LAND O'LAKES — It's 15 weeks into the 2011-12 school year, and River Ridge High School career specialist Laurie Peterson still doesn't know what her performance evaluation will look like.
"We haven't received much information yet," said Peterson, a 23-year district teacher who advises students rather than instructing them.
She's far from alone. Dozens of Pasco County teachers without assigned students are in the same position: They have no clear criteria for how their bosses will review their work or determine their students' academic results for future pay and employment.
The absence of such details is one key hangup in the district's inability to conclude teacher contract negotiations, despite early agreement on pay and benefits — matters that delayed last year's deal until mid-May.
"Quite frankly, there are still some sticking points on the new teacher evaluation process," said Jim Ciadella, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco, which represents about 5,000 teachers.
Some of the other concerns:
• How to evaluate the performance of teachers attached to more than one school.
• How teachers may appeal disputed evaluations.
• How to handle evaluations for teachers who miss a mandated observation period while taking personal leave.
Perhaps the biggest unsettled issue centers on the timing of contract renewals and the arrival of FCAT testing results.
New state law requires student test results to count for half of a teacher's rating. Those ratings must be used, rather than seniority, if districts must reassign or lay off teachers — as many school officials across Florida expect to do if dismal economic forecasts come to pass.
Hiring decisions come in April. Yet FCAT results, which will offer the lion's share of the student result data, don't come until late May or early June.
As a result, Ciadella said, teacher moves would be made based upon incomplete information. The USEP has recommended sticking with seniority as a deciding factor while awaiting clarification from the state.
"We didn't create this mess," he said, suggesting that teachers should not suffer because of conflicts between the law and existing reporting schedules.
District negotiators have balked at the USEP's proposal, though.
"We're looking forward to additional guidance from the state on what to do for the evaluation piece," district spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said. "We cannot use seniority."
She said the administration hopes to avoid layoffs and forced transfers through attrition, therefore sidestepping the matter altogether.
It remains a subject for negotiations regardless, Ciadella said, because the state's timelines are "unrealistic" and teachers' fates rely upon them.
"This is an issue we are pretty adamant on," he said.
Ciadella was more confident that the sides would reach an easier resolution on evaluations for teachers who don't lead core classes or have classrooms. The district has created a model that goes to the state for approval on Dec. 1.
Peterson said she wasn't nervous about the outcome, though she was anxious to see it.
"I know what I do in my job and I think I do it well," she said. "I can't imagine there is something on that instrument that would be daunting to me."
Like it or not, she said, the new evaluation system simply represents "the way we are going to do things in Florida now. ... Things are changing, and we've got to change with them."
More problematic, Peterson suggested, is the possibility that looming budget cuts will claim jobs like hers. That would make the question of how to craft the evaluations moot.
Romagnoli said the administration hopes to have a contract agreement before winter break begins Dec. 22. If that happens, USEP president Lynne Webb said she did not expect a ratification vote until late January.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.