LAND O'LAKES — Representatives from the United School Employees of Pasco sat with superintendent Kurt Browning last week to discuss elementary teachers' complaints of being overburdened with testing, meetings, paperwork and other assignments beyond what their contracts require.
They walked away feeling more comfortable that a solution might be reached without having to appeal former superintendent Heather Fiorentino's rejection of their grievance to the School Board. USEP and the administration have agreed to hold the union's formal appeal of Fiorentino's November ruling in abeyance while they seek common ground.
"He was very open to listen," USEP negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "I think he's going to challenge some of the processes that have been in place. … We hope there is some flexibility on his side."
Ciadella looked to new Duval County schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, as a possible example of how to proceed. Vitti, who recently took over the Duval district, eliminated several district-mandated tests as one of his first acts. He also has called for less time in meetings and more time focusing on student achievement.
"We're hoping that Mr. Browning will look at the bigger picture and do something similar to what Mr. Vitti did," Ciadella said. "That superintendent felt empowered to do what he thought is right, and to my knowledge nobody has challenged him."
Browning told the Tampa Bay Times before his meeting with the USEP that he wants to ease the burden on teachers if possible. He said he would sit with his leadership team to assess requirements coming from the state and federal government, and compare those to what the district imposes itself.
"Teachers need to be able to teach," he said.
Still, Browning cautioned, depending on what he learns, "We might end up in the same place that the former superintendent ended."
Ciadella said the USEP was hoping to get an answer from Browning in the coming week about what the next steps might be.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or @jeffsolochek on Twitter.