Recently released FCAT scores, and the ongoing search for a bank to provide a line of credit in the event of a natural disaster, were among the topics discussed at Tuesday's School Board meeting, at Coral Shores High School.
Through a PowerPoint presentation, Director of Assessment and Accountability Christina McPherson explained to the board the reasons behind some of the poor scores, including such anomalies as the seventh- and eighth-grade math scores. The latter are off 26 points from last year, and 14 points worse than the state average.
"Eighth-grade students who took the geometry end of course exam fulfilled the math testing requirement without having to take the eighth-grade FCAT mathematics exam," McPherson said.
"Removing these students from the grade eight mathematics equation changes the comparison to last year's data. This was also the case for the seventh-graders who took the algebra end-of-course exam."
Approximately half the districts in the state decided not to give their kids the extra test, which is comparable to the FCAT, according to School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths.
Saying that, "We've saved the best for last," McPherson pointed out that, "There was a 100 percent pass rate for students who took the end-of-course geometry exam."
Only one student who took the seventh-grade algebra end-of-course exam didn't pass.
Other highlights McPherson mentioned were the fifth-, seventh- and eighth-grade reading scores, which were all above the state average, and higher than last year.
District 3 member Ed Davidson took issue with the testing process itself.
"Everybody knows that the FCAT is a flawed system, which is why it's going away."
Griffiths was concerned about younger math students.
"A couple of schools are in trouble in third-grade mathematics," he said.
Interim Executive Director of Finance and Performance Jim Drake gave a presentation on what he said would be a "status quo" budget for 2013-14, which prompted a discussion on the teachers' raise included in the recently passed state budget.
"The governor's teachers' raise will just barely cover what they spend on classroom supplies," Davidson said.
District 5 member Ron Martin agreed, saying that right now teachers are "just spending their own money," on supplies.
Griffiths pointed out that 90 percent of the raise will actually be paid for with local taxes.
"Thanks for nothing," Griffiths said.
He added that he thought that teachers having to pay for supplies out of their own pockets was "just wrong."
Griffiths also reminded his colleagues that the raise was for teachers only, and that many other district employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers wouldn't be getting any extra money.
At one point, District 4 member John Dick jokingly called Griffiths a "tax-and-spend Democrat," prompting Davidson to jump in, saying "Well, you have to get it before you can spend it."
On the issue of the letter of credit, Drake mentioned that three banks had made proposals to the district, including First State, JPMorgan Chase, and Iberiabank.
Drake recommended the district go with the JPMorgan proposal, which he claimed would be $250,000 cheaper, should the district have to actually draw on the line.
"For us, this is a bridge loan," Drake said. "FEMA would come in, but they're usually pretty slow" providing emergency funds in the wake of a hurricane or other natural calamity.
That deal will be voted on at the next scheduled board meeting, on June 25 in Key West.
During his report, Superintendent Mark Porter announced that the district planned to help with the elementary school gifted program, which some parents had been worried might be disappearing next year.
"We are going to make an additional supplemental allocation to the buildings," Porter said.
"If they accept the allocation, it needs to go to gifted programs. It can't be used to reduce class sizes."
Three additional teachers will be paid for, "somewhat similar to what has been done in the past," Porter said.
The superintendent also gave an update on the Horace O'Bryant K-8 school construction project, stating that the final construction meeting took place Monday, and that the final change orders had been identified, clearing the way for the final payment to the contractor, Coastal Construction Inc.
Porter requested, and was granted, an additional special session of the board, at 4 p.m. Tuesday in Marathon, to deal with issues related to the close-out.
During the discussion on HOB, Davidson mentioned that the district had succeeded in spending stimulus grant money, which by law had to be used on schedule to fulfill the terms of the deal with the federal government.
"We're into the Harris School money now," Davidson, referring to funds from the district's sale of the old school on Southard Street.
Davidson came in for criticism of remarks he had made at the last scheduled board meeting regarding the willingness of district employees to follow instructions faithfully.
"Ninety-nine percent of them do work very hard for a little bit of money, every day," Martin said, adding that he had heard from a number of people who took umbrage with Davidson's earlier comments.
"None of my remarks were directed at teachers," Davidson fired back. "What I was saying was that ... the audits tell us that it's not just a leadership problem, it's a followship problem ... the audits tell us there were cases where people saw something wrong and didn't tell anyone. I wouldn't be here if a large number of the public didn't think that was necessary to keep an eye on the employees, as well as the leadership," he added.
District 1 member Robin Smith-Martin told the board he thought, "It's the way he says it, not the subject matter," that got Davidson in hot water with some constituents.