Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Education

Battle to reduce number of out-of-field teachers continues

It's a push-pull situation for schools each year. They want to fill classrooms with permanent teachers, not substitutes, yet it can often be difficult to find educators to fill the specific needs.

That can result in schools hiring highly qualified instructors who might not be certified to teach the subjects to which they are assigned. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas with the most out-of-field teachers usually coincide with the state's annual list of critical shortage areas.

The Pasco County School District offers no exception.

Its list of out-of-field teachers, which appeared on the School Board's agenda for Tuesday, shows 155 of the district's approximately 5,000 teachers teaching courses for which they are still pursuing certification. That does not include those who do not have required English for Speakers of Other Languages endorsements.

Of the 155 teachers, nearly one in five — 17 percent— are for special education, with another 12 percent teaching gifted courses. The subjects spanned a broad spectrum, including math, Spanish, biology and physical education.

The district has changed its hiring practices, leading to a lower level of vacancies than in the past. It currently lists fewer than 50 full-time teaching posts. But the effort is ongoing, as the goal remains to fill every classroom with a full-time certified teacher.

PAY RAISES: In a year where no money was thought to be coming for pay raises, Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning recently announced that $3.3 million could be cobbled together for salary additions.

But how exactly would that money, which has been equated to raises of about 1 percent, be spread around? That remains subject to contract negotiations.

Browning said he wanted to take into account the bonuses that teachers will get from the state through HB 7069 when considering the issue. Although they don't count toward state pensions, the one-time payments will boost teachers' paychecks for the year.

Other staff employees were not similarly recognized by lawmakers in HB 7069, Browning observed.

"I want to make sure all district staff see some sort of raise," he said.

Leaders of the United School Employees of Pasco have advocated for more than a year to use carryover funds, which materialize fairly regularly each year, to bolster employee pay.

"It looks like some of that money is now available," USEP operations director Jim Ciadella said.

Ciadella said he anticipated the discussions on how to divvy up the funds "will be the interesting part of the negotiations." He said he hopes the sides can reach an agreement by the end of October, so they can move on to other issues.

A year ago, Browning and the School Board created hard feelings by authorizing pay hikes for non-bargaining workers while teachers and school-related personnel covered by collective bargaining hit an impasse. They did not arrive at a finished agreement until spring.

RECOGNITION FUNDS: About half of Pasco County schools have received word that they will be getting $100 per student from the state in recognition of their students' 2016-17 test results.

Forty-three district schools, six charter schools and the county's virtual school franchise will get the funds, totaling $3.63 million.

The schools' staffs and advisory committees, which include parents, must create plans for the money. It can go toward employee bonuses, school equipment and materials, and temporary staffing.

If the schools do not adopt a plan by Feb. 1, state law requires that all of the money be divided among current-year teachers.

The program to reward campuses with high scores or strong gains was devised during the Jeb Bush era. It has often proven controversial at both the school level — where competing ideas have led to sometimes heated disputes — and the state level, where some education groups have pushed to insert the money into general education spending rather than as a special pot for certain schools.

In the majority of cases, schools end up distributing the bulk of the money among all staffers, not just teachers, as bonuses. They often use a smaller portion for supplies.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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