to align with, and surpass, the NAEP standard over a 4-year period. This allows years 1 & 2 to provide a “soft landing” as we transition to even higher levels of expectation.
    • Continue use of standardized test scores, including growth rates, as part of a revamped multi-factor accountability system, to include a “balanced scorecard” approach with transparent metrics outlining each aspect of the school and district grading system.
  • Public Charter Capital Outlay Incentive - Districts that voluntarily and equitably, on a per-student basis, share capital outlay resources with public charter schools may levy up to 1.75 millage (vs 1.5 millage currently allowed). 
  • Relating to Membership Organizations that Receive Public Funds - FCSBM believes that individual School Board Members should determine the organization, if any, to which their membership dollars flow. Repeat of HB 549 (2015) - Sponsors pending.
We believe these ideas will provide the unity and focus needed to drive legislation forward this year, furthering FCSBM's mission statement "Relentlessly Dedicated to Student Success" SM
The FCSBM Board is also pleased to announce commitments from key education lawmakers to join FCSBM Members for webinars and tele-townhall events during session.  FCSBM will provide the 'face time' you need to ensure School Board members have an effective voice in Tallahassee.
If you are a sitting school board member interested in volunteering for the Legislative Task Force in the coming year, please email Shawn Frost at info@shawnfrost.com
We look forward to your participation in these exciting times! 
Jeff Bergosh, School Board Member Escambia County, President of FCSBM
http://FCSBM.org

Monday, October 26, 2015

Was this a Violation of the Sunshine Law?

Yesterday afternoon and early evening was surreal.  After receiving this email memorandum from the school board's attorney, and after I immediately responded back to the attorney with this email (redacted), my response was copied, by our attorney, to another board member.  (I'm redacting my response to shield my thoughts on how I may vote on the WFHS bus incident.)

I am astonished that our own attorney would copy another board member with my response, which included my thoughts on an incident that will surely come before the board for a vote.  Was this a violation of the Sunshine Law? I'm not an attorney and I don't know for sure, but I have asked our attorney to provide a written memo on this question, post haste.

First off, the initial email that I received with the memorandum was uncalled for, I did not request her opinion, and I did not need her opinion.  What she suggests  in her memo I disavow and disagree with in the strongest terms.  It is borderline libelous.  Nobody can believe, nor has anyone I have spoken with about this disparaging memo ever heard of an attorney excoriating his/her own client in such a written memo.

No phone call, no discretion, just a chastising, chiding, inappropriate memo.

I have done no wrong, and I have violated no laws.  I simply corrected an incorrect narrative that was being told in the PNJ over and over, a narrative that was completely opposite of what I had been told by multiple parents and students with firsthand knowledge of the incident in question.  I have no official knowledge of this incident, I do not know, even to this minute, what these students' eventual punishment will be. I do not know who these students were.  I have no official knowledge of this incident, a point I made clear in every post, blog entry, and comment I have made thus far with respect to this incident.

This memo, by our attorney to her client, was an absolute disaster and is totally baseless.  The only thing I have done here is to counter an ideologically slanted, biased narrative in the press with hearsay of which I was aware that was completely opposite of what hearsay the PNJ was publishing.

  With the father's own testimony on the record now, completely discrediting the PNJ and making them appear foolish, It is quite puzzling to me as to why I would now be chastised.  I stood up and called BS on the slanted yellow journalism.  Jefferson said it best--"Evil flourishes when good men

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What Could the Consequences Be for Transmitting Indecent Video of Underage Students?



In El Dorado County, Northern California, this led to charges being levied against students.  Two teens were arrested there for distributing an obscene video of an under-aged classmate, the video in question having been taken without consent of the victim.

This is serious.

From the LA Times:

"Two teenage boys in Northern California have been arrested in connection with distributing child pornography after making a sex tape with a teen girl without her knowledge, authorities said.  Deputies later arrested the two male teens on suspicion of possessing and distributing child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child and conspiracy to commit a felony crime, authorities said."

Here in Pensacola, Florida, our Newspaper the Pensacola News Journal has written several pieces on a story locally that centers around the production of a video that, according to many unofficial sources that are well aware of the case, depicts a victim restrained against his will, stripped naked, and videotaped--with the video being subsequently disseminated against the victim's will.

Instead of taking this situation seriously, our newspaper has instead chosen to spin this story first in a way that minimized the incident, by referring to this episode multiple times as "pantsing" where only underwear is exposed.

