With concerns mounting that student athletes won't get proper treatment if injured, Pasco County School District leaders have decided to pay for athletic trainers at all high school sports events during the 2017-18 school year.
The move could add about $125,000 to the district's anticipated funding shortfall, which was listed at $627,855 on June 20, the most recent estimate available. But superintendent Kurt Browning said Tuesday that the expense is worth it.
"We are going to fund athletic trainers," he said. "I'm going to find (the money), and we're going to make it work. I think it's important."
Browning has assigned district athletic director Matt Wicks to work with a different provider to bring the trainers to the schools. The district had worked with Florida Hospital, which paid for the service until canceling its contract at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
Parents got word of the loss and recently began a campaign to reinstate the trainer program. Browning initially told each person who wrote that he was looking for a way to pay for the service, but that the tight budget would make it tough.
He decided late Monday to prioritize the item and fit it into the budget, even if it means cutting in other places. He stressed that the money would not come out of instructional expenses.
"If I had to choose between teachers and athletic trainers, I'm going to choose teachers every day," Browning said.
REZONING BATTLE: Lawyers for a group of west Pasco parents who are fighting the school district's attendance zone revisions won the right June 20 to continue their latest case in county court.
Judge Kimberly Sharpe Byrd ruled against a school district motion to dismiss the complaint, which alleges some members of the superintendent's rezoning advisory committee privately discussed boundary-related matters that should have remained public.
District officials told the committee when it first convened that it must follow Florida's open meetings laws.
The parents argued that Facebook conversations among committee members indicated they had discussed some of the issues among themselves, outside the sunshine. They questioned whether a "full, open and independent" review took place.
The district contended that nothing inappropriate occurred.
"Even if the stuff they alleged in their complaint is true, it does not constitute a Sunshine violation," School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said.
But Byrd gave the plaintiffs the room to make their case in court. Depositions are scheduled, with a hearing set for July 21.
The plaintiffs also have appealed a Division of Administrative Hearings ruling against their complaint that the School Board did not follow proper rule-making procedures when setting the new attendance zones. That case is pending in the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Jim Stanley, one of the complaining parents, said in an email that he would like to see the district improve its processes before it faces another boundary revision.
"No system or process can be perfect, but when the process the District used failed to achieve any of their stated objectives, then undoubtedly we could have done better," Stanley wrote. "Furthermore, we warned the District that unless they came up with a better plan, their errors were likely to be repeated, so this was as much about the future as about boundaries for 2017/18."
CONTRACT TALKS: Hoping for a quicker resolution to negotiations than in 2016-17, representatives for the Pasco County School District and employees have returned to collective bargaining, with the aftermath of the legislative session in Tallahassee in full view.
Issues the United School Employees of Pasco had pursued before, such as job protections for well-evaluated teachers on annual contract, no longer will come into play as the Legislature outlawed the practice in HB 7069. Hope for another round of pay raises also faded with a state budget that district officials said accounts for growth but not inflation.
"We understand the fallout from 7069 is going to hamper some of the financial obligations of the district in regard to how they divvy money our to schools and support programs," USEP president Don Peace said. "We're going to have to take a look as to what that means to the bottom line."
Peace said the union wants to preserve jobs and programs, and protect student learning.
"In a year that's not going to reap enormous financial benefits, we want to make sure we take care of our people in a way that is promoting the best opportunities for them to benefit," he said.
On the school-related personnel side, that means working out some of the details on job transfers that the sides aimed to settle through impasse talks. For teachers, the attention will likely focus on evaluations.
As part of HB 7069, the Legislature ended the mandate that school districts include a state-approved, value-added model for student data in teacher evaluations. It did not eliminate the requirement that student performance be included in the mix, though.
The administration already has begun conversations on its use of district-created final exams for evaluations. But the entire model is up for review.
At their first sessions, the sides brought forth a handful of measures for consideration. Most were simple renewals of long-standing agreements, updated to reflect changing costs or dates. The issues that might prove more hotly contested will wait.
"Our goal is to get it done before May 2018," Peace said, making a pointed reference to the late conclusion of this year's contract, for which employees are still awaiting back pay. "The sooner we get a contract done, the better. But we don't want to rush it."
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.