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Florida BOE delays vote on consolidation

By By RYAN CARTER
Advance Publisher
The debate over consolidating several elementary and middle schools in District 5 of Escambia County, Fla., took an interesting turn Monday afternoon.
Prior to a special called board meeting in which a decision on how to proceed with consolidation was to take place, Superintendent Jim Paul requested that no decision be made in the Monday meeting.
Paul stated given the volume of community and school input received in recent days, it would not be prudent to move forward at this time.
Board Chairman Dr. John DeWitt said Monday that the superintendent's request would be honored and no decision regarding consolidation was made at the Monday meeting.
The board's decision comes on the heels of a public meeting held at Northview High School last Thursday where approximately 60 parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens expressed their feelings about the possible closing and consolidation of schools located in District 5.
Paul released the following statement Monday regarding his decision to delay a final presentation to the board concerning school consolidations:
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 as 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 have the most at stake in the 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 deserved. Tough choices must be made. However, those choices must also be prudent and wise. Over the weekend, it became 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 this should be carried out.
I was elected superintendent of schools to make our schools better and raise our teachers' salaries –
n not to shut down schools before I have a chance to review all relevant documents;
n not to shut down schools before I have a chance to follow up on my promise of district-wide bottom-up review;
n and not before I have the chance to talk to all affected students, parents, and teachers.
There is too much at stake.
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 and involved.
I thank the school board for their 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' test 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 can 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 voices of those whose lives we affect.
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 continue to seek out alternative sources of funding so that our teachers and support personnel will be compensated as they so justly deserve.