Next, the paper has attempted to put a racial angle on the story by taking one side of the account from an alleged participant's parent, attempting to make this horrible incident look as if Black students are being punished unnecessarily by a system out to target them simply for their race.

Third, the paper is excoriating the superintendent of schools for not speaking publicly about aspects of the story about which he has detailed information--knowing full-well that if the superintendent did  divulge this information he  would be guilty of violating FERPA!

So instead of being fair and unbiased, the paper continues to make the classic mistake of reinforcing failure.  This is violating classic Sun Tzu tenets that these Journalists should understand.

PNJ, however, appears to be staying with the narrative that this was simply a harmless prank and the punishment that is being recommended is somehow overly harsh and racially-based  because the alleged perpetrators are black.

Most sinister of all, even though details have emerged that detail the fact that this incident was not a prank and that all the officals involved, the students involved, and the victim here are all black--this important fact has not been reported.

The cherry on top of this whole episode, not reported by PNJ, is that the parent of one perpetrator invited the media to sit in on the hearing where the truth about this incident would become known to the media----and then at the last minute this parent renegged on allowing the press to attend.

Why?  This is an important aspect of the story that PNJ should have reported.

So the failure reinforcement continues....

Every one of the pieces the PNJ has done on this issue has been an inaccurate, incomplete, and biased fail.

All three articles have been widely panned by the online facebook posters in PNJ's forum.

Why? ---Because Americans are tired of biased, ideologically-centered news reporting that ignores facts to further biased agendas.....that's why.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Repeating Something Often and Loudly Does Not Make It True


During WWII, propaganda was a weapon used to devastating effect. 

Joseph Goebbels wrote that “When one lies, one should lie big and stick with it.”  The Nazis attempted to use propaganda to rationalize their genocide against Russian Civilians and German Jews.   Ultimately, and thankfully, what they tried to do failed and the Nazis were defeated by America, Great Britain, and Russia. 

Unfortunately, this defeat did not come early enough to save 13 Million Russians and 6 Million Jews from death at the hand of the Nazis.

Today, many different groups in the United States utilize this same tactic—telling big lies often and loudly to drive public perception and ultimately to sway public opinion.  In politics, in the media, among various ideological factions, and even among different religions—people stretch, distort or manipulate the truth and/or tell outright lies.
 
Telling a lie often and telling it loudly does not make a lie the truth, though. 

Because everyone is entitled to his own opinions--- but not his own facts!

One Lie that I hear a lot is especially egregious.  It is a whopper.  It goes a little something like this:
  
“Professional educators, counselors, principals, school board members, and other personnel involved in public schools nationwide are targeting, purposely, black students for harsher discipline than non-black students due strictly to the race of these students!”

This statement is typically accompanied by some sort of a statistical presentation describing the make-up of black students that receive out of school punishment compared to the percentage of white students that are suspended, contrasted with a school community’s overall racial makeup.  A pattern nationwide has been observed and documented whereby a disproportionate number of black students, as compared to these same students’ percentage of a school’s total population, end up receiving greater numbers of out of school suspensions when compared to other-race and white students.


But the lie comes with how this information is (mis)characterized. 

People make faulty conclusions about what this phenomenon means.  Special interest groups and social justice organizations point to this and say “See, the schools are targeting black students, and

The School District Must Follow the Law and School Board Policy



I feel sorry for students who have train-wreck home lives, I truly do.  I want to do everything I can to help such students.  And there is no shortage of such students here in Escambia County.

With this said, there is absolutely no excuse for any student-no matter how poor he is, where he lives, or what his dysfunctional home life might be---to bully, harass, and/or abuse another student.  Every student deserves to be safe at school—rich, poor, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian—all students deserve a safe school environment and I’m fed up with the inaction on corralling the bullying taking place in our schools.

I have brought examples and described circumstances that were not handled appropriately.

Yesterday I had to point out yet another one, where the law and school board policy apparently was not followed.

It seems like every month lately I hear from constituents and/or I find in the back-up documents anecdotal evidence that our policy against bullying and harassment (mirrored from state statutes) is not being followed with fidelity.

I went ballistic in February over this, and was assured that we were doing it right from “now on.”

Two months later in April of this year, the same thing happened at another school and the teacher was deliberate in describing the incident as bullying, even going so far as to document that the perpetrator had victimized the same student on more than one occasion.  The teacher knew it was bullying, and called it that.  

But the school neither coded it as bullying, nor did the statutorily required 10 day investigation.  If 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Pensacola News Journal's Devastating Rush to Judgment...



