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The Buzz 2/24/11

EXPULSIONS DOWN, REALLY? The Escambia County Public School District has slowed down on its student expulsions. In January and February 2010, the District expelled 46 students. During the first two months of 2011, only 25 have been recommended for expulsion, eight of which were holdovers from the canceled December 2010 meeting.

However, there may be more to the story. A reader emailed the IN after these statistics were posted on Rick’s Blog, ricksblog.biz.

“You might want to dig a bit deeper into this and not take the numbers at face value,” wrote the reader. “My spouse is a teacher. The numbers have decreased not due to better behavior but due to the fact that it now takes a child getting numerous referrals—and an incredible amount of paperwork—in order to be expelled.

“The numbers were so bad last year that the teachers are now under a new mandate making it much more difficult. Therefore, the schools look like they have improved—funny how it works.”

One teacher that the IN interviewed (who asked to stay anonymous to protect her job) said that her school administrators have discouraged any disruptive students from being written up for disciplinary issues, unless the students have been written up before.

The teacher questioned, “How can I ever write up a student, if they don’t let us write the first report?”

LITTLE POFF GETS DEATH It took five minutes for Judge Nicholas Geeker to sentence Leonard Patrick “Little Poff” Gonzalez, Jr. to death for the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings and an additional 10 minutes to read his findings in regard to the aggravating and mitigating circumstances that led to his decision on the sentence. By 1:45 p.m., Gonzalez was led out of the courtroom having had the sentence pronounced and imposed.

The aggravating circumstances that supported the death penalty were:

1. The murders were committed during the commission of a robbery of July 9, 2009 of the Billings’ residence. According to Judge Geeker, the avowed purpose of the home invasion was to rob the home safe which the robbers believed had a substantial quantity of money.

2. The couple were killed by Gonzalez.

3. The murders were heinous, atrocious and cruel. The couple were terrified for both their safety and that of the nine children in the home. They knew their lives were in jeopardy. Byrd Billings was shot in each leg and dragged into the master bedroom. He was shot in the side of the face, which wasn’t fatal, and then shot fatally twice in the cranium. Melanie Billings witnessed these shootings and was shot first in the head and then twice in the chest. Her death was more instantaneous.

4. Gonzalez was more than an accomplice and was proven to be the ringleader of the crime. He directed the others. He was not under any mental duress or dominated by others.

“The death sentence is not disproportionate given his role in the crimes,” said Judge Geeker.

These factors outweighed the mitigating factors:

1. Community service with children.

2. Good father and good with those children he taught.

3. Though he came from a broken home, he didn’t have a deprived childhood.

After the court was adjourned, Ashley Billings Markham gave a brief statement to the media. Thanking the community for its continued support and prayers, the daughter of Byrd and Melanie Billings said, “Justice has been served. There have been long days, but we now have a little more hope to face the days ahead.”

Before leaving the media room, Markham hugged State Attorney Bill Eddins, thanking him for his efforts.

BP CLAIM PAYMENT OPTIONS Ken Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), has announced the final methodology for the payment of Final and Interim GCCF compensation of claims arising out of the BP oil spill.

On Feb. 2, the GCCF published a draft on the methodology. Over the following two weeks, the GCCF has received some 1,440 comments from claimants, businesses, experts, public officials and other interested parties expressing opinions concerning these and other related issues.

Under the final methodology, claimants have three payment options: final, interim and quick.

A Final Payment will provide compensation to the claimant for all documented past damage, plus estimated future damage due to the oil spill and will resolve the claimant’s entire claim against BP and all other potentially liable parties for any and all past and future damages.

To receive a Final Payment, a claimant will be required to sign a release precluding the claimant from seeking further compensation from the GCCF, the Coast Guard, or in court from either BP or any other defendant companies allegedly responsible for the oil spill.

An Interim Payment will provide compensation to the claimant for all past documented damage due to the oil spill; the damage must be documented but no release will be required. Under this option, the claimant may return to the GCCF once each quarter of the calendar year seeking additional documented past damage. This Interim Payment option does not require that the claimant surrender any litigation rights.

A Quick Payment of $5,000 to an individual claimant or $25,000 to a business claimant is available to any claimant who has received either an Emergency Advance Payment or an Interim Payment from the GCCF without any requirement that the claimant provide additional documentation. This option will be accompanied by a full release, similar to one that is required with the final payment.

BYE, LINDA The co-host of the most popular local morning show in the Pensacola market was fired and escorted off the property last week. Linda Lawrence, the “Linda” of the “Marty & Linda” morning show on WXBM is no longer on the air. Marty White is currently listed for the morning show solo. Lawrence has been completely dropped from the station’s website, wxbm.com.