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War of words continues about Pinellas survey



Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner sent an email last week to the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Pinellas County Council of PTAs, expressing her concern about what she felt were misleading questions in a public survey done by the two organizations. Lerner had previously brought up the issue during a board workshop - and a few other board members agreed that parts of the survey were misleading.

Well, now the PTA has fired back with its own email to defend the survey. Read it below:

"Dear Dr. Stewart and School Board Members,

As the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the country, PTA has a commitment to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.  Pinellas County Council PTA/PTSA has a rich history of working with the school district administration, school board, parents, teachers, and other community partners, to ensure that all children are provided with the best possible educational experience.

A child’s education is personal for the parents and families.  For this reason, it is important to consider their opinions regarding educational issues.  As taxpayers and stakeholders, our community members are entitled to ask the tough questions and expect accountability from the school district, including teachers, staff, administration, school district staff, the superintendent, and the school board. 

It is understandable that not everyone appreciates or approves of the questions that are posed in the Parents for Pinellas Students surveys.  While P4PS is a collaborative effort between Pinellas County Council PTA/PTSA and the Pinellas Education Foundation, stakeholders from various areas of the community sit on the P4PS committee.  Additionally, parents, other taxpayers and community members, and even school board members have given input to determine survey questions.  And since survey questions are geared around educational hot topics, it is expected that some feathers are ruffled or some people are unhappy with the questions and/or responses.

While Ms. Lerner has brought up points about legalities, the collective bargaining process, and what teachers and administration want as opposed to what parents want, you must realize that each person has their own perception of the issues and how they are affected by the outcome of school board decisions.  It’s important to note that everyone’s perception is their reality.  The fact is that many parents in Pinellas County feel disenfranchised by the school board because their opinions do not appear to be held in as high regard as the opinions, wants, or needs of others.    

Case in point is early release Wednesday, which has been a hot button since it was implemented.  While parents gave input when the school board was originally considering this issue, many parents have the perception that their input and opinion was not given any weight when making the decision.  As you may note from the survey report, while teachers may be in favor of continuing early release Wednesday, parents are largely opposed to it, as they have been from the beginning.  Especially in today’s economy, many families need both parents to work, making the early release day in the middle of the week troublesome at best.  Single-parent families are in the same boat.  Many parents feel that what was best for students and families was sacrificed in order to make inroads in the collective bargaining process. 

Regarding the question about putting more value on classroom instruction, it was not stated that the district doesn’t value classroom instruction.  Rather, it was correctly stated that less than half of the district employees are traditional classroom teachers.  The reality is that our district is considered to be “top-heavy” and parents would like to see more value placed on the classroom where their children are learning on a daily basis.  There are cost-saving measures that could be implemented in several areas that would have a positive impact on the funds available for classroom instruction. 

Ms. Lerner also asks how respondents would be able to provide informed responses regarding rewarding high-performing teachers since no background information was provided in the question.  This speaks again to the perception of the parents and community regarding what is happening in our schools, and to the lines of communication between the district and the community.  What parents and community members understand is that there are high-performing teachers that have been given raises based on seniority as opposed to performance.   We also see some teachers with questionable records that are retained, despite ongoing performance issues, and these teachers continue to receive raises based on longevity instead of performance.  Regardless of what might be in the works or the glitches with implementing something new, this is the reality.

Transportation has been a hot topic for many years now.  And while there may be some legal constraints, the school board itself has many times debated the issue of discontinuing busing for students whose parents chose a school outside of their zone.  So, parents and community members are well aware that transportation is something that can be revised in this manner.  It’s understood that magnet and special programs cannot all be offered at every school, so arterial busing is a necessity.  However, if the same educational standards were met at every school in the district, there would be educational equality and parity for all students without having to travel to other areas for traditional education opportunities. 

 The bottom line is that we understand that the school board has to make tough decisions and that it’s impossible for everyone to be happy with every decision.  PTA supports our students, parents, families, teachers, and community members, and feels that everyone’s opinions are valuable and worth consideration at all times throughout the process of examining issues, making decisions, and in sometimes revisiting those decisions.  Pinellas County Council PTA/PTSA has long had a good relationship with the school board and superintendent, and we look forward to open dialogue regarding continued input from your most important customer of the public education system in our county – the parents and families of our students.

Thank you for your time and your continued commitment to work for the best interests of our students.

Kind regards,

Mary Bartholf


Pinellas County Council PTA/PTSA"

[Last modified: Friday, August 10, 2012 12:18pm]


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