With an article published this past Thursday that only portrayed one side of a story, and now with a one-sided, hatchet-job editorial today, the Pensacola News Journal has demonstrated the worst kind of journalism and news reporting--"rushing to judgment" on an issue about which they have very preliminary and inaccurate information.

This is disappointing.

Calling the punishment (that has not even been determined yet, by the way) "disgusting" and "unjust"--they have apparently made up their minds that the account given to them by relatives of some of the accused in this matter are the rock-solid, gospel facts.

Perhaps this reporting is an attempt to intimidate district officials into watering down any applicable punishment here by floating a narrative that minimizes the impact of this infraction?

If this is what is happening, this is truly "disgusting"--to coin a term used in today's editorial.

Throwing out statistics devoid of context to support the flawed notion that our school district targets minority students for more harsh punishments based simply upon their race is also a prominent feature of today's editorial--which equally "disgusting" and untrue.

Facts are facts and the fact of the matter is that minority students in Escambia County get many more chances (compared to white students) to reform their conduct before they receive out-of-school discipline.  This is a fact that I have demonstrated already and that a thorough analysis of the statistics shows to be true.

Ignoring this reality to perpetuate an opposite  narrative is also "disgusting."

Here is the real story, though.

The school board has yet to even be briefed on this school bus naked videotaping and dissemination

George Stone Pell Grant Audit: Timeline of the Incident

I don't want anybody's head on a stick;  this isn't "Game of Thrones."

But the common man on the street feels that in government bureaucracies, nobody ever gets held accountable when massive problems erupt.  Is that the truth, and are we going to reinforce that opinion this month?

One of the toughest issues for me to make a vote on this month will be the requested repayment of the huge blunder made at George Stone with respect to the management of the Pell Grant program there.

A final determination has been made by the Feds and we are being asked to approve a $506,000.00 wire transfer back to the government.

The reason for this sanction is that we have completely mishandled the management and disbursement of federal Pell Grant monies.

Here is what is most upsetting to me:

The issues with the district's  administration of this program have been known for at least four years.  Here is a timeline of the issues....

And the auditors are very familiar with George Stone operations, having performed 26 visits to George Stone over the last 10 years (see chart below).


In June of 2012, the school board's audit team came to the rescue--completing a review of the program and providing step by step guidance and a manual  to show staff how to manage this program in a manner that ensured compliance with all regulations.

13 months later, the audit period that we are being gigged about commenced, the 2013-2014 school year.  13 months after our auditors provided the guidance to keep this program in compliance.

So what went sideways?  What went wrong?

I understand that this program lost an employee with significant corporate knowledge on this Pell Grant process.

I understand that the employee who worked this program during the school year in question (2013-2014) was highly qualified, an accountant, and that this person was sent to a training course to ensure

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Half-Million $Dollar Audit Fine a Bitter Pill to Swallow


To their credit, the staff of George Stone Vocational Center tried to get a handle on the administration of the Federal Pell Grant program back in 2012.  They proactively reached out to our internal audit team for assistance.  The trouble began once a key staff member retired and the record keeping became inconsistent at George Stone with respect to the student loan program.  Turnover became a problem as a number of staff were hired to manage this process and these new hires subsequently quit.

So the School Board's audit team came out to George Stone, conducted a review, and wrote this assessment of the program--complete with findings and management recommendations.  This report was dated June 5, 2012.

The problems were numerous:  Record keeping was lax, payments were made too late, verification of eligibility was sketchy, and important documentation was not readily accessible to the auditors.

Fast forward three years, to January 2015, and the district received a new, scathing review of the same program from the the Florida Auditor General's Office--the group that monitor's compliance with this program.

This past February, upon receiving a copy of the initial report, I had several long conversations with our internal auditor.  I wanted to understand what had gone wrong and what our potential liability was if these initial findings were confirmed.  The news was not good, and in February I was told of the multiple issues and potential next steps the board could take---and we could owe back as much as $300K.  That was bad enough.

But now, upon reading the final report, I see that the fine that the board is being asked to approve for repayment is almost 70% higher, just over $500,000.00!  How could this happen?

The key for me here is the date of this audit--- and more importantly the dates covered by this audit.

This audit covers the period from July 2013 to June 2014---a full 13 months after our own internal audit team uncovered massive problems with George Stone's Federal Student Loan program administration.

