Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Pasco superintendent backs down in textbook dustup

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino has reversed course in the district's trouble-plagued effort to pick new social studies textbooks.

She has decided to stick with the selection committee's recommendation, after initially overruling its choice in favor of a different title.

Her abrupt about-face, just days after saying the committee process was flawed, left School Board members more convinced than ever that they had made the right choice in tabling the social studies materials purchases to get more information.

"I don't understand yet why they made the decision to overturn the committee's recommendation, especially when they didn't have correct information," board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said, also criticizing the staff's lack of preparation in presenting the details to the board last week. "It was not well thought out and not well done."

To start the process, a committee of several teachers and district staff spent months reviewing titles available for adoption. At the elementary level, the committee reached a consensus in support of a book by publisher TCI.

On the advice of her senior staff, though, Fiorentino had stood ready to ask the School Board to approve an elementary school textbook by publisher McGraw-Hill. The TCI textbook relied too heavily on technology and did not clearly identify the standards being taught in each lesson, she said.

Committee members complained to the board about being overridden by the superintendent. With criticism mounting, Fiorentino withdrew the item from consideration at last week's School Board meeting, pending additional review.

She moved ahead with recommending middle and high school titles, though, only to hear added questions from the School Board about why the books up for consideration were changed midway through the process.

Curriculum and instruction director Vanessa Hilton told the board at the time that changes to state rules and procedures were to blame. Pressed for further details, Hilton said she did not have her materials available and could not answer.

The board tabled that purchase as well.

At first, Fiorentino had planned to reconvene the elementary-level committee to explain her thoughts and to let the members then vote on which book the board should consider. Before that meeting every happened, though, she got new information from other district staff that the criticisms of TCI's book were not valid.

District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli sent a memo to the committee canceling the meeting and saying that Fiorentino would support its original choice.

"We have received additional clarification regarding the concerns that were brought to our attention by committee members," Romagnoli wrote. "In light of this information, we believe the TCI product will meet the needs of our students and teachers, while respecting the committee process."

A closer look at what happened with the secondary level titles further showed that Hilton's explanation to the board was incorrect. The swapped titles were a result of locally raised observations that one of the top three choices was not feasible for several high schools, the document stated, and had nothing to do with state regulations.

"I'm so glad that the board tabled both of them," Hurley said.

Problems with process

Board member Allen Altman said he was glad to know the superintendent had returned to following district procedure for textbook selection. He was displeased with the twists and turns it took to arrive at that point.

"The board has always operated under the assumption, just as we did with the calendar committee, that when district employees and members of the community give their time and energy ... to make recommendations, those recommendations were the ones being brought forward to the board for action," Altman said.

After watching the superintendent ignore committee recommendations twice in recent weeks — with the textbooks and the 2012-13 calendar — perhaps the board needs to make its expectations more clear, he continued. "That is something the board is going to have to address in policy."

The district's textbook selection handbook detailed that once a selection committee recommends titles, the schools are able to purchase those books. The superintendent is not mentioned in that process.

Newer district policy, not reflected in the handbook, gives the School Board final authority over adopting instructional materials. That opened the door for the superintendent to weigh in, board attorney Dennis Alfonso said, as the board acts on superintendent recommendations.

Fiorentino acknowledged that the process could have been better.

"In retrospect, we should have waited to make a final recommendation until all of the details were available," she said. "At this point, I am confident that the materials selected by the committee are of high quality and will benefit children and teachers throughout our school system, which is the single most important fact in this conversation."

She planned to bolster district procedures to avoid a repeat of the past week's mess. That revision will include improved guidelines on how to deal with conflicts of interest during the selection process.

The issue became pertinent because McGraw-Hill's representative was dating assistant superintendent for elementary schools David Scanga, who had to recuse himself from the process.

Hurley said the entire situation highlights the importance of the School Board asking lots of questions before an item comes to the table and during deliberations.

"No matter what the superintendent's staff recommends," she said, "it's up to this board to do our homework."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18