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School policies to be updated
The district has hired a company to help fill in the holes and put the manual online.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published October 2, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - This news won't matter to you until it becomes personal.
Then you'll be glad that the Pasco County School Board is about to completely overhaul its policy manual and put it online.
The policies are the closest thing a school district has to a guiding philosophy, overarching rules and regulations that the administration then turns into workable day-to-day procedures. But for more than a decade, the manual has become more like a patchwork quilt, amended piece by piece when someone finds a hole.
That happened just the other week when district officials found themselves unable to require a teacher, who appeared drunk in a school parking lot, to submit to a drug and alcohol test. No policy, no penalty.
Board members themselves found a glitch in their travel policy when administrators, following the written but vague rules, wanted the board to get approval from its superiors to stay in a convention hotel room that cost more than $55 a night.
Things like this happen more than you might think. That's why board Chairwoman Marge Whaley has pushed so hard to hire a company called Neola to help revamp the policy manual, for a cost of about $89,000.
"We need this so badly," Whaley said, listing a variety of additional examples including unclear field trip rules to uncertainty over who sets the board's meeting agenda. "I see this as one of the most important things that needs to happen."
The board will have its orientation meeting with Neola chief executive Dick Clapp on Wednesday. About 18 months of review and rewriting will follow. Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose characterized the effort as very boring and very tedious, but extremely necessary.
The goal, Clapp said, is to get Pasco's policies updated, clearly written and consistent with state law. Then they'll go onto the Internet, so anyone can search them.
"There are no mysteries going on in the schoolhouse," said Clapp, whose company does similar work with about 900 clients in seven states.
Neola also is starting to update the Pinellas school district policy manual this month, and is set to sign a contract with the Hillsborough School Board as early as this week.
In every instance, Clapp said, the company seeks to ensure that a district's policies reflect what the community needs.
Sue Sifrit, a 13-year member of the Charlotte County School Board, said that's how Neola worked with her district.
"They came in with some generic suggestions, and were willing to work with us to craft policies that were important to us," Sifrit said.
Getting the policies online also helped parents and students to better see and understand what the district was all about, she added. "That has been extremely helpful."
The review can turn up some obsolete policies, or ones that go without saying anymore.
"No doubt, in my mind, we've got some policies we've got to throw in the trash," DuBose said. "I'm sure we're going to find some that will be amusing."
Does the district still have a policy mandating that all kids wear shoes, for instance? It went into effect in 1970, but might not be needed now.
The effort also can point to areas that require guidance where none exists, although Clapp said an initial run-through revealed no gaping holes in Pasco's policies.
Board member Allen Altman said he came to rely on the policy manual immediately after winning election in 2006. He quickly could see areas for improvement. So to his way of thinking, it's about time for this overhaul.
First up will be the governance policies. Then, the district will look at every one of the more than 500 pages, department by department, until the work is done.
Afterward, Neola will continue to update the policy manual as the board requests.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.