TAMPA — Hillsborough County Public Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia turned in an above-satisfactory performance this year, board members say in evaluations that are considerably more generous than in 2013.
Unlike last year's exercise — in which School Board members Susan Valdes and April Griffin gave Elia the lowest ratings possible — the reports the board will consider next week acknowledge progress that Elia has made in improving transportation and special education, while imploring her to work on employee morale and racial disparities in discipline.
Several also made references to friction on the board, and between some board members and the superintendent.
"We have experienced a season of difficulty as a leadership team; one that has been a serious distraction in a time of increasingly challenging work and in the face of compelling issues that need our complete attention," wrote member Doretha Edgecomb. "I am confident that as a district, we can move forward. In fact, we must."
Elia, 65, is about to start her 10th year on the job. Unlike other superintendents, she has a three-year contract that is rolled over for an additional year annually. Such arrangements are no longer allowed under state law. She is paid more than $270,000 a year, including bonuses that are tied to student performance.
Elia earned a satisfactory rating from the board in 2013. Both ratings were enough to warrant a contract renewal, making a vote during Tuesday's board meeting largely a vote of confidence.
Not all the board comments this year were favorable.
Cindy Stuart wrote in detail of instances when the board was not included or consulted about the administration's actions.
Griffin accused Elia of having an "unyielding nature" that might have contributed to the ongoing conflict with the governing boards of three schools run by Charter Schools USA.
Chairwoman Carol Kurdell suggested the board adopt a process to follow when a member cannot work effectively with the superintendent. "The days of collegiality seem to be gone for some," she wrote.
In her self-evaluation, Elia gave herself top marks in organizational management, human resource management, instructional leadership, curriculum planning development, values and ethics of leadership and labor relations. In the other three categories she gave herself either three or four stars out of five.
Under strengths, she pointed to the district's many accomplishments. Hillsborough had the most A-rated high schools in its history, she wrote. Fourth-graders led the state in writing. The number and percentage of students earning a 3 or higher on advanced placement tests continue to go up. National Merit Scholar semifinalists and industry certifications are trending upward, employee pay is rising and parents get more information through such things as the Saturday morning Parent University.
She also listed challenges in the year ahead. Elia says she'll work on relationships with the board, and continue with improvements in transportation and exceptional student education.
The document, submitted before the latest application for a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base, also mentions that community.
"We will continue to work with military families living on MacDill Air Force Base and elsewhere in our county, in an effort to greater meet their unique needs," she wrote.