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Teachers seek slice of FCAT rewards

BROOKSVILLE — Natalie Durrum was voted teacher of the year last year at Fox Chapel Middle School.

But when it was time to dole out state incentive funds to reward that school for its performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, she and more than 20 other teachers and staff members didn't get a dime.

The reason? They transferred to another school.

"We believe the A+ money should be divided among all persons who were in the school when the money was earned," said Durrum, now a teacher at Explorer K-8, in comments Tuesday before the Hernando County School Board.

Under the state plan, teachers and the School Advisory Committees at each site decide how to distribute the money. This year 12 schools in Hernando qualified for $1.1-million in awards, which is divided according to student enrollment.

Fox Chapel, which improved from a C school to a B grade, received $81,252 from the state. It was unclear how much each person's bonus would be.

At least one other school, Parrott Middle, which received $69,965, also voted against giving such funds to teachers who transfer voluntarily. But it gave the money to those who retired or were transferred involuntarily, said principal Leechele Booker.

Typically, schools vote to spend the money on things like technology, supplies or renovations, with a portion going to teacher bonuses, said superintendent Wayne Alexander.

"Some schools say if you left (the following) year, you don't get any of the money," he added.

This month, Alexander made it known in an e-mail to principals that he didn't think much of that idea.

"I am asking that you get involved in the decision making process and consider being fair to all employees that were part of the commitment that was necessary to earn your school grade," he wrote.

Under the district's reading of the state law, it can't tell schools how to distribute the money.

But Lauren Swiatek, a former Fox Chapel teacher now at Nature Coast Technical, said the law could be interpreted as permitting the district to set broad policies on spending such funds.

Either way, she's speaking up, even if it doesn't make her popular.

"For me it's not about the money anymore, it's about righting the wrong," Swiatek said.

Board members gave her and Durrum a sympathetic hearing and said they'd help if they could. But board attorney J. Paul Carland said the statute appeared to clearly give authority on spending the funds to the school staffs and advisory committees.

"A lot of times our hands are tied," said Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson. "But we will check it out."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 584-5537.

Teachers seek slice of FCAT rewards 10/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 27, 2008 11:43am]
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