With the Florida legislative session ended, Pasco school district officials have begun planning for the next academic year.
School Board members had a closed session Tuesday to discuss district employee raises.
Meanwhile, superintendent Kurt Browning has been talking about rebuilding school-level staffing that got flattened during years of cuts. He's specifically mentioned guidance counselors and technology experts.
"I want to make sure students are being served," Browning said.
On the guidance front, the superintendent explained that the district ratio currently hovers around one counselor to 700 students. Experts suggest that a better level is closer to 1:250.
And with changes to the state graduation requirements, it's critical to get people into the schools who can keep kids on track, Browning said.
"The last thing I want to have happen is for a student to get into, or halfway through, the senior year and have a counselor call them down and say … 'I hate to tell you this, but you're a class short,'" he said. "Guidance is key."
Regarding technology specialists, Browning admitted that "hindsight is 20-20" and his decision to remove technical support from the schools didn't work exactly as planned.
He still contends that the creation of new information, communication and technology literacy coach jobs was the right thing to do, as it refocused attention on classroom use of technology into daily learning.
"I've not had anybody come up to me and tell me, 'I sure wish we had our media specialist back,' " Browning said. "But I have had them come up and say, 'I wish we had our tech specialist back.' "
Computers have sat unopened in boxes. Broken equipment has gone days or weeks without attention. The state's migration to computerized testing has demanded technicians' time. And at 13 people, the centralized "geek squad" has been too small to respond to the various needs.
Short term, Browning said he wants to expand the department. Over time, his "big end goal" is to have a technology specialist in each school again.
Look for contract negotiations and budget workshops to begin soon. The final budget doesn't have to be done until September.
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Plans to offer employees added life insurance are on hold as district officials grow increasingly wary of an investment program the School Board already has tentatively approved.
Board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said the concept won't come up for a vote unless the state Office of Insurance Regulation gives it a clean bill of health. The office requested all district paperwork on the proposal, and the district sent in a ream of documents.
Pollock Financial representatives met with state regulators, as well, and they're confident of a positive review. Even then, Crumbley said, so many questions remain that the project's once-rosy outlook is dimming.
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The Pasco school district is seeking parent input on special education programs.
Each year, the state surveys parents whose children have an individual educational plan, to determine how well their school works with parents and supports the children. Parents can participate through May 31. You can complete the survey online at www.esesurvey.com or request a paper survey from your school.
Have ideas for us to consider? Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.