Thursday, December 17, 2015

Blackburn: BPS Has Social Agenda, Teachers Not Leaving In Droves

Brevard County School Superintendent, Dr. Desmond Blackburn, presented his strategic plan along with some data points on Tuesday night to a room mostly filled with BPS employees, union representatives, community activists, and politicians. During the presentation, Blackburn addressed his social agenda for BPS, teacher salaries and attrition rates, and the controversial software contract with EDR. 

BPS Social Agenda

"We have a social, emotional, cultural, equity agenda for this system called Brevard Public Schools," Blackburn said regarding the diversity challenges facing BPS.

"There are many school systems across the country that were once the academic gem of their region, then fell from grace, so to speak ... I will tell you, that fall from grace happened, in large part, because children became more and more diverse and schools and/or systems did not meet the diversity head-on with altered policies, practices, and belief systems. We can't be that community."

Blackburn noted that only 30% of BPS's English-learning students and 37% of black students are proficient in math while 55% of Hispanic and 67% of whites are proficient, according to FCAT scores. He also pointed out that 71% of all suspended students are on free or reduced lunch but that they only account for 53% of the overall student population. Blacks accounted for 32% of all suspensions but are 16% of the enrolled population.

"While we are a high-performing school district, I will tell you, not every child in our school district meets with the same type of academic success."

Blackburn said that the strategic plan would focus on making sure all children succeeding at a "very, very high rate." "If we can't do it here in Brevard, then it just can't be done," said Blackburn.

Brevard Teacher Salary High In Central Florida, Teachers Not Leaving In Droves

"One of the things I've heard is that employee salary and benefits are so horrific in Brevard that employees are leaving in droves, especially to surrounding counties and districts," said Blackburn. 

"Well, here's a little bit of data to add to that conversation. We're not where we should be. We're not where we want. But the notion that we are the lowest isn't accurate either. The notion that our employees are leaving in droves isn't accurate, either." 

"Our attrition rate is actually about less than 10% for teachers which is under the national average for attrition. So the notion that the employee morale is so low, salary and benefits are so low, and we are loosing people in droves isn't an accurate statement. However, we are losing some. And if we are losing excellent teachers, the loss of one excellent teacher is one loss too many."

Blackburn presented a chart where Brevard County ranks the 4th highest in teacher salaries for Central Florida at $46,266 on average. When benefits are included, Brevard County's average salary for teachers rises to $53,3636. 

Blackburn's statements on social justice within BPS and the recent salary increases for teachers were warmly received by the Brevard Federation of Teachers union, which posted on the Facebook page: 

"Dr. Blackburn did an outstanding job putting forth his six initiatives for Brevard schools. Many of his ideas about morale, salary, and the equitable distribution of resources/programs mirror BFT's beliefs!"

BPS/EDR Software Contract, Finances

"July 21 was my first Board meeting when I was introduced to the acronym 'EDR' - a challenge," Blackburn said of the controversial software contract. "While that is still under legal review, I have done some administrative review of what lead us there and how we can work as a system - not only in that type of issue - but our entire financial picture."

Blackburn said that BPS will undertake a thorough legal review of new contracts and purchases. And will ensure enough transparency and opportunity to the School Board and community to comment.

"I've done sort of a deep dive in reviewing our finances, and a third party review of our finances, and what I've found," said Blackburn. "On our finances, we tend to be pretty technically sound on our finances from a reporting standpoint. Whether or not we know that we are funding priorities accurately is a different consideration."

" ... While I've found very, very sound technical practices, our folks in that area ought to be congratulated, it isn't difficult to make a huge mistake ... "

Image and video credit: BPS TV

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