Why Avossa calls PBC a ‘donor’ county to state’s ed budget

When Superintendent Robert Avossa rails about how little Florida invests in education, he often talks about Palm Beach County being a “donor” school district.

Read about his objections to the state’s proposed budget here. 

What does that mean and why does this keep coming up?

First to the why.

For all those transplants to our state, district leaders want you to know the school district’s per student budget isn’t determined locally as it might be up north.

The district is countywide and though Palm Beach County is property rich – it has lots of value that generates lots of tax dollars – the state is responsible for determining how a majority of the school tax will be levied and what that money will be spent on.

Photo by Andy Frame

The how.

When it comes to a district’s operational budget, lawmakers in Tallahassee decide the base amount school districts will get per student to cover costs from text books to transportation, salaries and benefits, light bills and more. And from there it adds to that base for students who are disabled, or in exceptional poverty.

It also has a formula that is intended to deliver equity throughout the state’s counties – some very rural and property poor, and others not so much.

It does this by redistributing most of Florida school districts’ property tax revenue.

This is where the “donor” part comes in.

So, the state looks at Palm Beach County and says because the county can raise so much tax money locally, a larger portion of the money spent per student will come from local taxes. A smaller amount will come from the state.

A property-poor county, on the other hand would get more from the state.

Thus, the county is paying in more to the total  – but it is still being held to the state prescribed formula. Just because Palm Beach County has a larger wealth of property value, doesn’t mean it gets to spend more per student in its classrooms.

The county will get more per student than other counties based on the last budget. One reason, the cost of living – thus the cost of hiring teachers and running schools – is higher in Palm Beach County and the state’s formula chips in a bit more for that. Also, the county gets a bump when it has more special education students, whose education costs more and therefore draws more money from the state formula.

To be clear, this equalization across the state is just the general fund.

Capital budget is a different ballgame.

All districts can impose a district-wide tax for capital and keep that money. There is a state cap – a cap that was lowered during the recession in 2008-09.  Which prompted the need to find another source for capital projects, mostly school repairs but some replacements and 5 new schools. In November, voters approved a penny sales tax countywide, half of which goes to those projects.

Final note. 

Property values can make Palm Beach County look like a wealthy place. But not all of its students are. About 65 percent of the district’s students come from families poor enough to qualify for a free or discounted lunch from the federal government.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s PBC’s Teacher of the Year? Hint: She teaches English

Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches ESOL English at Palm Beach Central High is awarded PBC Teacher of the Year Tuesday morning. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post)
Evangeline Aguirre, who teaches ESOL English at Palm Beach Central High is awarded PBC Teacher of the Year Tuesday morning. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post)

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa arrived Tuesday morning at Palm Beach Central High’s campus to give teacher Evangeline Aguirre the day off – after, of course, he told her she had been named Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year.

Aguirre accepted the balloons and flowers, but declined the holiday. She’s in the middle of planning a boot camp to prepare her students for statewide testing. She’ll take that holiday another time.

The state’s high-stakes exam can be particularly challenging for students because they all are just learning the language.

Aguirre, Palm Beach County’s teacher of the year, teaches high school English to students who aren’t native speakers of the language. But her lessons go well beyond understanding the text, and her students say they work hard because her story isn’t all that different from theirs.

Aguirre began her life in the Philippines and came to the U.S. in 2004 as part of a teaching exchange program.

Her students are more recent arrivals from about 20 different countries. They speak about 15 languages among them, but they’re only beginning to get a handle on English. And while Aguirre said she understands a bit of Spanish and French, that’s not enough to converse fluently with the students. So they find other ways to get through the lessons.

It’s hard work, but her students say they’re encouraged by her genuine interest in their lives, both in the classroom and out.

Huddled together to brainstorm all the things they’ve learned from her, students from Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela say she’s told them: Don’t give up. Value what you have. If you see your friends go astray, go the other way.

“She absolutely loves kids,” said her principal Darren Edgecomb. “Sometimes that’s taken for granted. It all builds from building a good relationship.”

ICYMI: Avossa gets creamed in cookoff with Dwyer students

Superintendent Robert Avossa may still be licking his wounds after culinary defeat last week at the hands of William T. Dwyer High students. Within minutes of the judges’ ruling favoring the teens, Avossa laid the groundwork for his defense, throwing his wingman in the competition under the proverbial bus:

“Pete and I fought a lot about what was going on the plate,” Avossa said.

That’s Pete Licata, director of the district’s choice and career programs.

Read the full story and see video here.   

The plating, according to judges, was just one ding on the administrative team. The other? The sauce lacked seasoning. (Ouch. Sore spot for Avossa who advised mid-stove top stir that what’s wrong with American is that they over-season their sauce. See the video.)

Avossa forwarded this pic of the competition with the note: “Do we look happy or what?”  I’d say it’s time for a photo caption contest. Thoughts?

Photo courtesy Palm Beach County School District.
Photo courtesy Palm Beach County School District.

Avossa said he is already considering another cook-off next year. Meanwhile, he continues to cook at home. “My kids love my classic tomato sauce with rigatoni. My wife likes grilled or blackened fish with grilled veggies.”

 

 

 

 

Former Superintendent Bernie Shulman remembered as ‘unflappable’ student advocate

Bernard "Bernie" Shulman (Palm Beach Post file photo)
Bernard “Bernie” Shulman (Palm Beach Post file photo)

 

Bernie Shulman was superintendent of Palm Beach County’s schools for about a year two decades ago, but the wisdom he peddled during his long career is broad and influences local educators even today, say his colleagues and friends.

This week they mourned his death and spoke fondly of the ways in which such a Teddy bear of a man was able to get things done by putting children first.

“A few times we’d be sitting there, he’d kind of lean forward a little bit, he’d point his finger in my face and say, ‘Now you listen to your father.’ It was a very warm exchange, but you knew when he got serious about being philosophic.”

And what was his philosophy?

“Remember you and the parent really have the same goal, so don’t be an adversary to the parent. Be supportive of the parent and try to find common ground. What’s good for the child? That’s how he operated,” Shaw said.

See the full story here. 

See this timeline of PBC superintendents that stretches back to county’s first, James Harris and includes these familiar names: John I. Leonard, Howell L. Watkins and Robert W. Fulton, here. 

 

 

PBC teachers accuse school district of cutting their planning time

SAVE-classroom

Palm Beach County public school teachers are crying foul after teachers at several schools were told that they must give up more than an hour a week of classroom planning time to attend mandatory staff meetings.

As teachers prepare for Monday’s start of school, the teachers union says that a push for mandatory team meetings could wreak havoc in classrooms, with teachers forced to reduce the hours they spend grading papers and communicating with parents.

Administrators say it’s an attempt to get teachers to help each other improve. But union officials call the new countywide initiative a violation of the teachers’ contract and threatened to file a federal unfair labor practice complaint if it isn’t rescinded.

“This will cause them to have to do even more things outside of their contracted hours, or they won’t be as prepared as they should be,” said Kathi Gundlach, president of the county’s Classroom Teachers Association.

But Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen defended the mandate and said administrators had no plans to drop it, pointing out that many schools have already implemented it. Increasing teacher collaboration has been proven to raise student achievement, he said.

“More than half (of county schools) are doing it and doing it well,” he said. “We are not going to back off that high expectation.”

Rejecting the argument that the teachers’ contract bars the district from mandating the meetings, Christiansen said he would work with principals to make sure that teachers have a say.

“We do expect collaboration,” he said. “It is non-negotiable for teachers to collaborate. But the ‘how’ is really at the school level. We very clearly communicated that this is a process, and it is our expectation that principals work with teachers and teacher leadership and define the ‘how.’”

As they returned to school Tuesday, teachers at several schools said they were told by principals that as much as an hour and a half of their planning time each week would be usurped this year by department meetings.

The department meetings are intended to allow teachers who teach the same subject or grade to get together to talk about best teaching strategies.

But teachers say that mandating those meetings at the expense of classroom-planning time is a mistake.

“Time that could be used to reach out to parents will instead be spent analyzing reams of data in a throwback to the worst days of Art Johnson and Jeffrey Hernandez,” said Mike Dowling, a sixth-grade teacher at Emerald Cove Middle School in Wellington, making reference to two top school district administrators who briefly imposed a test-heavy academic program in 2011.

District leaders had raised the idea of requiring more teacher collaboration during last year’s contract negotiations, but the proposal was eventually dropped, the union said.

Still, Christiansen sent a bulletin to principals in April calling for more collaborative meetings between teachers at all schools.

“There is an inordinate amount of research that supports teacher collaboration,” he wrote, citing a study that found that “successful cases of school reform efforts involve teacher collaboration.”

The union responded in July with a “cease-and-desist” letter alleging that such a push “constitutes a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of employment.”

“Absent negotiated agreement, the planning time changes proposed in the bulletin cannot be unilaterally imposed on teachers,” wrote Theo Harris, the union’s executive director.

In the letter, the union warned that requiring the meetings “establishes grounds for filing a charge of Unfair Labor Practice against the district.”

The union contract guarantees teachers a certain amount of classroom planning time, which varies depending on the grade level, Gundlach said. The union contends that the time to plan is protected by the contract.

“Normally we contact parents, we put in grades, we grade tests,” said one middle school teacher who asked not to be named. “That planning time is really important to us. And now they’re taking two a week. It’s going to cause a great problem in the workflow that they don’t realize.”

“They seem to think that on our planning time we’re sitting in the teacher lounge gossiping and drinking coffee,” the teacher added.

