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Hillsborough superintendent earns contract renewal despite slightly lower grade

TAMPA — Viewed like a report card, Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia's grade fell this year from a B-plus to a B.

The School Board considers her work above satisfactory. Chairwoman Candy Olson gave her high marks across the board.

"The district is blessed to have a forward-looking, committed, hard-working superintendent who does many things well," Olson wrote in an evaluation released Tuesday and scheduled for a vote Thursday.

Elia's score of 252 is enough to renew her contract, which pays her more than $250,000 a year.

But member April Griffin criticized her handling of a controversy surrounding guest speakers in the schools, and cited morale problems in the workforce.

Member Susan Valdes, who gave Elia the lowest rating of 17 out of a possible 45, did not include any comments.

"This is half of everyone else's," Elia said. Unlike other board members, Elia said, Valdes does not meet with her one-on-one.

"The whole concept is improvement, and it's hard to improve when there are no comments," she said.

The document also included scores — but no comments — from members Doretha Edgecomb and Carol Kurdell, They, along with Valdes, are running for re-election in Tuesday's election.

Member Jack Lamb, also campaigning to keep his seat, wrote brief sentences and phrases, such as "works on raising level of aspirations" and "data driven."

Griffin gave Elia a 36 and offered detailed assessments of the superintendent's seventh year on the job. She gave Elia credit for financial management that enabled the district to avoid layoffs; and for making Hillsborough a leader in education reform through the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers.

But she was disappointed in Elia's handling of a controversy that erupted in January after the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a speaker to Steinbrenner High School.

Facing vocal critics at board meetings, Elia issued a set of teacher guidelines. Griffin felt the action was badly timed and bordered on policy, which is the board's job. "As a result, the board was put in a position to have to deal with an ongoing situation that caused distractions to both board and staff."

Member Stacy White, often a critic, gave Elia a 37 and said she improved in areas such as human resources and collaboration. But he asked to see more information before voting each year on the budget.

Elia, who acknowledged she could have handled the speaker issue differently, said she welcomes feedback. She said many factors enter into morale, often outside her control.

Just a day earlier, the district announced it is offering teachers and support workers raises in this year's contract negotiations. Health insurance premiums will not be increased, and the district also has sought teacher input throughout the EET process.

"We all believe in continuous improvement, as every one of us can get better," Elia said.

Hillsborough superintendent earns contract renewal despite slightly lower grade 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 11:03pm]
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