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Evaluation format for MaryEllen Elia elicits harsh words from School Board member

TAMPA — While leaving a workshop, a Hillsborough County School Board member used an expletive Tuesday to describe superintendent MaryEllen Elia's stance on how she should be evaluated.

April Griffin told reporters as the meeting was about to end that Elia was "full of s- - -."

Griffin believed the board would have a chance to revise the tool it uses to evaluate superintendents. In the last cycle Griffin gave Elia the lowest possible score, with asterisks indicating she would like to rate her even lower. She said Tuesday the tool is out of date.

When the issue came up at the Sept. 24 board meeting, Elia agreed to consider revising it. But on Tuesday, she told the board she has changed her mind.

"Let me say really, honestly, when we had the conversation and this came up in the board meeting, it was a very, very stressful board meeting. I think I can say that," Elia said. Griffin and board member Susan Valdes had given her scathing reviews, and she had to defend her record before a packed meeting room.

"I am very willing to look at the process that we use," Elia said. "But to be perfectly honest, the process has not been followed by the board in the eight years that I've been a superintendent."

Members seldom turn in evaluations on time, she said. They don't include documentation. And "for the most part, I don't have feedback from the board members, which is all part of the process."

Elia has a three-year contract that pays her more than $270,000 a year and rolls over each year with a one-year extension.

State law no longer allows such contracts, so if Elia got a new one, the terms would be less generous. Board attorney Jim Porter said that changing even the evaluation tool would require Elia's approval.

Griffin, while walking out of the room, said in an aside to reporters: "She agreed with me in private that we needed the workshop. She's full of s- - -."

Elia, reached later, said, "I have not had a meeting with Mrs. Griffin since the board meeting where she and other members excoriated me very publicly and using the tool that she indicated she doesn't like."

But Griffin said the discussions took place months earlier.

Embarrassed by the expletive, Griffin said, "There is a more professional way to say that, and I wish I had done so."

But she said Elia should not have backed out of what she said at the September meeting. "Saying she was under duress is not a reason not to honor what she said she would do," she said. "There's no takesies-backsies."

Both women said they have tried to get along in the eight years they have worked together.

Things began to unravel in late 2012, when Griffin became chairwoman shortly after it was revealed a special-needs student had died months earlier after suffering respiratory failure on a bus.

They were cordial in early 2013. But in July, Griffin took offense at remarks Elia made when she thought her meeting microphone was off. Soon after, Griffin accused the administration of leaking a news story about her advocacy for a tennis player who was deemed ineligible at Plant High School.

Griffin, Stacy White and Candy Olson will all leave the board after the November elections. Seventeen candidates have filed to run for the three open seats.

Earlier, board members discussed the district's transportation needs in order to give direction to School Bus Consultants, a firm they are hiring. The consensus was to ask the firm for an overall assessment of the department as it prepares to spend $3 million on 28 new buses.

Members also hope to address a bus driver shortage — now at 117 — and look for ways to use alternative fuels.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Evaluation format for MaryEllen Elia elicits harsh words from School Board member 01/28/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:05am]

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