LAND O'LAKES — Eight months into the school year, Pasco County's schoolteachers still don't have a 2011-12 contract agreement.
But they took a step closer to a final agreement late Thursday.
Representatives for the United School Employees of Pasco and the school district administration came to terms on how to implement new teacher evaluations as required under the 2011 "Student Success Act," more commonly known as Senate Bill 736.
"That was the big issue," union lead negotiator Jim Ciadella said. "We spent four to six months on 'how do we evaluate teachers?'"
A few more issues remain before the sides will be ready to ask for ratification.
Settling on financial terms came relatively easily, by contrast, as union officials faced the reality that the administration was not going to budge on unchanged salaries. The sides agreed to a plan that also had the district continuing to fully cover employee health benefits, with a compromise on furloughs, back in August.
Concerns over the details of implementing SB 736 have continued since then, mainly how to count student performance for teachers who do not teach Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test courses.
On Thursday, after some back and forth on proposals, the sides arrived at a tentative deal. The highlights include:
• Teachers are not required to demonstrate all 41 teaching strategies on the district evaluation model in a single observed instructional period.
• Administrators are expected to recuse themselves from evaluating teachers with whom they have a clear conflict of interest, such as having their own child assigned to that teacher.
• Teachers with students not assessed by the FCAT will be evaluated based on schoolwide reading and math value-added learning gains.
• In the event of layoffs, reductions will be based first on teachers' 2010-11 evaluations.
There had been much hand-wringing over the layoff component because evaluations must now include test results and FCAT scores are not expected to be complete before the district must make employment decisions. District officials have said they hope not to use this section, as they intend to limit layoffs this year.
Teachers who do not teach FCAT courses still might raise complaints that they will be rated based on students they have never taught.
Contract ratification for the county's largest employer is not yet imminent.
"Both the instructional and non-instructional teams have an item or two left to resolve," district employee relations director Kevin Shibley said. "I anticipate needing a final meeting with both teams present to sign off on those remaining items."
A key sticking point remains the district's implementation of furlough days.
The way things are set up now, Ciadella said, employees have only one day to wrap up the school year after students leave because of the furlough and vacation schedule.
He said the union wants to find ways to streamline the end-of-year processes — such as exams, grading and classroom cleanup — to ensure that the work gets done and employees are not forced to work unpaid hours.
The district recently swapped employees' second furlough day with the first day of spring break, a paid holiday, to try to avoid some of the expected problems.
"We have some serious concerns ... that may give us pause in terms of settling the entire contract," Ciadella said. "Right now we don't have a clear idea of how the district wants to work with us to solve those things."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.