So the questions I'll now be asking, as a sitting board member, is why did we not implement the recommendations of our own audit team in 2012?  If we had implemented these recommendations, could we have avoided the problems from the following year that have led to this devastating audit finding?  What happened and why did this happen?  We had thirteen months, from June of 2012 when our own team provided assistance, until the beginning of the next year period (which would ultimately be the period of time that would be audited)

So now, after speaking with our Assistant Superintendent for Finance yesterday, I'm told this fine will be paid out of our General Fund.  I'm not happy about this.  There is an appeal provision, but I'm told we will not be appealing this fine.  Why not?  I want to know why we won't appeal to maintain the possibility of  mitigating this huge fine.

$500,000.00 would buy us 13 teachers for a full year.  $500,000.00 could have been used for staff bonuses for all of our 3,200 teachers.  $500,000.00 could have been used to pay for programs for students and families--but now it is, apparently, going to be flushed down the toilet.

What a waste.  I'll be asking a lot of questions about this on Monday.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to Lose Good Students and Good Families Part II


As a district, we should want to try to win over good families and good students--we should strive to keep them in our schools instead of pushing them into a neighboring county or into private schools.

But our recent change in the way we offer military preference has riled some families.

A military family with a three year assignment to our area should have the preference for this entire period;  some families I have spoken with are displeased with a recent procedural change by the district and the school choice office which essentially takes away the middle year of this three year assignment, meaning that a rising 6th grader in year two and a rising 9th grader in year two cannot utilize the preference to be enrolled in the program of their choice.

A strict reading of the interstate compact supports this interpretation, however the family I spoke with recently said they were unaware of this procedural change when they decided to move to Escambia County over Santa Rosa County, as now they are told that because they are in their second full year here they are not "transitioning" and therefore they do not get the preference.

"We would never have come to Escambia County if we could not use this accommodation as we were told we could when we moved here" said the parent.  "We would have gone to Santa Rosa County--we feel like this is unfair to change the procedure after we already came here thinking we could use this to get our student in WFHS"

As it pertains to the military, I prefer the former interpretation of the compact which gave preference to military families.  If we do not revisit this, I have every confidence that military families that are savvy will not come to Escambia County when they locate here--they'll go to Santa Rosa County and that county will get the ad-valorem tax revenue for the purchased housing, and that school system will get the $8,000.00 per year per child in FTE---while the parents commute to Escambia and use our infrastructure and clock their paychecks over here.

Failure to show deference to good families and good students will be a boom to the County next door.  This is how we lose good students and good families.....

Friday, October 2, 2015

How to Lose Good Students and Good Families


The surveillance video was surprisingly clear, and it showed one student attack another student --and the victim fighting back.  The victim was pushed from behind and then jerked around by his backpack.  He turned around and a fight ensued, with most of the action unfolding outside of the view of the camera…  Nobody wants fights on campus, and certainly nobody wants students to be injured at school as the result of a violent fight.  That is what we can all agree upon.  But I also know that we all have the unalienable right of self-defense when we are attacked.  

Don’t we?

So it came as somewhat of a surprise to me to hear administrators and others whose opinions I typically respect tell me as we watched the video, “See, the student who was pushed turned around and started swinging, throwing punches.”  “Did he really have to do this, or could he have handled it a different way by talking his way out of the incident and not swinging at the attacker?”  Was the question one administrator asked me....
 
My answer:
 
We are asking the wrong question and focusing on the wrong student.  The only question that matters, so far as I’m concerned, is why one student physically attacked another.  Blaming the victim for defending himself and fighting off this attacker solves nothing.

In the incident in question, the one depicted on a video I recently viewed, the attacker was eventually punished appropriately in my opinion and the victim sustained a minor injury.  The parents of the victim chose not to press charges, and as best I can tell these two students have had no further issues.

At another school in our district, a High School,  the story did not play out with such a happy ending.

 In this school, the student who was bullied and physically slapped and taunted on multiple occasions tried to play it off.  He took it.  He walked away, and he turned the other cheek.  Eventually, he became depressed and confided in his parents about what was happening.  His parent contacted the bullied student’s coach, who assured the parent “he would take care of it.” 

That did not happen.

The bullying became worse and soon other students, somehow hearing that the victim’s parents had tried to intervene to stop the bullying, joined in the free-for-all of taunting this student. 
Many of these students began calling this freshman student their “Little White Bitch”

Finally, the exasperated parent approached the principal about the physical and mental abuses, and she was essentially blown-off with a “boys will be boys” sort of nonchalant response.

“I have never felt so rushed out of a meeting before in my life, like he did not want to hear anything I