Much ado about MOSI
Every once in a while, a public agency spends a lot of time on an issue that makes you wonder why. The other night, the Pasco County School Board did that. It's an issue about field trips, drug awareness, timely communication and, maybe, politics. The information has been gathering in our notes and e-mails for a couple of weeks, as people involved have grown quite agitated about what might happen next. The details follow. Let us know what you think the real story is.
Ever since September, representatives from the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa have angled to have Pasco students visit the museum's Target America exhibit about "the costs and consequences of drugs."
The museum had grants to transport students free. It had curriculum guides to tie into the Sunshine State standards. MOSI trustee Bill Tingley, an officer with the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, also had a passion to get as many Pasco kids in as possible.
"We have more pill deaths than any other county in Florida," Tingley told the Gradebook. "The number of addicted newborns in Pasco doubled in one year. ... It's a rampant problem here. ... I really believe this exhibit can make a difference."
As February rolled around, and just over 1,500 of Pasco's 67,000 students had attended, Tingley grew frustrated. The museum's transportation grant was spent, and, Tingley said, he still had no commitment from Pasco officials despite asking over and again. On Tuesday, he turned to the School Board for an intervention.
"I just felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere," he told the board. "I really need your help."
In most instances, such public comments are limited to three minutes, usually without a response. The district, after all, has plenty of groups seeking attention and support. But this time, the School Board took up nearly a half an hour to talk about what it perceived as a problem. And it wasn't about whether students were going to MOSI in record numbers, although members did express their support for the exhibit and its lessons.
"I apologize that you haven’t been able to get an answer since September of 2011," chairwoman Joanne Hurley told Tingley. "That’s a long time."
Too long, board member Allen Altman said after the meeting.
"I fully understand and appreciate the fact that the district gets multiple requests for our students to attend and visit things they do not have time to accommodate," Altman said. "But they owe someone the courtesy of a response."
He called this instance "another glaring example of the issues that were raised by the majority of administrators" in a recent outside study "about the lack of ability to get answers" from the district office. "It's embarassing to me when a prominent, concerned citizen tries for months very diplomatically, very patiently to get an answer."
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, at whom the barbs were directed, said her staff had been working on the matter since the fall. Principals were told the MOSI exhibit was an approved field trip back in October, both assistant superintendent Dave Scanga and middle schools executive director Beth Brown said.
Schools' focus was on preparing for the curriculum that's tested on the FCAT, though, Brown said. "When we take kids out of the school day … we make sure it’s tied to a very strong curriculum." Many school principals chose not to take the MOSI trip, which also included an $8 per student entry fee, she said.
Board members remained dissatisfied. They wanted more students to go to the museum, though they stopped short of mandating the trip when Fiorentino pointedly asked if that was their desire.
"We’re just frustrated," board member Alison Crumbley said. "Hillsborough has sent more than 12,000 students through, and we haven't been able to do this. This is a pet issue of mine."
After more conversation, they arrived at a point where the district would work with MOSI officials to make buses available and find money to get more children through the exhibit after FCAT testing ends in April.
"I feel that we made significant progress," Tingley said in an e-mail to several leaders two days later, adding that he has begun a fund raising effort.