Decision awaits on rules for students who finish state tests early

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Last spring, several Pasco County parents and one School Board member urged the district administration to reconsider the rules for students who finish their state tests early. Their key request was to allow children to quietly read after they turn in their testing materials, as state law permits.

District procedure had been to not collect the tests until the full period ended. But superintendent Kurt Browning told the board eight months ago he would convene a committee to review this issue and others associated with testing, to ensure fair and consistent rules for all schools.

The Florida Standards Assessments begin in late February. And the school district has yet to make any decisions.

The question about reading in the test room has two distinct factors, Browning said.

On one hand, he said, students should not feel rushed to complete their exams, or be disturbed by others who finish early and rustle pages of a book. On the other, children who are done faster should not have to waste time sitting and staring at walls.

"I hope to have some guidance on that after we return from Christmas break," Browning said.

PAY RAISES: About 1,000 Pasco County School District staffers who are not represented by the United School Employees of Pasco won 2.65 percent raises, while union contract talks continued despite a declaration of impasse.

School Board members unanimously approved the increase, which they included in the budget and also offered to teachers and school-related personnel during contract talks.

"I just want to make sure the board knows this and the public knows; this is something out of the ordinary," Browning said in presenting his recommendation to the board. "What has driven this is that USEP has gone to impasse, and I'm not necessarily willing to hold up raises of people" who are not in negotiations.

Before the vote, board member Colleen Beaudoin indicated she had concerns about the offer.

"I am concerned about providing raises to them before issuing raises to those who have direct contact with children every day," Beaudoin said. "I am concerned about the morale of teachers."

Her colleagues said they shared her view, but did not want to penalize employees who weren't holding up negotiations.

"There is no reason to withhold something from someone who has no control over it," board member Steve Luikart said.

Beaudoin joined the majority to approve the raises, which apply to administrators, professional services staffers and some secretaries. The superintendent's cabinet of assistant superintendents will not get the pay hikes.

USEP president Kenny Blankenship rose afterward to deplore the action. He said the district was equally culpable with the union in the delay in contract talks.

The sides have met since, but are still selecting a mediator to help guide them to a resolution of their differences on pay, job protections and other issues.

GRADUATION RATES: High schools' preliminary 2015-16 graduation rates came out in early December, and they didn't look great for most of Pasco County.

Just four of the county's 13 high schools and one virtual program — Anclote, Gulf, Ridgewood and Zephyrhills — improved. Ridgewood experienced the greatest rise, 10.5 percentage points to 73.8 percent, pushing it from worst a year earlier to 10th in the district.

The other schools saw declines ranging from 1.9 points (Hudson) to 5.5 points (Pasco). Wiregrass Ranch and Land O'Lakes high schools continued to have the district's top graduation rates among traditional high schools, but each dropped below 90 percent, according to district records.

Pasco eSchool, which had three dozen full-time seniors, logged in with a 95.2 percent graduation rate, down slightly.

"As you can imagine, this data does not please me at all," Browning told principals in an email asking for a close review of the details for errors. "I find it hard to believe that we have 1.3 percent fewer graduates this year than last year, with your individual school numbers being even greater than that."

The numbers might be revised.

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

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