Tale of Two Districts- Northwest- Sept. 2002
When Florida implemented its school-grading system in 1999, Escambia became the state's first district with F schools. Students became eligible for vouchers to attend private schools, and the national and international news media trudged through Escambia's playgrounds to cover the story. Politicians held press conferences in Pensacola pledging more money and other assistance. But school officials say all the attention has made little difference in teaching a population in which two-thirds of the schoolchildren are eligible for free or reduced lunch and 43% are minority.
The Santa Rosa district, meanwhile, has never had an F school, much less a D. Its population -- many parents of its students commute over the county line to work in Pensacola -- is 90% white and relatively affluent. Only 37% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Demographics clearly give Escambia the greater challenge. But the district receives slightly less state money per student overall than Santa Rosa -- a total of $4,920 per child vs. Santa Rosa's $4,939. With Escambia's 43,500 children, the difference means a total loss of $826,500.
But more frustrating to Escambia officials is that a pot of money earmarked specifically for failing students gives Santa Rosa more money per child. From the Supplemental Academic Instruction (SAI) allocation, the state sends Santa Rosa County $363 per child. Escambia, meanwhile, gets $244. Counties must spend SAI money on remedial tools to help boost student achievement, which can include summer school, after-school or Saturday programs or other remedial programs.
Similar disparities can be found in other counties: Among Jefferson's four schools, two are graded F. Yet Okaloosa, with no F schools, receives $298 per child in SAI funding; Jefferson gets $237.
According to the state Department of Education, the quirk is caused by a complicated state-education funding formula called the "disparity compression adjustment" that's designed to fix disparities in overall per-student funding.
That doesn't make officials in Escambia County feel any better. Assistant Superintendent for Finance Barbara Linker argues that the whole idea behind SAI funding was to funnel more money to counties with more challenging populations of children.
"Don't get me wrong; we love Santa Rosa County," says Linker. "But this is an inequity -- it's just the opposite of what it should be."
IN THE NEWS ...
Frankling County -- St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) representatives have confirmed "the worst-kept secret in Franklin County": They have a contract to buy the marina at Alligator Point. But approval for St. Joe's nearby SummerCamp project continues to face hurdles. The county commission has delayed approval while it considers the state's concerns about environmental issues at the 786-acre site near St. Teresa. St. Joe wants to build 499 homes, a 60-room hotel and 25,000 square feet of commercial space.
Northwest Florida -- Florida's Great Northwest Inc., the economic development organization for 16 counties in the region, has unveiled a site and building-finder database on its website at floridasgreatnorthwest.com/properties.htm. The site allows businesses looking to expand or relocate to use multiple search criteria to find an ideal location.
Tallahassee -- The much-ballyhooed arrival of AirTran Airways (NYSE-AAI) at Tallahassee Regional Airport has not been as good for the company as it has been for travelers. AirTran officials say Tallahassee has been a losing proposition primarily because of the downturn in air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- particularly severe in "short-haul" markets, where passengers fear wait times longer than flights. The company says it's committed to TRA but may ask for more than the $2 million in incentives it got last year when its contract renews this fall.
The Eckerd drugstore chain agreed to pay $1 million to fund an ethics chair in the Florida A&M University pharmacy school to settle a complaint that it had misled customers. When customers signed a slip acknowledging receipt of a prescription drug, the fine print included authorization to release personal information for Eckerd's future marketing purposes. Attorney General Bob Butterworth says the agreement with Eckerd "should serve as a model for other drug retailers to help ensure patient privacy."
FAMU's new president, Fred Gainous, is making his presence known, demoting two deans and a vice president. Returning to their jobs as professors: Franklin Hamilton, the vice president for research; College of Arts & Sciences dean Arthur Washington; and School of General Studies dean Barbara Barnes. Gainous will be able to fill all five of FAMU's VP spots with his own appointees.
After 16 years as the Legislature's top economist, Ed Montanaro has resigned to pursue a doctorate in Spanish. As director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, he was responsible for forecasting how much money lawmakers have to spend, a job that paid him $98,064 a year. Montanaro, 49, will continue to work at the office part time until a replacement is hired.
Taylor County -- Foley Timber and Land Co. has shut down Blue Springs Lake, a popular recreation facility near Keaton Beach, citing vandalism and severe erosion and other problems caused by ATVs.
ESCAMBIA COUNTY -- Separate juries found two Escambia County commissioners guilty of violating Florida's open-government Sunshine Law by discussing public business in private. Former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers and Commissioner Terry Smith were found guilty of one misdemeanor count each. The verdicts are part of the land-deals scandal that rocked the commission in April, when Gov. Jeb Bush suspended four of the five commissioners.
Childers still faces bribery and other felony charges over the county's purchase of an abandoned soccer complex for $3.9 million. Two other suspended commissioners, Mike Bass and Willie Junior, also face Sunshine, bribery, racketeering and other charges.