Teachers at many schoools already spend some of their planning time discussing classroom strategies, a practice that Gundlach agreed has been shown to raise student achievement.

But the union said mandating those meetings across the board could create far-reaching unintended consequences.

“If teachers want to plan together, that’s fine,” she said. “But to say that it has to be a certain way and it has to conform to what (administrators) want is not the purpose.”

Christiansen said he plans to meet with principals and union leaders later this month to discuss the plan further.

“I think it’s an interpretive issue and you know, I take responsibility,” Christiansen said. “It wasn’t for lack of effort. “

 

Fire eater, cheerleaders for Clinton: A look back at 5 Avossa headaches

Avossa InterviewToday’s the last day of school for Palm Beach County’s 183,000 or so public school students. It also winds up the first school year for the district’s new Superintendent Robert Avossa. We take a look back on some of his biggest headaches this year:

West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner giving this year's graduation speech.
West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner giving last year’s graduation speech.
  1. Plagiarizing principal: Before the school year even began, Avossa faced a question about West Boca High’s Mark Stenner, the principal whose graduation speeches were nearly verbatim material from another speech – for two years in a row. A committee of Stenner’s peers recommended five days of suspension, but Avossa wasn’t happy with that, saying he wanted a 10-day suspension without pay. Then he reconsidered again and opted to remove Stenner from his job.

“I have to be honest with you, I’m not happy with the process.”  The question, he said, is can this process be viewed by the public as “people protecting colleagues”?

File photo (Meghan McCarthy/The Palm Beach Daily News)
File photo (Meghan McCarthy/The Palm Beach Daily News)

2. School bus crisis from Day 1Nearly 40 percent of the 630 school bus routes were late or didn’t show up at all. The superintendent showed up at Grassy Waters Elementary on the first day of school in August, but none of the school’s six buses did. Little did he know there was a big problem, and it was to last about six weeks. Avossa later called transportation officials “tone deaf” and criticized them for not heeding bus driver warnings about a new software program that rejiggered all the routes. He was furious they did not raise flags the new routes and being short staffed with drivers earlier.

 

“No one came and said the Titanic was sinking,” he said

Suncoast High students at Tuesday's rally for Hillary Clinton
Suncoast High students at Tuesday’s rally for Hillary Clinton

3. Suncoast cheerleaders, band play at Clinton rally: He got the heads up from Twitter. Avossa said he saw the Tweets and knew someone had violated district policy about political activity.  It was a Hillary Clinton rally at the Port of Palm Beach. Suncoast High cheerleaders and the band played for about 600 supporters as former President Bill Clinton stood in for his wife. Avossa said he was dismayed that a soon-to-retire veteran principal, Linda Cartlidge,  didn’t know better.

“Quite frankly, I’m disappointed,” Avossa said. “It’s clearly against district policy to be engaged in any political activity.”

Former stuntman Ricky "Inferno" Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)
Former stuntman Ricky “Inferno” Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)

4. Atlantic High fire-breather stunt: Kids packed the gymnasium at Atlantic High on St. Patrick’s Day for a pep rally featuring Ricky “Inferno” Charles breathing flames as another performer raced over them to dunk a basketball. The dunk worked out fine, but then screams erupted as 2,000 teens saw Charles’ face on fire. As Charles was taken the hospital, video of the flames lit up the Internet. Turns out Atlantic wasn’t the first high school in the county to host the fire-breather, but after his burns, Charles say he’s retiring from the fire business.

Meanwhile Avossa was “shocked.”

It’s “just common sense not to have any kind of fire in a school. When you put fire in a building, this is a problem.”

Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan, left, addresses the Palm Beach County School Board with teacher Malik Leigh at his side, March 16, 2016, at the school district in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach County School District)
Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan, left, addresses the Palm Beach County School Board with teacher Malik Leigh at his side, March 16, 2016, at the school district in West Palm Beach. (Palm Beach County School District)

5. Teachers let go, geometry subs all year: Turmoil at Palm Beach Lakes: It started with a visit by high school teachers to a school board meeting to complain of a “toxic” atmosphere at Palm Beach Lakes High under Principal Cheryl McKeever. Then a student appeared in March, saying he and his honors classmates had a series of  substitutes teaching their geometry class for most of the year and they were worried they couldn’t pass end-of-year exams because they learned the bulk of the subject matter from watching videos. Malik Leigh, a teacher from the law academy, came with them.

The next day, children were called to the office and questioned. McKeever told the kids and their parents that they had run the full-time teacher out. A few months later, Leigh filed suit after his contract wasn’t renewed. His suit claimed McKeever had retaliated against a number of teachers by not hiring them back for next year. A week later, Leigh was suspended because his final exam was “inappropriate,” including questions about Donald Trump and being “screwed” if he’s elected.