School vision irks board

Some members say they should have been included in the district's plan.

Published May 1, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - Several members of the Pasco County School Board are upset that school officials drafted a strategic plan for the future without consulting them first.

"Did I miss something? Did any of you know this was going on?" vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said when she was told of the plan at the last School Board meeting. "I just feel a little disconnected from this."

It started while the district was preparing for accreditation in the fall and officials decided that the school system needed a better way to plan for the future as a large and growing organization.

It seemed natural to begin crafting a set of goals and priorities and putting a formal plan into play.

But when superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her top lieutenants presented the draft of "Pasco Vision: A Community of Connected Schools" during last week's meeting, some board members were less than thrilled.

Starkey said later that she was "surprised and dismayed" staff members did not include the board in the plan - the board should drive the policy and not rubber stamp it. "A lot of this stuff needs to start with us, because we represent the people."

Chairwoman Marge Whaley called the presented material "junk."

"Until it has these three parts - board involvement in writing it and acceptance by the board, measurable objectives, and annual review ... it is worthless, " said Whaley, who has pushed for an outcomes-based plan for about a decade.

Board member Allen Altman said he was aware of the new direction the district vision committee was taking, though he wasn't sure how, and he had recommended some community members to serve on subcommittees.

But he also had some concerns about the way the administration seemed to set priorities and seek input afterward, particularly when it comes to budgeting. Though a long-standing practice over several years, Altman said it had to stop.

"Since it is so very obvious that the School Board has very little control over a small pot of money, because a majority of the budget is dealt with through federal and state mandates, what is left should reflect the policies and priorities of the board, " Altman said.

Things look headed in that direction, he said. But it will take time, "because historically that has not been the case."

Of those who attended the meeting, only board member Frank Parker didn't share the concerns. He sits on the vision committee, "so I don't feel that way at all." He contended the district needs to hear from the community and the staff, which comprise much of the committee and subcommittees, and until that happens, the board really can't act knowledgeably, anyway.

"I don't think the plan will move until the board moves it, " Parker added.

Fiorentino was away on family business and referred questions to her staff. Assistant superintendent Sandy Ramos shared Parker's view.

"I would take exception to the idea that they haven't had any say-so. They have to approve things every step of the way, " Ramos said. "Board members are on every single committee we have."

Not only that, but the administration plans to have several workshops with the board and to make presentations to the general public, said Dave Scanga, director of research and evaluation, who oversees the process.

The administration acknowledges the board's role, and that's why it brought the discussion of the strategic plan forward during the priorities workshop. Ramos added: "We want to be inclusive. We definitely know that it is their responsibility to set the projects and the priorities. ... I am not aware that they have been unhappy with that."

But at least some of them have been.

"The School Board needs to be more involved, " Starkey said. "The School Board should be driving the engine and the staff should be implementing it."

Added Whaley: "I feel pretty disenfranchised."

Parker noted that the board is going to a retreat later this week to talk about its role and its interaction with top leaders.

"Hopefully this seminar we're attending this week will get us on the same page, " he said.

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.