NEW PORT RICHEY — Teacher performance pay, unpopular in most of Florida, gained acceptance nonetheless at the Dayspring Academy charter school.
The school's administration and staff worked out the criteria, and even as the Pasco school district turned away its $3.5-million share of the Merit Award Program, Dayspring claimed its $23,000 slice. Five teachers got awards after the 2006-07 school year.
Now Pasco school district officials are telling the charter school it has to give the money back.
"The state has basically zeroed out that account, which means all of those funds have to be returned," said assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose, who oversees the district's charter schools.
Dayspring leaders aren't making a big stink about the request — yet. They note that the word came only informally, and they're looking for some sort of verification, because they just aren't certain the district is correct.
"The more I talk to them, the more I am convinced ... either they read a memo wrong or ... they paid us out of this year's money when they were supposed to be paying us out of last year's money," said co-founder John Legg, who's also a state representative who helped create the MAP system. "I'm waiting for them to formally notify us. That's when we'll ask the Department of Education what's going on here."
A department spokesman expressed confusion at the district's request, suggesting that perhaps Pasco officials misinterpreted the MAP rules.
"Any allocation of performance pay that isn't used, that money has to come back. It can't be used for anything else," spokesman Tom Butler said. "But if the money is used for an approved performance pay program," it doesn't have to be returned.
Simply put, the state isn't requesting that anyone return the bonuses that districts have paid out.
That's the message being received in Hillsborough schools, too. Hillsborough was the first district in Florida to have an approved MAP plan, and it paid out $10.8-million in performance pay based on teachers' 2006-07 results.
Several Hillsborough district officials said the state had not asked for a refund.
DuBose said Pasco school leaders had the understanding that they had to send back a total amount to the state, and that the MAP amount was included. The district was simply passing along the information to Dayspring.
"What will Dayspring have to do to come up with the amount? I don't know," she said. "But (the state) cut a certain amount, and it's a total amount you've got to give back."
Even without a formal letter, Legg said he's already begun asking around to determine whether his school must pay back the teacher bonuses. He didn't seem to think so, though. And whatever the outcome, he added, the teachers who received the awards will not be asked to return anything.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.