TAMPA — As part of a $1 million reorganization, the Hillsborough County School District will hire a charter schools director, a new position.
"We currently have 42 charter schools, and that's not the last one," assistant superintendent Lewis Brinson told the School Board on Tuesday. "It's continuing to grow, and we just feel that we need to give some additional support in that division."
The job, which will pay $76,000 a year, is one of many the board approved in overhauling nine of its divisions. After holding tight on spending in recent years, the district also is hiring people who will pay close attention to student behavior on the school bus and examine trends in student discipline.
The changes, contained in a stack of documents several inches thick that landed Monday on the board's online agenda, elicited questions from some board members who said they would have liked more time to study and discuss them.
"I was very concerned that we were saying we had an uptick in revenue this year, let's go ahead and spend some money," said member Stacy White. But he was reassured that most of the new jobs would be "in the trenches" and not in upper management.
The plan passed unanimously.
Like the state, the district is seeing growth in charter schools, which are tax-funded but independently operated. Charter enrollment in Hillsborough rose to 11,383 in September 2012, up from 9,255 a year earlier.
The impact on traditional schools varies widely. A district report shows that Eisenhower Middle lost 240 to charters last year. McLane Middle lost 212. And Forest Hills Elementary lost 116.
Also Tuesday, the board heard from four parents who are concerned about services to disabled students and from educators who defended their school.
The parents included Tonya Whitlock, who is new to the area and has a son with cerebral palsy at Bloomingdale High School.
"I can't imagine, as a 5-year-old, stifling him into a classroom and saying, 'I don't believe in your potential,' " she said. Her son, Tres, then addressed the board, speaking through an adaptive device.
"I want people like you to stop judging me," he said. "The fear of being judged by your appearance is one of the worst feelings a person can ever have. You start to dislike life."
Parents have been meeting in recent months to compare experiences with the district's exceptional-student education staff. Some created Facebook pages in support of their children.
They spoke Tuesday in favor of inclusion, a principle in ESE that holds children are most successful when placed in classrooms with their typical peers.
The parents were directed to meet outside the boardroom with assistant superintendent George Gaffney, who later said he does not believe the district discourages inclusion.
Near the end of the meeting, the board heard from three employees at Grady Elementary, one of the schools the parents discussed.
ESE specialist Margarita Baxter said, "Grady embraces students of all abilities, and I am truly blessed to be part of their family."
Principal Kristine Dosal said her own daughter was enrolled in a class for physically impaired students at Grady. "I can't tell you what a fabulous school Grady was, and that was before I was even on the track to become a principal," she said. "They took wonderful care of her. They followed the IEP (individual education plan) to a tee."
Maryann Parks, the district's general director of ESE, said she is willing to meet with parents, who are part of the IEP process.
"I don't think we are moving away from inclusion," she said. "But I am pulling the data together and we will evaluate it."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]