Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

Missed deadline means no recognition money for some at Central High

BROOKSVILLE — School recognition funds are flowing to Hernando County, but a blown deadline is causing consternation at Central High School.

Because Central failed to submit a plan to the state outlining how it would spend its A-Plus money, the $109,647 will automatically go to the school's roughly 80 current classroom teachers.

That means even teachers and long-term substitutes who weren't at the school last year, when the instruction leading up to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test took place, would get full shares of roughly $1,270 before taxes.

That's far from the equitable plan Central's School Advisory Council would have approved, principal Joe Clifford said.

"Lots and lots of people will suffer," Clifford said. "People that earned the money, that deserve the money, aren't going to get any of it."

High school letter grades are based on student test scores and other factors such as graduation rates and student participation and success in advance courses. Recognition funds are awarded each year to schools that meet one of four eligibility requirements in the state's accountability system.

The two most well-known requirements are to receive an A or to improve by one letter grade from the previous year. A lesser-known requirement is to improve more than one letter grade one year and then sustain that improvement the following school year. Central jumped from a D to a B in 2010 and maintained that grade last year.

The state released high school grades on Jan. 4, but no one at Central or the district official realized the school was eligible until the state sent out the final list of A-Plus money recipients on Feb. 22. The district has received $480,823 to be split among six schools.

Eligible schools were required to submit by Feb. 1 a spending plan approved by their school advisory councils. State law says if a plan is not submitted, the money must be evenly distributed among all current classroom teachers.

The state should have explicitly notified schools of their eligibility before Feb. 1, Clifford contends.

The message from the state: It's up to districts and schools to figure it out.

"The information needed to determine eligibility for the awards was available with the release of high school grades on January 4, 2012," DOE spokeswoman Jamie Mongiovi told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

Central's School Advisory Council almost certainly would have voted to take the same approach it did last year, Clifford said. Taking the stance that all employees contribute to student success, the council voted to evenly divvy up most of the money among every staffer who worked at the school the previous year, regardless of where they work when the funds arrive, Clifford said. The rest of last year's money was spent on books for the media center and new technology.

Central currently has more than 150 employees. The mandate requiring the money to be split among current classroom teachers will prevent staffers such as custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, instructional coaches and guidance counselors who were at the school last year from receiving a share, Clifford said. The school also won't be able to share the money with students by purchasing library books and technology and paying for staff training.

Hoping the state would have mercy on Central, Clifford started the process required by law to approve a spending plan. He formed a committee of staffers from throughout the school that would come up with a proposal to be voted on by the advisory council, which also includes parents.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt initially gave his blessing to that effort. Last Thursday, the local teachers union filed a grievance with the district, noting that careers could be jeopardized if the district violated the law. The next day, the state notified the district that Central would not be granted a waiver.

"We can't willfully violate that deadline without an exemption, and nobody's granting an exemption," Blavatt said.

It brought the union no joy to file the grievance, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"We have to follow state statute, even though it's a bad one," Vitalo said. "This stinks worse than a packed cattle stockyard."

This marks the second year for the new high school grading procedure, which pushes back the release of high school grades and, in turn, the release of A-Plus money for all schools. District officials throughout Florida are still getting acclimated to the new time line.

Clifford made a last-ditch effort Tuesday, pleading for a waiver in an email to state education commissioner Gerard Robinson. He hadn't heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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