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School review agency hears from the public

Wednesday's forum will have a ''job fair'' feel, where visitors can move from table to table sharing opinions on the district.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003


BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County school officials have had their say about whether the district they run is operating efficiently.

Now it's the public's turn.

A team of legislative analysts from the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability will have a public forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday at district headquarters, 919 N Broad St.

"We're here to hear anything anybody has to say concerning the school district," chief legislative analyst Marti Harkness said.

Issues can range from those specific to one school to those with countywide implications.

"We just want to hear people's ideas, thoughts and concerns," Harkness said.

The goal is to determine whether the district can save money by implementing more effective practices and using resources better. The agency, commonly called by its acronym OPPAGA, looks at all aspects of the school system, including food service, transportation and administration.

It measures local activity against best practices adopted by the state education commissioner.

"You could argue that education service delivery is the most important because it directly impacts student performance," Harkness said. "We look across all areas."

State lawmakers enacted the Sharpening the Pencil Act in 2001, mandating such reviews of all school districts every five years.

The first step was to have the district administration complete a self evaluation, based on a 112-page questionnaire. A 28-person team, led by superintendent Wendy Tellone and planning director Heather Martin, completed that study in January, sending OPPAGA about a dozen boxes of supporting material.

Agency representatives now will spend a week in the district to verify the district responses. As part of that effort, they want to hear from the public.

"We do get a lot of good ideas from the people who are most directly involved in the school operations -- parents, teachers, staff," Harkness said. "We're not the experts in the Hernando school district. We want to hear what those folks want to say."

The session will be informal. People will not have to stand before a large group and speak.

Rather, the room will be filled with tables, each one of which will be staffed by an OPPAGA representative. Each table will be for a separate practice.

If someone wants to say something good about a school principal, for instance, he would go to the service delivery table. If a person's issue is meal planning, she should head to the food service table.

"It's kind of like a job fair with different booths set up, and people wander around and talk," Harkness said.

The session Wednesday is the only public forum scheduled, unless the response is poor. OPPAGA will have another if there seems to be a need, Harkness said.

Residents also may submit comments by calling toll-free 1-800-877-3470 or sending e-mail through the agency Web site: www.oppaga.state.fl.us.

Agency analysts will return to the district several times through the spring, and should have initial recommendations for the Hernando schools by May. The final action plan and report is expected to be issued in June or August.

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com .

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