Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

On 4-2 vote, Hillsborough School Board renews Elia's contract

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board, which gave superintendent MaryEllen Elia an above-satisfactory job rating last week, renewed her contract Tuesday afternoon by a 4-2 vote.

Board member April Griffin, who has been Elia's biggest critic on the board, and member Susan Valdes voted against the renewal. Cindy Stuart was absent.

Elia, 65, is about to start her 10th year on the job. Unlike other superintendents, she has a three-year contract that is rolled over for an additional year annually with at least a satisfactory job evaluation. Such arrangements are no longer allowed under state law.

She is paid more than $270,000 a year, including bonuses that are tied to student performance.

This year, Elia improved upon the satisfactory rating given by the board in 2013, earning a grade of "above satisfactory." That made the vote during Tuesday's board meeting largely a contractually mandated vote of confidence.

The discussion of Elia's job performance at Tuesday's meeting was significantly less contentious than last year's evaluation cycle, when Griffin and Valdes gave Elia the lowest marks possible before voting against an extension. Although several public speakers and board members questioned the bonuses included in the contract —- especially any tied to student performance on the FCAT, which is being replaced — most complaints were centered on the structure of the contract or the rubric used to evaluate the superintendant, not on Elia's personal performance.

"None of us is perfect, and I don't think we could expect that she is going to have the highest marks, because if she does it would leave no room for growth," said member Doretha Edgecomb during remarks emphasizing the importance of cooperation between the superintendant and the board.

Griffin tempered her past criticism of Elia, even making a point to compliment the superintendent for her role in promoting the Sealant and Fluoride Program, which offers dental screening and care for second-graders at select Hillsborough schools. But before she voted against renewing Elia's contract, Griffin attempted to postpone the vote until all seven members could be present. She was overruled by her fellow board members.

Stuart, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, did note that the board had been left out of school district decisions in her most recent evaluation of Elia.

Elia and the board also addressed the School District's conflict with Charter Schools USA, which risks losing the charter for its three existing schools in Hillsborough County. Elia said there are plans to meet with the Charter Schools USA board, which she says does not have the sort of local governance required of Hillsborough charter schools.

Member Candy Olson accused Charter Schools USA of being a for-profit organization that misrepresents the school district's threats to revoke its charter, noting that the school system works successfully with 40 other charter programs.

"Anyone who has been paying attention for more than 20 minutes knows we wouldn't close a school in the middle of the year," Olson said, alleging that Charter Schools USA is suggesting that could happen. "I don't know why this for-profit group has taken this confrontational stance."

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