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Gates reforms get aired in Hillsborough contract talks



TAMPA -- It was bound to come up sooner or later.

Eight months after the Hillsborough County school district won a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design a new evaluation and merit pay system, the topic has finally landed on the teachers' union bargaining table.

On Wednesday negotiators from the district and Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association held their first, tentative discussions about elements of the Gates reforms that might require contract changes.

"There will definitely be things we need to negotiate," said Buddy Raburn, the district's chief negotiator. "You’ll have to be evaluating some of your peers, but we don’t have anything in the contract on that."

Much of Wednesday's conversation focused on the addition of those 120 peer evaluators and mentors, who will be responsible for rating and supporting every teacher in the district beginning this fall.

Union director Nick Whitman asked for clarity on which jobs those peer evaluators will return to, once their two- or three-year sting in the Gates-funded position has ended. Would they be able to return to their exact building and teaching load?

"You’d be hard pressed to say, 'I’ll be going back to Franklin Middle School, good old room 7," said deputy superintendent Dan Valdez, who oversees human resources. "I can’t guarantee that."

But he and Raburn agreed that peer evaluators could pick up old responsibilities like department head, and teach the same courses if they were available.

More head-scratching ensued when the union asked about teacher planning time. It's a perennial bone of contention in contract talks, but the Gates reforms add an important wrinkle: teachers will be observed between four and 10 times next year, and each
one of those observations comes with a pre- and post-conference. Union president Jean Clements said teachers might need some extra, paid time so the meetings don't interfere with their teaching or class preparations.

And the district has vowed to look far more carefully at teachers whose evaluations -- based 60 percent on peer and principal evaluations, and 40 percent on student test scores -- fall short. Both sides agreed that the contract would need to include key deadlines, like the one by which teachers must learn if their contracts won't be renewed.

"There’s going to be some teachers who are more needy than others in regards to assistance," Raburn said. "If they're not coming back next year, they need to be told."

Money hasn't actually come up yet in this summer's contract talks; both sides are waiting to hear whether Gov. Charlie Crist will restore around $11 million in school funding that he vetoed in a bill last spring.

But the Gates reforms will require plenty of money-related adjustments to the contract, including pay supplements for the peer evaluators or mentors; creation of a new, merit-based pay scale for new teachers and veterans who choose to participate; and a new system for tuition reimbursement in lieu of higher pay for college degrees.

It's a lot to tackle. But officials on both sides went out of their way Wednesday to keep things cordial.

"We’re as concerned as you are about doing the right thing," Valdez said.

-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 6:54pm]


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