LAND O'LAKES — As the Pasco School Board prepared to discuss its willingness to participate in the Race to the Top, representatives for the United School Employees of Pasco advised that the staff won't be joining the effort.
Jim Ciadella, the USEP's lead negotiator for teachers, said the group has concerns that the federal grant program would roll back three decades of collective bargaining in favor of "untried strategies" such as differential pay and evaluations based primarily on student results.
He added that it would be impossible to negotiate and ratify agreements on such controversial matters in the short period of time that the state and federal governments have set forth. Ciadella urged the board not to sign the state's memorandum of understanding to participate in the Race to the Top, saying the program "is not in the best interest of students."
"We will not sign," Ciadella said, collecting some applause from teachers in the audience of the School Board meeting Tuesday evening.
The board, however, signaled its desire to at least move ahead with the process rather than give up before all the details are clear.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino agreed that the changes being proposed with the Race to the Top are huge. Regardless, she recommended the board send a letter of intent to participate, noting that the statement would not commit the board to anything.
"Not until the 90-day window after the grant has been awarded will we be sure," Fiorentino said. "We don't even know what we are being asked."
Chairman Allen Altman said, "It sounds like, from the federal and state level, this is the direction they are going and if you want any money it will have some of these features."
He added that he did not see anything indicating options in these ideas coming out of Washington.
"But it means dollars to the district, which means dollars in employees' pocketbooks," Altman said. "I would think it would be irresponsible of us to not at least move forward."
Plus, he said, the district might end up with the mandate without the funding.
Board member Kathryn Starkey agreed that things like merit pay are coming, like it or not.
"Without a doubt, this is the way the state is coming," she said. "I don't think we have to have the perfect plan right out of the gate."
Starkey noted that the board has previously talked about having differential pay and merit pay. "We all believe in data driven decisions," she said.
She said she did not want the district to be left having to follow the rules without the money, though she added that she thought the money would be greater for "all the pain" that the district will endure implementing all the proposed changes.
The board agreed to move forward, and also to continue working with the USEP to try to work through its concerns.
In other action, the board named the new elementary school in the Trinity/Odessa area "Odessa Elementary School." That name was approved on a 5-0 vote after another name, Flatwoods Elementary, was defeated 3-2.
The board also approved on first reading its new policy manual revisions.
Altman, however, directed staff to review concerns raised by teachers during the public comment portion of the meeting, and possibly revise the policies. The greatest complaints came regarding policies that teachers said might limit their rights of speech and intellectual property.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.