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Teachers union has concerns about nearly finished revision of Pasco School Board policy manual

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board is considering a policy that would bar classroom teachers from tutoring their students for a fee.

That proposal has irked the United School Employees of Pasco, which contends that in many ways there's no one better than a child's teacher to tutor him or her. What's more, the group says, the district has had no such prohibition in the past, so any change would require negotiations — not simple adoption by the board.

The union's concerns with that issue, along with nearly two dozen others in the proposed revisions to the policy manual, have School Board members suggesting that this week's expected final review of the guidelines might not be so final, after all.

"We're down to the very, very end," board vice chairman Allen Altman said of the nearly two-year revamp. "But we need to look at it and be sure when we do it, it's done right."

Altman said he had forwarded some of the employee association's questions to Dennis Alfonso, the board's lawyer, for additional research before today's workshop on the policy book. Among them is a recommended rule that would require all staff members to submit any contact to the School Board through the superintendent.

The USEP suggests that such a rule would discourage communication with the board.

Board member Joanne Hurley agreed that the board needs no such filter.

"We should continue to get correspondence from the staff when they feel they have something that needs to be voiced," said Hurley, who has focused on improving communications since her election last year. "Any staff member should have the luxury to be able to contact their School Board member."

Hurley said she had questions of her own about the latest policy revisions, too.

One proposal, for instance, nearly doubled in length after the board informally signed off on it, she said.

"I see a lot of areas where we may not be there yet," Hurley said.

"I want to make sure they haven't added things we didn't want them to add, or deleted things we thought were set."

Board member Kathryn Starkey noted that the number of issues that remained in contention were few amid a complete rewrite of a 700-page document. Still, she added, "they could be major."

Such as the tutoring situation. Starkey said she could see both sides of the question, and wanted to hear the debate.

"The teacher knows what the student is lacking," she said. "But should the teacher be charging for that? I don't know."

Details of campaign?

Another matter that has grabbed some attention is a provision that would require school employees who decide to seek election to public office to file their intentions, and later a summary of their campaign plans, with the district superintendent.

The USEP argues that such a rule would contradict past practice and existing contract agreements. It also raises the question: How would this be handled if the employee were seeking the office of superintendent? It's not an unlikely scenario: Superintendent Heather Fiorentino's last opponent was Steve Donaldson, a Gulf High social studies teacher.

USEP president Lynne Webb said she hoped that many of the problems her group has with the pending policies would go away after the board considers them. If not, she said, some of the matters would come to the bargaining table, while others might end up in court.

"I'd like to think that these are just oversights," Webb said. "I think a lot of it is boiler plate language. And that's fine as a starting point. But you have to look at whether that really fits with our district philosophy."

The details do matter, Starkey agreed.

"I'm in no hurry," she said. "I won't call it final until I'm very comfortable with everything."

Board chairman Frank Parker said he expected the district staff to come to today's workshop with answers to the USEP's list of concerns. Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose, who has overseen the rewrite, said she and employee relations director Terry Rhum spent Monday afternoon researching each item and would be prepared to talk about them with the board.

"Some of them are legitimate concerns," DuBose said. "The ones that are legitimate concerns, we're going to address them and amend them with the board."

If the board can't finish up its revisions today, Parker said. "we should be getting close."

Even after the board adopts the new policy manual, it won't be set in stone. Unlike the past set of rules, which hadn't been thoroughly updated in decades, this one will be continually reviewed and revised, Altman said.

"It's policy," he said. "It is a document, and it can and will be changed. I think we'll be fine, and we'll get all (the concerns) addressed."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Teachers union has concerns about nearly finished revision of Pasco School Board policy manual 10/05/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 5, 2009 10:02pm]

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