ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA
MINUTES, JANUARY 29, 2001
The School Board of Escambia County, Florida, convened in Special Meeting at 4:30 p.m. in Room 160, Hall Educational Services Center, 30 East Texar Drive, Pensacola, Florida, with the following present:
Chairman: Dr. John DeWitt Vice Chairman: Mrs. Cary Stidham
Board Members: Mr. Gary L. Bergosh
Mrs. Linda Finkelstein
Dr. Elmer Jenkins
School Board Attorney: Mr. Francisco Negron
Superintendent of Schools: Mr. Jim Paul
I. ADOPTION OF AGENDA
Motion by Mrs. Stidham, second by Dr. Jenkins, to adopt the agenda, was unanimously approved.
II. COMMENTS FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT
1) RECOMMENDATIONS/PLAN ON SCHOOL CONSOLIDATIONS AND SCHOOL CLOSINGS FOR FINAL DECISION BY THE BOARD
Mr. Paul read a statement to the Board as follows:
"Over the past few weeks, I have been working around the clock with members of the administration to meet a deadline given to me by the School Board to recommend the closing or consolidation of schools in Escambia County. I am sure the School Board set the deadline in good faith, and was hopeful that this process could move forward quickly and smoothly as possible. Unfortunately, we as a community have learned that haste does not always make sound policy.
Over the past few weeks we have all been on an emotional roller coaster ride as my administration has been inundated with reams of documents and hundreds of recommendations. School closings have been discussed, consolidation plans have been floated, and all too often, the very people who had the most at stake in this process, have not had enough input in what information we, as elected leaders hear.
When I was elected Superintendent of Schools, I knew I had shouldered the responsibility of making tough choices so our teachers and students would get the type of support they deserve. Tough choices must be made. Tough choices will be made; however, those choices must also be prudent and wise. Over the weekend, it has become clear to me that I could not hastily assemble a list of schools to shut down in a way that fit my expectations as to the process in which they should be carried out.
I was elected Superintendent of Schools to make our schools better and raise our teachers' salaries, and not to shut down schools before I have a chance to review all relevant documents; not to shut down schools before I have a chance to follow-up on my promise of district-wide bottom up review; and not before I have the chance to talk to all affected students, parents, and teachers.
There is too much at stake to do that. We must move forward, we must examine all options, we must consolidate wherever necessary, if necessary, but we must do it in a timetable that makes sense, that includes all citizens and that gives us time to be fair to all involved.
I thank the School Board for the interest in this important matter. In fact, they began this process, as stated previously, before I was even elected to office. I believe we can continue building on our partnership to improve the quality of schools in Escambia County, while raising students' scores and teachers' salaries.
I pledge my full support in the Board's efforts to cut wasteful spending. While I will not set any false deadlines to move forward with recommendations, I do understand that the financial crisis highlighted by the Grand Jury report demands that we continue moving forward as prudently as possible, but we must do it in a way that is fair, businesslike, and complete.
I spent today meeting with students and teachers at Dixon and Spencer Bibbs to continue the process we started just last month, and while I made no promises to keep any schools open, I did promise them that I would be fair and give their feelings full, complete consideration.
Public servants are just that - servants of those we represent. We must stop talking long enough to listen, and stop debating among ourselves long enough to hear the voice of those whose lives we effect. I promised to do that when I ran for this position, and tonight I reaffirm my dedication to those democratic principles. With that in mind, I am requesting that the School Board table the issue of school closings and consolidation until I am confident that we have given due diligence to this very important task. I will also, in the meantime, continue to seek out alternative sources of funding so that our teachers and support personnel will be compensated as they so justly deserve."
Chairman DeWitt thanked the Superintendent for his comments. He noted that related press releases and public notices were sent out. He stated that in meetings over the last week, the Board heard over 300 speakers, and also received telephone calls, letters and E-Mails. He stated that the Board has heard the concerns and is committed to making the decisions that will be necessary. He noted that budget matters and issues related to pay raises are still being addressed.
After discussion, motion was made by Mr. Bergosh and seconded by Mrs. Stidham, to postpone any decisions on consolidation or closing of schools until the February Board Meeting, and that those issues be placed as agenda items to be considered during that meeting.
Mr. Bergosh thanked the Superintendent for continuing this process that the Board began previously. Mrs. Stidham stated that based on comments from public input and from schools involved that she would ask that the Superintendent include in the consolidation process looking at every program that the district offers and evaluate those also to determine any possible cost savings. Mr. Paul concurred and stated that process had begun. Dr. Jenkins expressed that additional time would be needed for this process, perhaps six months to one year in order to gather information, analyze data, and form conclusions district-wide. Mrs. Finkelstein spoke in favor of slowing down the process in order to look at other avenues and look at redistricting issues. She suggested in order to make the process equitable, that every Board Member could be given an assignment to find a dollar amount in their own district and consider every avenue before closing schools. Dr. Jenkins expressed concern that every district should bear some of the cost-cutting responsibilities and not just two districts.
After discussion, Chairman DeWitt called for the vote and the motion was approved 4-1 with Dr. Jenkins voting NO.
The Special Meeting adjourned at 4:55 p.m. (Official recordings of this meeting are filed in the Information Services Department.)