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, October 20, 2016

Voting NO

From time to time as a school board member I vote against recommendations.  I do this when I do not believe voting yes is the appropriate course of action.

-When staff wanted to fire a basketball coach for reasons other than those stated in the board’s backup, knowing this would spur litigation and despite the fact that this coach wanted to quit---yes I voted NO.

-When students are treated in disparate fashion based upon race with respect to disciplinary recommendations—so we can balance numbers--, I vote NO

-When schools do not follow board policy on bullying and harassment, I speak out forcefully and take action and often vote NO on recommendations.

-When our district conducted a disastrously bad investigation into disbarring a supplier, I voted NO

-When we decided to spend an exorbitant amount of money building middle school in a 
neighborhood where we desperately need another elementary school, and not a middle school, Yes, I voted NO.

There are many more examples I could point to, including a recent one at last Tuesday’s regular meeting.

At this meeting an agenda item was presented for our approval.   Now, this expenditure was not coming from our general fund—it was money we were (are) receiving from a state grant.  Yes, this is grant money, but it is still taxpayer money.

Anyway, the backup presented was opaque;  it listed amounts and brief summaries of the monies that would be sent to three different companies for “Professional Development” and “Coaching.”  Not given in the backup were some important issues I wanted outlined.  “How many hours is this coach from this company going to spend here?”  “How can we know this is effective, how do we measure the effectiveness of this coaching?”  I got no good answers, except that it would be one coach, for roughly 60 hours on several occasions, training about 40 district “leaders.”  For this part of the expenditure ($31,500.00), this equates to $525 dollars per hour for “coaching.”  

Sorry, I think this is exorbitant, and I cannot support spending this much.

$525 per hour for one employee of this company to do small group coaching on “personality traits” and how to be better leaders.  Are you kidding me?? 

  No way, no how, ever!

We’ve tried coaching leaders at struggling schools in the past with high-dollar programs and this hasn’t worked.

I wanted to explore a more cost effective approach, having employees in our professional learning department find training online in order to tailor a program to teach our employees utilizing open-source materials, MOOCs, and/or other free and readily available materials.  I wanted to do this instead of hiring expensive private “coaches” at $525.00 per hour.

I lost the vote 4-1.

I was told by several folks “its grant money, if we don’t use it, someone else will!”

Here’s my problem with that line of thinking: 

Okay, did we negotiate the very best price for this coaching, did we?  Or, did we just send a request for a proposal and accept the contractor’s rate?  I believe we lost our focus on demanding maximum value out of this purchase, the board was not provided with each contract with each of these firms that delineates exactly what the deliverables will be and how the costs were calculated.  It’s like the mentality is this “It’s grant money, so let’s spend it, and the state approved it so it is acceptable!”

I reject that.

Somewhere, at some time, a General at a base somewhere said NO, I’m not paying $600 for a toilet seat that I can get at Home Depot for $29.99.  And most certainly there was probably a purchasing agent that said to him “Sir, these are very good toilet seats and the DoD has approved the requisition and all of the bases are buying these, so are we sure we want to reject these—I mean we have money from the Pentagon specifically earmarked to use for replacing these toilet seats and it won’t come from our post operating fund---are we sure we want to say no??”

Thankfully that General did reject this.  And then Packard Commission was formed.  And then purchasing was scrutinized, and things got more affordable (although still priced above market in many respects) than they were in years past.  One general saying no could eliminate all the $600 toilet seats in the DoD---then the taxpayers save money---see how that works?

Every public official that has any part in acquisitions and budgeting should be forced to watch the film “The Pentagon Wars” to see how outside influences can run costs into the stratosphere. 
President Eisenhower warned us all about the military industrial complex, and his fears were legitimate.  And what he feared, came to pass.

A lot of this is applicable to today’s education industry.

In today’s world, with our educational expenditures exploding and at levels per pupil that are the highest in the world, I think we need to beware of the Educratic-Industrial Complex!  Between people that grift off of the taxpayers selling seminars, conventions, and pedagogy courses to public entities and school districts—to the testing companies that are driving costs up while changing the way we teach---to the public sector organized labor unions that drive up costs in education---we need to have another Eisenhoweresque moment.  


We spend too much and receive too little in return, and nobody bats an eye.  Instead, we turn to policymakers and others and say we are “underfunded.”  We’re not underfunded, we’re inefficient and wasteful.   Unfortunately there appears to be little appetite in changing this mindset.

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