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Memos come back to bite school official

LAND O'LAKES — For the second time in a month, the Pasco school district's new communications director is taking heat for failing to accurately communicate employee policy.

Three weeks ago, Maureen Moore, who joined the district in April, sent principals a memo telling them they needed written permission to speak to reporters. That contradicted School Board policy and superintendent Heather Fiorentino's expected practices and was quickly rescinded.

This week, Moore distributed a memo to members of her staff stating, in part, "In the event of an emergency, you are to notify your supervisor immediately of the need to receive or make a personal call." The requirement came as part of a department "guideline" on the use of phones at work.

And like the memo on talking to reporters, this one got yanked by the superintendent's office.

"It is something I've asked her to modify because we don't have the policies" to back it up, assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said Thursday.

Asked if the top brass has concerns about Moore's problematic memos, Reilly said: "It's not my department. ... I was asked to check into it and I made some recommendations."

Veteran School Board member Marge Whaley said she did have some questions about the communication department's activities and about the memo in particular.

"It reminds me of the hurricane memo," Whaley said, referring to a letter sent out last year in Fiorentino's name telling employees they must remain on-call during summer months in the event of emergencies. The employees filed an unfair labor practices complaint and won.

"You don't make (rules) that you cannot enforce," Whaley said, suggesting that pushing rules such as getting permission to make and receive an emergency personal call would do little more than unnecessarily anger employees.

That does not mean, though, that the board wants to allow unrestricted personal calls during work hours.

In fact, the board has asked the company that's revising all district policies to rewrite the phone use rules as part of the effort. But even the proposed changes speak only of using discretion and limiting personal calls to breaks and lunch, saying nothing of emergency calls.

"Does it mean you never take a personal phone call? Well, no," Reilly said.

Once the policy is complete, she said, the administration will work to ensure that all employees understand it. Right now, not every department has a staff handbook or written guidelines, which has led to some confusion. The reason for focusing on personal calls arose because of one employee who made many of them during work hours and then "the individual said, 'I'm not aware of that guideline,' " Reilly said.

"This is an area the superintendent and I are going to work on," she added.

For her part, Moore said she was only trying to make a "goodwill effort" to inform her staff about the expectations regarding personal calls. She said she had not distributed it to everyone in her department and was seeking input from employees to see if they had questions or concerns.

"We are making some changes to it," said Moore.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Memos come back to bite school official 07/31/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 3, 2008 11:27am]
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