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School survey gets sour response from Pinellas School Board

A new survey by the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Pinellas County Council of PTAs has struck a sour note with some School Board members who claim many questions are misleading or based on incorrect information.

Board member Linda Lerner, who brought up the survey Tuesday, asked superintendent John Stewart to write a letter to the foundation expressing concern. She called the questions "misleading and invalid."

Board member Peggy O'Shea agreed that some of the questions "are not based on facts." But she said foundation members "don't believe in our data."

The foundation has taken an active role in School Board issues recent months, offering to pay $30,000 for a new superintendent search, trying to meet privately with the man running the district's superintendent search and releasing a "Savings for Classrooms" report that included dozens of financial recommendations.

Jim Myers, chairman of the foundation, said the surveys are a resource for the School Board, providing important feedback from parents and taxpayers. It's primarily an initiative of the PTA, he said, but one that is "fully supported" by the foundation.

"It's meant to foster what we believe in, which is good communication with the parents," he said.

Survey questions were developed through three focus groups and based, in part, on data from the state Department of Education, he said.

An earlier survey, conducted in March, found that many parents don't feel like their opinions are considered when decisions are made. That survey included questions about whether the respondents support the school tax referendum, if they approve of early release Wednesdays and whether schools set high expectations for students.

The latest survey includes a dozen questions, nine of which pertain to specific issues. About 1,200 people had responded as of Thursday, Myers said. The survey is open until Monday. It can be found online at pinellaseducation.org.

Some board members took issue with this question:

"According to the Florida Dept. of Education, 43% of all Pinellas County School employees are traditional classroom teachers. Should Pinellas County Schools place more value on classroom instruction by decreasing money spent on non-classroom operations in order to increase teacher salaries?"

Board members said the figure doesn't take into account other money that's spent on classroom instruction, including support staff.

Another question asked:

"Similar to students and schools, should the Pinellas County School Board receive a letter grade (A-F) on their performance from parents and taxpayers?"

Board chairwoman Robin Wikle said the community already "grades" board members' performance — through elections every four years. But Wikle said she didn't think the board needed to react to the survey, as Lerner suggested.

"We don't do anything," she said. "It's their survey."

Other members said it might be a good idea for the board to have more communication with the foundation. Stewart said he could draft a letter, but he wasn't as concerned about the survey questions.

"I don't take the same offense to it that you're expressing, Ms. Lerner … People say all kinds of things about me and the system that I don't agree with," he said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727)-893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Sample of survey questions:

2. In the last parent survey conducted in April, the majority of respondents opposed early release Wednesday, which involves Pinellas County schools closing one hour early on every Wednesday to give teachers planning time. Parent input was not sought when early release Wednesday was approved by the School Board in 2009. At this time, what do you want the School Board to do?

3. According to the Florida Dept. of Education, 43 percent of all Pinellas County School employees are traditional classroom teachers. Should Pinellas County Schools place more value on classroom instruction by decreasing money spent on non-classroom operations in order to increase teacher salaries?

7. Currently, Pinellas County Schools spends $8 million more on transportation than the State of Florida mandate of $24 million for the district. Most of this $8 million is to bus students attending elective schools outside their zoned area. Who should pay for transportation for students whose parents choose to send them to a school outside their zoned area?

10. Similar to students and schools, should the Pinellas County School Board receive a letter grade (A- F) on their performance from parents and taxpayers?

School survey gets sour response from Pinellas School Board 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:31am]
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