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School chief gets uneven reviews from board
Members rank the superintendent from poor to nearly perfect.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 22, 2007
TAMPA - Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia received some glowing kudos and a few scathing critiques Tuesday from her bosses.
A split among School Board members over her annual evaluation concerned even those who rated her highly.
Two of the seven elected officials, April Griffin and Susan Valdes, gave Elia sharply contrasting low to average marks.
Overall, the School Board judged Elia's performance "above satisfactory" at the end of her second year as the chief of the nation's eighth-largest district.
By contract, she received a $16,413 raise, an increase of about 7 percent, based on the salary boost for teachers. Her base salary now is $252,913. Elia also got a one-year extension on her contract, ending in 2010.
"Five board members thought I've done an outstanding job," Elia said, noting her disappointment at the other two reviews. "I always look at evaluations as an opportunity to learn."
She received her most harsh criticism from Griffin, the newest board member, elected last year in a narrowly decided countywide race.
"MaryEllen tends to promote her own vision and those of her closest advisors at the expense of the Board and her employees," Griffin wrote of the superintendent's organizational management.
Across the board, Elia received her lowest scores in communications and community relations. Griffin gave her a one on a five-point scale, citing controversies over a plan to increase the workload for high school teachers and the school calendar.
Valdes rated her a two in the area. "I think morale is low throughout the district," she said. "There's room for improvement."
From all board members, Elia received her highest reviews in instructional leadership, earning 32 out of 35 available points.
"Mrs. Elia is being recognized across the nation as an up and coming leader in education," wrote board member Carol Kurdell.
Board member Jennifer Faliero gave Elia the highest marks, a near-perfect evaluation. Under areas of improvement, she wrote: "Communications with Board on long-term goals. Get some rest."
Each member reviewed the superintendent independently. They discussed the results briefly on Tuesday night.
Some were surprised to learn that the group had such opposing views of the school's chief.
"It boggles my mind," board member Candy Olson said. "A district this successful doesn't get that way without competent leadership."
Olson, who asked to discuss School Board vision at an upcoming workshop, gave the superintendent strong marks. Still, she pointedly noted the need to recognize "that the incessant emphasis on the FCAT is leading to fatigue and demoralization in many places."
On top of the salary set Tuesday, Elia can earn performance pay based on a variety of student measures. Last year, the bonus totaled more than $48,000.
Elia's leadership in paying her employees received praise from union leaders Tuesday night, when their raises also were approved. Most teachers were slated for about an 8 percent increase, some of which is designed to compensate for time added to their workday.
Bus drivers, custodians and other blue-collar employees saw 6 percent hikes. School administrators took home 5.5 percent raises, although that excluded the superintendent's top officers.
In other business, the School Board promoted Shirley Harvey from assistant principal to principal of Gary Adult High School.
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.