LAND O'LAKES —Pat Connolly started the school year with a desktop computer in his Land O'Lakes High School classroom.
Less than a week after classes began, the school swapped that out for a laptop — one he really doesn't prefer — and gave him an equipment checkout form to sign.
The form, required of all teachers who received pieces of district technology, included some wording that fired up many educators like Connolly, his school's building representative to the United School Employees of Pasco.
It says that teachers have financial liability for repairs and replacement costs associated with damage from "improper use" or "negligence." It suggests that employees could purchase private insurance to cover those costs.
What that meant depended on the school where the teachers work, said Connolly, one of several teachers to file a complaint with the district over the form.
Some teachers were told that if their computer battery died, they would have to replace it. Others were informed that if someone trips over the laptop cords and the device falls and breaks, "Guess what? I'm responsible. I have to pay for a new one," Connolly said.
Teachers who declined to sign wouldn't get a computer. But school leaders want teachers to use computers for even the most basic job requirements, such as filing attendance.
"They are setting up a situation where we have to take responsibility beyond what we think is reasonable, for equipment they should be providing," Connolly said. He likened the situation to requiring school bus drivers to use personal auto insurance when they drive the buses.
District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said the form is really nothing new. It's simply a revision of an old form, she said, rewritten to cover equipment beyond computers, such as laptops and iPads.
It helps the district maintain an inventory database, she said, and it's not out of the ordinary.
The USEP disagrees.
In addition to the concerns about responsibility, the employee association has filed a grievance stating that the form represents a contract with individual workers.
"That's all negotiable," USEP president Lynne Webb said. "I do not have a problem with the district wanting to have some tight controls over inventory. But this goes too far."
Romagnoli said the district administration has received the USEP complaint and is working to resolve the concerns.
Already, Connolly said, he has heard talk of the district backing down from some of the statements it has made.
Still, he noted, the district has only made "clarifying verbal statements."
"They are backtracking verbally from what it says on the paper," he said. "But they are asking us to sign the piece of paper."
He said those who have complained are hoping to get that document changed.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.