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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough exemption to tenure bill passes Senate



TAMPA -- As the bill that would overturn Florida's teacher tenure system moves toward reality, at least one school district is breathing a bit easier.

An amendment approved today on the Senate floor would provide an exemption of sorts for "any school district that received a grant of at least $75 million from a private foundation for the purpose of improving the effectiveness of teachers."

That's a clear reference to Hillsborough County, which this winter won a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to do just that.

Connie Milito, the district's government relations officer, said the amendment -- introduced by Republican senators John Thrasher of St. Augustine and Victor Crist of Tampa -- allows Hillsborough to continue implementing its Gates reforms.

"It allows Hillsborough to use the provisions of their grant rather than the provisions of the bill, because we’ve already started," she said.

That means Hillsborough could count student performance on the FCAT or course exams as just 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation, rather than the 50 percent mandated under the new bill. It would also preserve the district's plans to develop its own performance pay and teacher evaluation systems, she said.

Districts would have to submit an annual progress report to the state Board of Education to maintain the exemption.

One might expect that the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association would also be pleased to have dodged the tenure reform bullet.

But executive director Nick Whitman said the union's feelings are mixed at best, since the Senate bill essentially imposes reforms on other counties that his union agreed to phase in over seven years in Hillsborough. That puts his union on the leading edge of reforms that most other Florida unions oppose.

"It certainly makes us the ugly cousin or the redheaded stepchild," Whitman said. "We believe the Hillsborough model, where you do something collaboratively, is the way to go about it. Not to do it top-down. Everyone else will essentially be stripped of the opportunity to do that."

The bill, SB 6,is expected to gain approval tomorrow in the full Senate and move on to the state House of Representatives, which has agreed to retain Hillsborough's exemption, Milito said.

"They’re all very supportive of it, too," she added.

-- Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:54am]


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