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Pinellas School Board and Education Fund split on decentralizing district

A proposal to decentralize the Pinellas school system has created tension between the school board and the Pinellas Education Foundation, two traditional allies.

E-mails this week between foundation leaders and some board members reveal hard feelings over the foundation's aggressive push to get board members to formally endorse the proposal.

Four of the seven board members have endorsed a recent foundation "white paper" that highlights Pinellas' unimpressive graduation rate and calls for the district to put key decisions in the hands of principals, teachers and parents rather than the central office.

This week, it was board member Janet Clark's turn to come to the foundation for a meeting about her endorsing the white paper. But Clark insisted on bringing an attorney, saying she was following the direction of the board's legal office.

School Board attorney Jim Robinson says the act of getting the board to agree on something outside a public meeting could be perceived as a violation of the Sunshine Law.

But foundation leaders balked at Clark's decision and said the district was carrying the law too far. The meeting with Clark never occurred.

In another episode, foundation leader Bob McIntyre wrote a biting personal e-mail Wednesday night to board chairwoman Nancy Bostock, saying she had failed to lead on the graduation rate issue.

Bostock, who is running for a County Commission seat, was among the first to endorse the white paper.

But McIntyre contends she and other board members "continue to mask and make excuses for the crisis we are in."

He said he hoped she would have "begun something meaningful" before leaving the board. But he added: "We were wrong."

Bostock responded, denying McIntyre's charge and saying the board has directed interim superintendent Julie Janssen to develop a proposal to decentralize the system. She also questioned why the foundation had declined two invitations to present the white paper at a board meeting.

"I just have the feeling that they want things to go the way they want them to go," Clark said of foundation leaders.

"This whole thing has gotten so out of hand," said board member Carol Cook, who declined this week to formally endorse the white paper.

Reached Thursday, Bostock said she would continue to support the white paper.

"The education foundation is a lot broader and deeper than two people writing e-mails," she said. "They're impatient with the board to a very high degree, but they're impatient about the right things. Do I think they should be going about it in a more congenial way? Absolutely."

She added: "This is going to be okay."

McIntyre said Thursday he has been friends with Bostock for 10 years and would have said the same things over coffee.

"I wanted to let her know how disappointed I've been with her lately," he said. "When are they going to start talking about children up there? And she's the chair. I really thought she would do more."

A new Web site started by the foundation takes aim at the board, saying it has done little to improve the graduation rate, which stands at 67 percent.

Pinellas School Board and Education Fund split on decentralizing district 07/31/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 2, 2008 7:59am]
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