TAMPA — Joining other school districts across the state, the Hillsborough County School Board voted Tuesday to oppose a state Constitutional amendment that would allow public funds to support religious organizations.
Critics see Amendment 8, one of 11 on the Nov. 6 ballot, as something that would result in tax dollars leaving the public school system and finding their way to private schools.
The vote was 5-1 to oppose that amendment and three others, with member Stacy White voting no. Member Jack Lamb was not at the meeting.
The board also approved contracts with teachers, bus drivers and other school employees. The district's two unions ratified the contracts by votes of about 98 percent, said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
Eligible teachers will advance by one pay level, and the pay amounts in those levels will increase by 1.5 percent. Support workers will advance by two levels.
Having both increases at once is unusual, Baxter-Jenkins said. It has been two years since teachers had any kind of pay increase.
It also comes at a time when many districts are struggling with budget shortfalls and layoffs.
"This School Board and administration and teacher's union work hard to make things function well in this district," said Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
In a discussion about the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers project, district and union officials acknowledged the program has changed substantially since it was first proposed in 2009.
Among the key changes: Officials initially predicted they would fire 5 percent of all teachers each year for poor performance.
As it turned out, said David Steele, the project director, the 18 teachers up for termination amount to just a fraction of 1 percent.
District officials have consistently described EET as an experiment and a work in progress. The early projection of firing 5 percent came from research that was later disproven, Steele said. The number of teachers in the middle range of proficiency was far greater than they had expected, he added.
Acknowledging that teacher morale has suffered, member April Griffin said it is important to keep in mind that state law now mandates data-driven evaluations in all districts.
"We know that it's not perfect, but we're working on making it as good as it can be," she said.
White, who has criticized EET harshly in the past, said, "I think we need to look at EET with a critical eye and subject to a state of continuous improvement."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.