tampabay.com

Pay program has quick deadline

United School Employees of Pasco doesn't think it could create a new plan in a month.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published March 30, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - The state's revised teacher performance pay program, which Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law Thursday, isn't generating much interest with Pasco County's teachers union.

The new rule gives districts much more flexibility in determining how to offer teacher bonuses. But it gives just a month for districts to submit a plan.

School representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco, which overwhelmingly rejected the last version, don't think they could create an acceptable new plan that quickly.

"I'm not sure if tweaking a plan that was so resoundingly rejected would fly with the teachers," USEP president Lynne Webb said Thursday. "I'm not sure that it would even fly with the School Board."

The board voted in early March not to submit a Special Teachers Are Rewarded plan before the teachers turned it down. That proposal would have given 5 percent bonuses to the top 25 percent of teachers, based on FCAT performance or an end-of-course exam. It also would have had money left for smaller bonuses for the next 25 percent of teachers.

Webb noted that district negotiators suggested areas where the plan might be revamped. They included some areas that teachers wanted, such as eliminating end-of-course exams that no one has seen before.

Other administration ideas were not so palatable, such as their refusal to let teachers opt out if they don't want a bonus.

"I will tell you that the overwhelming consensus ... was the USEP should not revisit STAR or any other performance pay plan this late in the school year," Webb said.

Administration officials say they will at least pursue a new plan and the $3.5-million that the state would contribute to it, even if the union doesn't want to cooperate.

"I really want to get my teachers the money," said assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose.

"The legislature is making changes and we are bound by law to present those to the union," DuBose said. "We'll put it on the table and they can say no and that's fine. But we're going to go through the process."

The School Board has called a special closed meeting for Tuesday to discuss its negotiating strategy. Until superintendent Heather Fiorentino returns from Tallahassee with guidance on the new law, DuBose said, the district has not decided what its recommendation will be.

But Webb came away with the impression that the staff might push for imposing a plan on the teachers if they reject it.

The new law streamlines the system for doing that.

Webb called that idea "laughable." She said since the program no longer includes penalties, such as the loss of lottery money if a district fails to adopt a plan, such a move made no sense.

"I can't even understand why they would even consider trying to impose anything," Webb said.

Board chairwoman Marge Whaley wasn't keen on the idea, either. "I don't want to be put in a position of a parent who says, 'This is good for you, take it,' " Whaley said. "They're not children."

Whaley said the teachers' views would "weigh heavily" on her ultimate decision. She didn't want to rush to judgment, though. Neither did vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, who led the board opposition earlier this month to joining the STAR program.

"I wish everybody would keep an open mind until we have a plan (proposal) in place," Starkey said.

The board is supposed to meet April 24 to talk publicly about performance pay. The union plans to survey teachers before then to show the board their level of support for the concept.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.