LAND O'LAKES — Even as Florida debates the value of performance-based evaluations and differential pay for teachers with the most challenging jobs, the state already has laws requiring such practices.
They're not well enforced, lawmakers have said. And in Pasco County schools, they're not well followed, a state audit finds.
A newly released Auditor General's review of Pasco school operations reports that the school system has no policies or procedures to evaluate teachers based on student test results. Nor does the district have a program for setting higher salaries for teachers in high-demand subject areas or more difficult schools.
Without such policies, the audit stated, "the District may be limited in its ability to demonstrate that each instructional employee's performance correlated to their compensation and the various differentiated pay factors were consistently considered and applied."
In a written response to the audit, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the district has rules in place to comply with the law. She specifically noted that the teachers in Pasco eSchool, which provides online classes, operate with a performance pay model. And she said a differentiated pay schedule has been developed for Ridgewood High School, which is working to shed its status as a low-performing school.
Still, Fiorentino wrote, the district will enhance its procedures and systems to ensure it fully meets the law.
That's the right move, School Board member Steve Luikart said.
"If we're doing something that is not abiding by Florida statute, we need to look at making whatever changes we need to," Luikart said.
He acknowledged the ongoing battle at the state and national level over teacher pay and evaluations, and said Pasco County should not sit around and wait for the outcome before taking action.
"Do we want to take a proactive role and do something we know will work in the county? Or do we want to take a non-proactive role and say we'll take whatever the state hands down?" he said. "I'm one of those guys who thinks Tallahassee doesn't have all the answers for everything."
In the past, other School Board members have felt that way, too. In 2007, the board rejected participation in the state-created Merit Award Program because Pasco officials didn't like Tallahassee's formula for the performance-based bonuses.
Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose said the district is working to craft a better plan as part of its participation in the Race to the Top.
United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said she believed the district should look at other districts' practices and try to find what works and what doesn't, rather than trying to come up with a plan from scratch.
"I just don't believe Pasco can move forward in a vacuum," Webb said.
She said it's clear that change is coming in the area of pay and evaluations — perhaps with enough differences to make the audit finding "ancient history."
"We have a very, very conservative governor with an aggressive agenda, and there don't seem to be enough moderates in the Legislature to stop him," Webb said.
"If you had everything the same as last year in the Legislature but with Gov. Scott, we'd have Senate Bill 6 right now," she said, referring to the controversial bill vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist that would have radically transformed how teachers are paid and contracted. "It's unrealistic to think we're not going to have some major legislation."
Other findings in the operational audit stated that Pasco schools need to have stronger policies to identify and deal with fraud, improve the reporting of instructional contact hours in adult education, and enhance monitoring of insurance for district charter schools.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.