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    Bill ties superintendent pay, pupil performance

    The school officials would feel it in their wallets if third-graders are promoted without being able to read.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 20, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- School superintendents should lose some pay if their districts let third-graders who can't read become fourth-graders, a House committee decided Tuesday.

    The House Education Innovation Committee added that provision to a bill that would prohibit school districts from passing third-graders who have trouble reading and who score less than a 2 on the Florida Comprehensive Assesment Test.

    The amended bill (CS HB 1259) also restored a provision that allows school districts to exempt students, but only under certain circumstances such as limited English capability.

    "The FCAT will not be the only determining factor. . . . There are other assessments that the district will come up with," said sponsor Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Hialeah.

    Arza's original bill closed a loophole in the 1999 social promotion law that allowed school board to exempt students from its retention requirements for "good cause."

    The state never defined what "good cause" was, so districts decided on their own. But Gov. Jeb Bush was unhappy with the numbers of students moving on to the fourth grade who couldn't read at grade level, an estimated 47 percent, and he asked lawmakers during his January State of the State address to toughen the law.

    School districts that failed to follow the spirit of the law should be punished, Bush said at the time.

    Arza's amended bill, which must clear another committee before it heads to the House chamber, urges school districts to funnel money they get for "supplemental instruction" to remedial programs for students who can't read by Grade 3.

    It also requires the district to quickly notify parents, in writing, if a child has problems reading.

    There is a Senate companion bill (SB 2314), sponsored by Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg.

    Joy Frank, the legislative point person for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, told the House committee members her group supports most of the bill, especially the part that spells out for districts when they can promote a student to the fourth grade despite that child's reading difficulties.

    But the bill goes too far with the part allowing the state Board of Education to "withhold a portion of the district school superintendent's salary" until it's satisfied the district is meeting the law, Frank said.

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