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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Ed foundation slammed for role in contract talks

The Pinellas Education Foundation's take on the contract between the school district and teachers union - and its real or perceived role in shaping a new one - isn't going over too well in some quarters.

Pinellas school board attorney Jim Robinson sent an email to board members last night, saying "the active approach the Foundation is taking in the collective bargaining process is problematic." Meanwhile, board member Janet Clark told The Gradebook today that the foundation is crossing the line when it sends a business consultant to offer bargaining advice to top administration officials and board members.

"They shouldn't be involved at all," said Clark, who has clashed with the foundation in the past. "I just don't think that they're going in the same direction that the board feels education should be going. I think they want to be a mini Gates Foundation. I think they want to be the Pinellas Gates Foundation."

The blowback comes after two recent events - a May 13 retreat for the foundation board of directors and a Monday meeting between top foundation officials and the St. Petersburg Times editorial board. At the former, foundation members crafted recommendations on a suite of issues, including a critique of the contract between the district and the teachers union, which is set to be revised. At the latter, foundation chairman Craig Sher said the foundation has sent a consultant/expert to meet with Superintendent Julie Janssen and board members and "help advise the district in contract negotiations." He also cited what he saw as flaws in the contract and suggested the district has not been as effective as the union in negotiating a contract in its favor.

Robinson cited The Gradebook post on Sher's comments in his email to board members.

"When I spoke with Foundation representatives concerning how they intended to assist you in collective bargaining, they said they would work in the background as a source of expertise in advising on revisions to the contract language," Robinson wrote. "What occurred at the retreat was something quite different, as was the presentation just made to the Times editorial board."

"Based upon the Foundation retreat and the report of the conversation with the editorial board, the original role the Foundation was to play has expanded greatly," he also wrote. "I do not know that this is your desire or intent. I recommend you define the role of the Foundation in this process."

Click on the link below to see Robinson's comments in full.

Robinson also sent a second email to board members, responding to Sher's comment about the district's negotiating prowess.

"The Foundation lacks the knowledge and expertise in public sector bargaining to judge whether the District's representatives are as professional or as good as those of the Association," he wrote in the second email. "I am confident the Board is well-represented at the bargaining table by either Mr. Swartzel or Dr. Ciranna, both of whom are most competent, most professional, and very good at what they do."

Clark said she received emails from the consultant but did not meet with him.

"They want us to treat our employees the way they treat their employees," she said of the foundation. "We're partners with our employees. We have a common goal. And I don't think they understand that."

Asked about the foundation's motivation, Clark said agenda is only part of it.

"It's ego," she said. "It's all ego."

The Gradebook wanted to get the union's take on the foundation's words and actions. But Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, deferred questions to president Kim Black, who could not be reached for comment.


[Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 5:16pm]


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