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Pasco schools tweak staff rights after complaints

LAND O'LAKES — Pat Connolly could not believe what he had read.

The Pasco County School Board's proposed new policy stated that its employees would have to ask the district to "relinquish" copyright ownership to books, plays or other materials they developed on their own time, and only after some provisions were met.

Those included granting the district the right to purchase the materials free of royalty charges.

"This implies the board owns my intellectual property, whether I create it on my own time or not," complained Connolly, a Land O'Lakes High math teacher who dabbles in writing and theater in his down time.

He challenged the board to fix the policy so it does not take away employees' rights. Saying the district doesn't intend to take advantage of its staff is one thing, Connolly said — putting it in writing is another.

"The protections that we have from the potential abuses of the policy as written shouldn't be dependent upon the good intentions of the people involved," he said.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino agreed. She is recommending the policy be rewritten to avoid the appearance that the district is trying to take away independent creativity.

"As long as they aren't doing it on school time, it belongs to them," Fiorentino said.

If someone is trading on his or her district credentials in order to gain credibility with a publication, she said, that would be another story. She would want to see the work before it goes to print in order to make sure it reflects well upon the district's philosophy and goals.

School Board members said they were pleased to see the administration tackling the matter, which came up during a December public hearing on the district's first full policy manual overhaul in decades.

"I suspect they'll make more than one change," vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley said.

Indeed, chairman Allen Altman said, assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose has sent out recommended wording changes for a handful of policies that Connolly and other teachers questioned at the hearing. Some of the others, he said, will likely remain the same.

Putting the policies on the Internet for the first time, and then having public discussions about them, improves the ability to debate the merits of the rules that guide the district's operations.

Teachers "obviously have an interest in making sure the policy that governs instructional personnel is adequately vetted," Altman said. "That's part of the process."

And if the board misses something, Hurley said, that's not the end of the road.

"This is a living document that can be amended at any time," she said.

Connolly welcomed the idea that the board and administration listened and appear ready to act on the teachers' concerns. He expected to keep a close eye on the process.

"I'm trying to protect us from doing stupid things that could harm us down the road," he said, stressing that the specific words matter. "May and will are very different things. Should and shall are very different. And we have to be careful about that."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast facts

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The Pasco County School Board is scheduled to give final approval to its new policy manual during its regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting Jan. 19. To see the proposals as written, go to www.neola.com/pasco-fl/.

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Your daily report on education news. blogs.tampabay.com/schools/.

Pasco schools tweak staff rights after complaints 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 9:07pm]
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