Sunday, September 23, 2018
Education

Passage of state budget quiets talk of pay raises for Pasco school personnel

In crafting a budget plan for the new fiscal year, Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning is sounding a much different message than in years past.

He's not talking about increasing salaries, though he says he would like to.

"The first blush is, there's not a lot of hope of having the dollars to provide raises this year," Browning told the Tampa Bay Times.

After accounting for growth and rising price tags for insurance, retirement benefits, utilities and other fixed costs, he said, "We don't have any money." The district finance team is still looking for ways to bring spending in line with anticipated revenue, with a gap of about $750,000 remaining.

Browning noted that the Florida Legislature approved $1,200 one-time bonuses for teachers earning a "highly effective" evaluation rating, and up to $800 for those deemed "effective." Lawmakers also continued the Best and Brightest bonus, based on college entry test scores and evaluations, of up to $6,000, a reduction from the past two years.

Principals also can receive Best and Brightest bonuses, based on how many teachers they have on faculty earning the award.

Browning suggested those amounts, however they might play out, could be the only new money that educators see. But at least it's something, he said, whereas support personnel get nothing under those plans.

If the district has money available, he said, "I sure would like to find something to give to the noninstructional staff. That's my hope."

United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace has said he is aware of the financial constraints, and the union is looking to see how the budget will affect employees' bottom line. One area he expects to focus on is evaluations, noting the weight placed on them for job renewal.

Browning said he wants to find a way to improve performance evaluations, and will be open to ideas that simplify the process. He anticipated eliminating the value-added model of gauging a teacher's effectiveness, calling that concept "convoluted." But he wants to ensure the district still follows statutes in using student test results as part of the model.

"Legislation has given us a greater degree of flexibility on what we can use," he said. "We are looking at what to propose. I would like to see not as complex an evaluation system."

He expects to convene a work group that includes administrators and teachers "soon" to begin the conversation. He has not set a deadline for a result, saying the district needs to get it done right rather than fast.

PLAY TIME: Recess is definitely coming to Pasco County's elementary schools.

If they didn't have it already, the schools will begin offering 20 minutes a day of unstructured free play beginning in August, in accordance with a newly adopted state law.

It's not as simple as sending kids outside, though.

The district's technology department has sent administrators detailed instructions for how to add recess to their master course schedules and build a recess period into every teacher's course list.

It fits in between social studies (30 to 45 minutes daily) and lunch (30 minutes daily), at least on the paper charts that go to data entry operators.

All this matters because, with the new rule in place, the district must report the recess minutes to the state to prove it's complying with the law.

Individual schools will still get to determine exactly when to place recess in the day. The district has provided ideas but is not setting strict guidelines, except that the schools must follow the new law.

SCHOOL GRADES: Eight Pasco County schools didn't get a 2016-17 state grade when the Florida Department of Education issued the annual ratings June 29.

They received "incomplete" marks instead. For most of them, that meant their data showed less than 95 percent student participation in state testing.

Trinity Oaks Elementary School faces a different concern. Questions have arisen about the school's fourth-grade math results.

Since 2011, the state has analyzed testing data to look for schools with "statistically improbable" outcomes. It looks at answer change rates, answer similarity rates and "extreme statistical outliers" that might indicate problems with test administration.

It then reviews how probable the results would be for a school that had no anomalies, and places them on a Similarity Rate Index.

A score of 3 would indicate that the probability of getting the same results would be 1 in 1,000. The state flags schools starting with scores of 18, where the probability of the same results would be 1 in a quintillion (that's a 1 followed by 18 zeroes).

The department has asked the district to investigate at Trinity Oaks, including interviews with all administrators and test coordinators associated with the questioned tests, as well as at least 10 percent of the affected students. The state provides a base survey, and the district is permitted to add to it.

Once the report is done, the state will determine a final grade for the school.

"Our assessment staff hasn't dealt with such a request before, but they will get with DOE for assistance interpreting their documents and will conduct a review," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. "We have no indication that there were any issues."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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