LAND O'LAKES — As one of her final actions in office, Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino has ruled against a class-action grievance by more than 1,300 elementary school teachers.
The teachers had complained that their workload had become overly burdensome, in part because of additional tasks assigned to them outside their contracted responsibilities.
Fiorentino, who sat through a two-hour hearing Nov. 1 on the union complaint, acknowledged in her finding that teachers are forced to work harder than ever before.
"I certainly appreciate and understand the concerns that were brought forward by (the United School Employees of Pasco) during this grievance hearing," she wrote. "There is no question that the nature of work in education is changing and that there is an ever increasing push for districts, schools and teachers to allow for data to drive the educational decisions and programs in our schools."
That does not mean, however, that the concerns raised by the teachers violated their contract, she continued. She rejected their requests to reduce the number of nonmandatory tests for students, eliminate school-based meetings and trainings not required by law or rule, and provide extra pay and planning time for teachers.
She wrote that the district will enforce the teachers' negotiated contract against any specific violations that might occur.
United School Employees of Pasco leaders were not impressed with Fiorentino's decision.
"They did nothing," said USEP business representative Jim Ciadella, who argued the teachers' case to Fiorentino. "I am disappointed. We thought there would be more movement on the district's part."
He noted that teachers had attempted to talk through solutions with principals and district-level administrators over several months before filing a formal complaint. To read Fiorentino's response that district-level administrators would "continue to work with the elementary principals" to reduce the work load was disheartening, he said.
USEP president Lynne Webb suggested that Fiorentino's response amounted to "kicking the can down the road."
Already a lame duck, Fiorentino essentially left the issue for either superintendent-elect Kurt Browning or the School Board to handle, Webb said.
"It would be interesting once Kurt Browning is sworn in to see what his reaction to it is, because obviously he is going to inherit this," she said. "If we don't feel there is going to be any progress with this, we'll have to take it to the School Board."
Board members did not want to comment directly on the case because they might have to sit in judgment over it. They did recognize that the growing load of paperwork, meetings and data crunching has contributed to decreasing morale among many teachers.
"I can tell you this is not just an issue for Pasco County," board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. "This is a statewide issue."
She noted that a task force of superintendents is advising the governor and Legislature about ways to curtail some of the bureaucracy and red tape that hinder teachers from their primary classroom responsibilities.
If there are steps that the district can take to ease the burden, Browning should have the opportunity to consider those, board member Alison Crumbley said.
Even though Fiorentino's formal response is official, Browning could review the situation and make overtures to the USEP for a settlement before the issue would go to the board. Webb said the USEP would ask for an extension of time to file a request to be heard by the board, in order to give Browning that time.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.