Pinellas board member responds to PTA survey
Remember that survey by the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Pinellas County Council of PTAs that struck a sour note with some school board members? (See the story about it here.)
Board member Linda Lerner raised concerns about it late last month, saying some of the survey questions were misleading. She asked superintendent John Stewart to draft a letter to the foundation about it - he didn't do that, but said he would bring it up in a meeting. Lerner now has written a letter of her own. (Apparently the link to the survey is now broken. You can read the entire survey below. Lerner's letter comes first.)
"Dear PTA Board and Education Foundation Executive Committee Members,
I am only speaking for myself and not on behalf of the School Board concerning the “Parents for Pinellas Students Speak Up” survey sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation and PTA. I believe it is my responsibility to speak up about the facts that impact many complex issues and School Board decisions. Some questions on the survey did not give adequate information with which to make informed and valid responses, and some are worded in a way that could present the District in a negative light.
School Board Attorneys Jim Robinson and David Koperski, Chief Financial Officer Kevin Smith, Director of Strategic Communications Donna Winchester and PCTA President Kim Black provided me with information.
Question 2 states that “parent input was not sought on this issue when early release Wednesday was approved by the School Board in 2009.”
The topic of “early release” Wednesday appears on nearly two dozen School Board agendas beginning May 26, 2009, which means the public has had at least that many opportunities to provide input on the subject. The survey goes on to ask respondents what they would like the School Board to do. I think it is important to note that regardless of what the survey respondents may support, the Board cannot unilaterally change “early release” Wednesday. Any change must be accomplished through the collective bargaining process, which means PCTA must agree to such a change, or change must be imposed through the impasse resolution process. During the past three years I have heard as many teachers and principals favoring the continuation of this practice as those who would like it changed.
Question 3 states “according to the Florida Department of Education, 43% of all Pinellas County employees are traditional classroom teachers. Should Pinellas County Schools place more value on classroom instruction by decreasing money spent on non-classroom operations in order to increase teacher salaries?”
Unfortunately, some survey respondents could interpret this as meaning the District doesn’t value classroom instruction. The reality is that the District spends 65.33 percent of its budget on direct instruction and less than 35 percent on other District expenses.
Question 4 asks “is Pinellas County Schools doing enough to reward high-performing teachers?”
The survey ignores the massive changes to Florida law brought about by the enactment of the Student Success Act, which requires school boards to implement a performance based teacher salary schedule by the 2013-14 school year. Pinellas County Schools was actively engaged in the process of implementing a new appraisal system countywide during the 2010-11 school year. The District had worked diligently gathering research and working with stakeholders to ensure that we had an effective and appropriate measuring tool, only to have to redevelop the evaluation based on Tallahassee mandates. As we start the 2012-13 school year, we have been unable to complete our teacher appraisal as the State has yet to release the Value Added Model scores for the 2011-12 school year.
Without providing any background or factual information in question 4, how would respondents be able to provide informed responses?
Question 7 states that “Pinellas County Schools spends $8 million more on transportation than the State of Florida mandate of $24 million for the District. Most of this 8 million is to bus students attending elective schools outside their zoned area. Who should pay for transportation for students whose parents choose to send them to a school outside their zoned area?”
The Board is obligated by law to offer choice to students who are attending some high-poverty schools with large numbers of low performing students, and must provide these students with transportation. The Board is also committed to providing choice opportunities including the Academies of Pinellas, and to promote diversity within the student population. This commitment was underscored in the Bradley desegregation case, most recently manifested in the four Memoranda of Understanding signed by the Board and the Plaintiffs’ counsel over the last several years. Many families are dependent on arterial bus transportation in order to take advantage of educational choice opportunities. To deny transportation to these students is to deny them to the educational choice which they are entitled by law, or upon they are dependent to achieve educational goals.
All of which leads to Question 8, which asks “in the situation with students on the free-or-reduced lunch program whose parents choose to send them to a school outside their zoned area, who should pay for these students’ transportation?”
Again, school choice transportation is required under certain circumstances designated by law as well as School Board policy and other binding agreements.
I value the active commitment of the PTA and Foundation to the goal of success for all students. It is my hope that the PTA, Foundation and School District will work together for improved communication and collaboration.
And the survey:
1. I work for the Pinellas County School District
2. In the last parent survey conducted in April, the majority of respondents opposed early release Wednesday, which involves Pinellas County schools closing one hour early on every Wednesday to give teachers planning time. Parent input was not sought when early release Wednesday was approved by the School Board in 2009. At this time, what do you want the School Board to do?
3. According to the Florida Dept. of Education, 43% of all Pinellas County School employees are traditional classroom teachers. Should Pinellas County Schools place more value on classroom instruction by decreasing money spent on non-classroom operations in order to increase teacher salaries?
4. Is Pinellas County Schools doing enough to reward high-performing teachers?
5. Is Pinellas County Schools doing enough to remove under-performing teachers?
6. In the school year 2010-2011, nearly 99% of teachers in Pinellas County Public Schools received a performance rating of “satisfactory” or above. Based on your experiences with your child(ren)’s teachers:
7. Currently, Pinellas County Schools spends $8 million more on transportation than the State of Florida mandate of $24 million for the district. Most of this $8 million is to bus students attending elective schools outside their zoned area. Who should pay for transportation for students whose parents choose to send them to a school outside their zoned area?
8. In the situation with students on the free-or-reduced lunch program whose parents choose to send them to a school outside their zoned area, who should pay for these students transportation?
9. Another transportation cost-cutting solution is to adopt a district-wide policy to have fewer bus routes by having middle-school and high-school students ride the same buses. Do you support this solution?
10. Similar to students and schools, should the Pinellas County School Board receive a letter grade (A- F) on their performance from parents and taxpayers?
11. Do you have any comments you would like to share on the topics in this survey?
Do you have any comments you would like to share on the topics in this survey?
12. Please indicate what best describes you:
Please indicate what best describes you: Parent with child(ren) currently in Pinellas County Public Schools
Parent with child(ren) formerly in Pinellas County Public Schools