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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas ed foundation: early workshop could hurt cost-savings project

1

September

To hold a workshop with the Pinellas school board about the Pinellas Education Foundation's cost-savings project while the project is in its early stages "could jeopardize the accuracy and objectivity of the process," foundation chairman Craig Sher said in an email to board members yesterday. Sher also took exception to concerns raised by some members and board attorney Jim Robinson about the foundation's plan to meet with members 1-on-1.

Here's Sher's email in full, followed by Robinson's original email to board members:

In response to Mr. Robinson's concern in his e-mail below regarding our cost savings program and the Sunshine Law, we would like to offer the following:

During our Foundation board retreat this past May, which was attended by Mr. Robinson and five of the school board members, the discussion to hire a consultant by the Foundation to coordinate the efforts of the foundation and community members to suggest cost saving measures in the district was reported and met with zero resistance. In fact, it was supported with positive input from school board members and administrators. After all, we are all focused on ways we can inject our classrooms with more funds.

The intention of this project is to provide a report to the district identifying savings opportunities that could protect teacher positions and support our classrooms. Unfortunately, the district will again be faced with the burden of cutting another $20 million from the budget. This is an opportunity that the school board should openly embrace because respected experts in the business community are volunteering at no cost to taxpayers.

However, it has been suggested that the Foundation meet with the school board as a group rather than individually because there may be a possible violation of the Sunshine Law. We have every right - as taxpayers, members of the community, parents and business leaders to have discussions with individual members of the Board. At the time research and input is complete and there is a request for consideration on a recommendation, a meeting with the full board will be appropriate and pursued.

This project needs to be objective and independent so having workshops during the initial input phase could jeopardize the accuracy and objectivity of the process.  When we complete the study, to alleviate Mr. Robinson's concern for the Sunshine law, we will error on the side of full disclosure and be very public with the report.

We are more than happy to meet with the entire school board if they desire. But if there are board members who would like to discuss the process, they should keep their appointments we scheduled as allowed by the law. We have already had discussions with some of the board members, and it has not been an issue.

Craig Sher
Chairman, Pinellas Education Foundation

And here is Robinson's original email, sent early Tuesday morning:

Members,

I was unaware, as were some of you, of the proposed partnership with the Foundation to discuss and report the possible cost saving and/or revenue measures "for consideration now and in the future..."  No doubt you welcome the input and support of the business community and your long-standing partners  at the Foundation.  My advice to you is that all Board member discussions with Foundation representatives regarding this initiative occur in the context of a duly noticed workshop setting, and not in individual Board member meetings.  It is the entire decision-making process, the how and why officials decide to act, which the Sunshine Law is intended to cover.

Please let me know if you have any question, comment or concern regarding this matter.

Jim

[Last modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 10:02am]

    

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