LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school district officials are scrambling to create new evaluation procedures for teachers and principals in time for next school year, as required by new state laws.
It's unclear how much the effort will cost the school district, which found itself laying off hundreds of employees last week due to budget cuts. But School Board members are already worrying about the price tag.
"I'm seeing a lot of dollar signs up there," chairwoman Joanne Hurley said after a lengthy presentation on the evaluation system this past week.
She and others noted that the proposed models, which remain incomplete, would require field testing, training, coaching and support to get them properly implemented. The district staff has recommended hiring a consultant to help with the process, which must be in place July 1.
Amid a budget crunch bringing layoffs and likely pay cuts for the employees who remain, the board had little stomach for making the investment — however necessary the changes might be. The district has talked for years about improving its evaluations, which some people have criticized for not providing adequate information feedback on performance.
Already, the board faces a $21 million potential shortfall for 2012-13 because it is using that amount of one-time money to cover holes in the 2011-12 budget, board member Alison Crumbley said.
The cost of new evaluations will simply add to the budget woes, she said. Worse, she pointed out, the staff does not yet know exactly what the total cost of the effort will be.
"We're digging a hole," board member Steve Luikart said, carrying the argument forward. "I'm not satisfied with saying, 'It's going to happen, let's do it.' … This board is going to be responsible for a dollar amount that we don't know anything about."
The response came back quickly from several at the table: It's the law.
"I don't think the state is giving us leeway to make the decision," Hurley observed. "We are going to do this."
The staff has proposed a teacher evaluation system based largely on the philosophies of Robert Marzano, a mainstay of the district's oft-criticized Learning-Focused Strategies training. That should help the district in its implementation, human resources director Renee Sedlack said, because most everyone in the district understands the concepts.
Plus, she added, the state has adopted the Marzano principles, meaning it will provide assistance and training that would not be available for districts that go in another direction.
Moreover, she said, if a district tries a different system and it doesn't work, it's required to use the state-sponsored model anyway.
The principal evaluations would rely on the work of Douglas Reeves and the Leadership and Learning Center, again because those practices already are a part of principal training here and the state has adopted the model.
Each evaluation system would change the way that all teachers and principals are rated, with many fewer expected to attain the top marks as in the past. Each also will tie pay to performance, including at least half related to student results, for new hires or those who opt in.
The United School Employees of Pasco joined teacher unions across Florida in opposing the law forcing these changes, in part because the evaluation systems and tests for students didn't exist, and creating them would be costly and time-consuming.
Board members were keenly interested in making sure the evaluations are put in place in a way that treats employees fairly. But even before that came the financial concerns.
"What is this model going to cost? Will this all come out of the general fund?" Hurley wondered.
Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said the district has yet to come to a final price tag. Federal money from Title II training grants and Race to the Top will cover much of the cost, she said, though not all.
She said she would bring back more information as the district finalizes its plans, which must go to the Department of Education for review and approval in June.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampa bay.com/blogs/gradebook.