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Schools

School Board rejects STAR plan

Pasco is the latest county to turn down the state's teacher performance pay plan.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published March 1, 2007


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LAND O'LAKES - Keep the money.

That's the message the Pasco County School Board sent on Special Teachers Are Rewarded, the state's controversial teacher performance pay plan. The board rejected the plan - and the $3.5-million Pasco would have received to give bonuses to 25 percent of teachers - on a 3-2 vote Wednesday night.

"Other districts had the guts to stand up," said Vice Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, noting that Pinellas County rejected the plan Tuesday. "We need to stand with them."

Board member Allen Altman called the plan "despicable," but noted that the district could be on the hook for almost $10.5-million if it rejected the plan. That's the state bonus money and Lottery funds that could be forfeited now that Pasco doesn't have a performance pay plan, plus the amount it would have to spend to create its own plan.

The financial implications also concerned board member Frank Parker and district staff.

But Starkey countered that money isn't everything. She was emboldened by a conversation with Senate education chairman Don Gaetz, who urged rejection to empower lawmakers to implement something better.

"I understand the financial situation that we possibly face is very real," Starkey said. "I've got a really hard time pinching my nose and voting for this knowing it's bad."

Board members Cathi Martin and Marge Whaley agreed. Martin worried about the loss of local control to the state mandate. Whaley said she was conflicted, but did not think the lawmakers would make the risk of funding loss a reality.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino criticized the ever-changing rules as flawed. But with concerns over the budget looming - an enrollment shortfall could cost the district almost $5-million - Fiorentino recommended that the district adopt the plan under protest.

The teachers will still vote on the plan today, even though the board's decision killed it.

Even with the negotiators' best efforts, representatives from the county's 67 schools found nothing in the plan to commend it. They unanimously urged the membership to turn down the agreement.

"The STAR requirements laid out by the DOE are untenable due to its top-down design, hasty implementation, lack of validity, overreliance on FCAT-type tests to measure student achievement, and the artificial quotas that they put in," union president Lynne Webb said.

Pasco is not alone: Eight other counties, including Pinellas and Broward, have decided not to participate.

Their complaints? Many teachers have not seen the end-of-course exams that will be used to measure their performance, for one. In Pasco, teachers couldn't even win a concession that the exams would affect their students' grades, raising concerns that the students would not try.

Some also griped that the cap on bonuses at 25 percent of teachers was arbitrary.

Last week, the chairmen of the House and Senate education committees signaled their intent to redraft the law, one of Gov. Jeb Bush's final education reforms before leaving office.

"The Department of Education has in effect created the conundrum that teachers and principals and school boards find themselves in," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4614.

[Last modified March 1, 2007, 07:14:59]


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