Make us your home page


Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Hillsborough's labor-management harmony draws more federal notice



TAMPA --We've written a bit about Hillsborough's national reputation for positive relations between the school district and its teachers union.

Now comes a report from the federal Department of Education that makes the case in detail. The study -- written by Jonathan Eckert, an assistant professor of education at Wheaton College, along with members of the federal Teaching Ambassador Fellows program -- highlights Hillsborough among a dozen school districts that presented at a national conference on labor relations last winter.

For those who have followed the district's recent reform efforts with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report breaks little new ground. But there are a few interesting tidbits.

According to the report, the new peer evaluation system unveiled in Hillsborough this year has been popular. Responding to in-house surveys, teachers responded positively "96 to 99 percent of the time" on questions about their peer evaluators' professionalism, respect, timely feedback and communication.

And the district has taken strong action against teachers found to be dumbing down pre-tests in order to improve their chances of doing well in value-added or performance pay systems that rely on test scores. "The district has already dealt with some teachers who have manipulated this system by declaring them ineligible for a bonus, requiring them to pay back money, or firing them," the report says. "However, there is concern that as pressure increases, these practices will further confound the validity of the measures."

The report goes on to cite this St. Petersburg Times story as evidence of "concern that a paper-pencil test of art, music, and PE may not be a robust enough measure of all that those subjects entail."

It's not always easy, but deputy superintendent Dan Valdez was quoted as saying that the district and union have shown a commitment to keeping the lines of communication open. Don't call it negotiating, but he says they talk every day.

"They hold our feet to the fire; conversely, we’ll do the same for them," Valdez says in the report. "Sometimes, I will get a call, ‘did you think this through carefully?’ That probably means we didn’t. This is never a negative."

The researchers say it will be a challenge for fatigued district officials to maintain their momentum during the seven-year reform process. Communicating honestly will be important, they add, even if the public hears little about those tough conversations happening behind closed doors.

"With all of the positive momentum and media attention, HCPS leaders will have to be deliberate in their attempts to continue be open and honest about conflict," they write. "At a minimum, internal discussion must remain frank and unguarded even if the public image must be polished."

What do you think? Can the district and union hash out their disagreements in full public view? Or is that a recipe for trouble?

[Last modified: Monday, June 20, 2011 5:26pm]


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours