Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 24th 2014

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The Buzz 11.18

THOMAS TURNS DOWN HUGE GRANT Leaders in the African-American community are still upset with Superintendent Malcolm Thomas terminating the district’s three-year agreement with The Florida Bar Foundation Justice Project Grant.

The School District was awarded $945,000 last November for its Discipline Alternatives to Zero-Tolerance project. Four middle schools (Warrington, Bellview, Workman and Woodham) had been selected to implement the program in the 2010-2011 school years. Other participating schools and agencies were Escambia Charter School, University of West Florida, Bethel AME Church and Unity in the Family Ministry.

The Florida Bar Foundation and The Collins Center for Public Policy provided a consultant to give technical assistance. The School District began training last school year and had received the first year of the grant. The school board had approved on July 20 accepting the second year of the funding, $307,031.60. Two months later, Thomas pushed the board to drop out of the program.

Black leaders believed the program offered a non-traditional way of dealing with day-to-day rule violations and disruptive behavior in schools. Students who break the rules and disrupt the educational process were given a chance to avoid suspension or expulsion by entering the program and breaking the “school-to-jail pipeline” that routes students into the juvenile justice system for relatively minor infractions.

According to The Collins Center, statistics show the district issued out-of-school suspensions to roughly a quarter of the 10,500 middle school students in recent years, and expelled dozens more.

FLY WITH THE BLUES Every year, the Blue Angels invite local leaders to ride as passengers during their practice sessions for the November homecoming air show. Usually two or three people are selected from a waiting list of over two dozen. This year, Jack Williams of Seville Quarter and attorney Mike Papantonio flew with the Blue Angels.

GAETZ BUILDS POWER BASE Incoming Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos announced recently that Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) will chair the Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee. Senator Gaetz was first elected in 2006 and previously served as Superintendent of Schools in Okaloosa County.

“With the passage of Amendments 5 and 6, Senator Gaetz will have the responsibility of leading our efforts in redrawing legislative and congressional districts,” said incoming Senator Haridopolos. “This may be the most challenging committee chairmanship of all, but Senator Gaetz’s leadership will help us navigate this once-a-decade process.”

This chairmanship will help Gaetz build support for his bid of Senate president and possibly a future run for statewide office.

MEDIA WEDDING The founder of the national website The Daily Beast, Tina Brown, announced late Thursday, Nov. 11 that her website has merged with Newsweek.

The 50-50 joint venture will be the Newsweek Daily Beast Company, which will work under an independent board.

Brown will be the editor-in-chief of the Newsweek Daily Beast Company. The owner of Newsweek, Sidney Harman, will be the executive chairman and Daily Beast President Stephen Colvin will take charge as the chief executive of the new company.

IN publisher Rick Outzen is a contributor to The Daily Beast, which has published several stories about the Billings’ murders and BP oil disaster.

SCHOOL BOARD NOTES The Escambia County School Board held a workshop on Nov. 12 in the J.E. Hall Center. Prior to the board discussing Brownsville Middle School, they received a legislative review from Jim Hamilton of Mixon & Associates and a District Recycling Program presentation. The board also discussed the class-size amendment, wellness clinics for District employees and retirees, and the board chairmanship.

SCHOOL CALENDAR: School board member Patty Hightower questioned the district’s lobbyist Jim Hamilton about the bills to allow the school calendar to be set by local school boards.

“Districts that are ‘A’ districts can start school when they want to,” said board chairman Gerald Boone. “People who need more time should have it. Tallahassee has it backwards.”

Hamilton agreed and blamed the theme parks in central Florida who were upset about any changes to the summer vacation calendar. “I’ve never seen so many expensive suits at an education committee meeting,” Hamilton said. “Universal Studios said, ‘We need these students to be our workforce.’”

PENSIONS: School board member Jeff Bergosh asked Hamilton about pension reform. “It’s more complicated than leadership understands,” Bergosh said.

Hamilton believes that district employees will have to pay part of their retirement and that new hires will be put into defined contribution plans, instead of defined benefit plans. He also said that police and fire may be pulled out of the Florida Retirement System and placed into a separate system.

RECYCLING: The School district has reached an agreement with West Florida Recycling to handle the schools’ recycling both in the classrooms and the cafeterias at no cost to the district.

Classrooms will not have to separate items and the community can bring old newspapers and other recyclable items to the schools. Food Service will be able to recycle jars, cans and milk cartons.

It’s expected that high schools will have their dumpsters reduced from eight to four and there will be a savings in less trash collection expenditures. West Florida Recycling will also offer an educational piece for the classroom.

The recycle containers could be in classrooms as soon as January.

CLASS-SIZE AMENDMENT: Superintendent Malcolm Thomas told the school board that the school district is in compliance with the class-size amendment. Walton County is the only other district in northwest Florida that is in compliance.

WELLNESS CENTERS: Bergosh asked the school board to consider walk-in wellness clinics for the district’s employees, dependents and retirees. He said the City of Ocoee, Fla. offers a primary clinic. “Their HR director told me that we would be astonished at the savings,” Bergosh said.

Superintendent Thomas said that he would refer the suggestion to the Insurance Committee. District staff said that they have been looking at the idea for three years and that it normally was more successful in more rural areas, since they don’t have the health care competition that Escambia County has. They also warned that the upfront costs are significant, and that any savings are “down the road.”

BOARD CHAIRMANSHIP: Bergosh also pushed for a discussion of how the board selects its chair every year. The Santa Rosa County School Board has a set rotation by district as does the Escambia County Commission. The Escambia County School Board takes nominations and elects its chair every year.

Bergosh pointed out that there has been an inequitable distribution of the chairmanship. District 3 has not held the board chairmanship or vice chairmanship in 11 years.

His fellow board members were quick to point out that the board seat has had the most turnover with three board members in the last eight years.

School board member Bill Slayton said that a rotation policy would mean that it would be possible for a newly-elected board member to be named chairman without ever having served on the board.

Slayton warned, “Think of some of the individuals who have served on this board. Their goal would have been to sabotage the board and the school district. I don’t see the necessity for a change.”

Board member Patty Hightower said, “Since 1992, I’ve been coming to meetings. I worried about the school district being on the front page if certain people had been elected chairman.”

She complimented the current chairman, Gerald Boone. “I have no problem supporting him, if he so chooses.”

Board member Linda Moultrie said, “I don’t have a problem with the current structure. At this time, it’s working.”

Board chairman Gerald Boone added, “Prior to 2006, this board was very, very, very fractured for some time. There were personal agendas and meetings that lasted until midnight.

“We have a great team. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.”

At the close of the discussion, Bergosh stated that he would nominate Boone to continue as chairman at the next regular meeting. No one else said that they would challenge the nomination.

“I will accept another term if the board so desires,” Boone said.