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Tread lightly in rewriting rules for Pasco school employees' behavior

Thousands of Pasco school district employees should be polite and say ''please'' and "thank you.'' They should brush their teeth at least twice a day. They shouldn't gossip.

The first two suggestions are just common sense. The third is part of the new rule book for district employees scheduled to be voted upon by the Pasco County School Board on Jan. 19.

Gossip is my interpretation. The official language comes under section 3112 Board-Staff communications regarding "Social Interaction.''

It states, in part: "Both staff and board members have an interest in the schools and in education generally and it is to be expected that when they interact at social affairs and other functions, they will informally discuss such matters as educational trends, issues, innovations and general activities of the district. Board members and members of the staff should not discuss individual personalities, personnel grievances or other complaints.''

Good luck enforcing that one. I suspect individual personalities — like the people in elected office — are the subject of a lot of discussion from teachers, non-instructional employees and others right about now as they peruse the proposed policies at

The key word, by the way, in this proposal is "should.'' In other words, this is a recommendation. There is no legal authority binding the employees and School Board members to a mandate. Good thing. Telling people what they can and cannot talk about violates the First Amendment protections of free speech.

"You can make a suggestion, but you can't control behavior,'' agreed superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

The social interaction guideline is just one of rules included in an extensive, two-year rewrite of the policies and procedures for the Pasco County school district. Many of the rules already are in place and have been for at least 20 years. Much of it is mundane, but a handful of the proposals governing employees are so goofy that district administrators are recommending a rewrite.

Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek highlighted one of the legitimate complaints Wednesday. A suggested policy called for the district to own the copyright to research and published materials produced by staff members on their own time. The district would relinquish the copyright if requested, providing the staffer, among other things, allowed the board to purchase the material absent royalty charges. Fiorentino wisely recommended the School Board retreat from that overbearing attempt to exploit the staff's creative brain power.

Here's a few others worthy of reconsideration:

• "Communications from staff members to the board or its committees should be submitted through the superintendent. The superintendent shall forward such communications received from staff members to the board.''

Again, this proposal includes the word "should." As in, this is how it should work, but we can't force you to do it. It's an unworkable idea and, as written, smacks of intimidation.

As one teacher told me this week, "I have no intention of being cut off from e-mailing my elected School Board representatives.''

Likewise, Fiorentino, a former classroom teacher, said she used to call former School Board member Pam Coulter to voice her opinion on issues. She doesn't expect teachers to stop their lobbying.

The difference, she said, is that teachers assigned to a committee working on a specific project/issue should refrain from lobbying School Board members and should let the work of the committee speak for itself.

If that's the intent, then this proposal needs a rewrite for clarity.

• Support staffers who decide to run for public office must notify the superintendent and file a written summary of their plans to campaign "that will not interfere with fulfilling their obligation to the board.''

"I just find it kind of a damper on being a citizen,'' said Robert Marsh, a teacher at Land O'Lakes High School. "It gives the impression that she wants to intimidate you.''

The procedure is redundant since state law already prohibits employees from participating in a political campaign for elected office while on duty. Fiorentino, however, said the rule, minus the written requirement, dates at least to the Thomas Weightman era. The idea, she said, is for employees, if elected, to spell out whether they intend to remain district employees and whether the time required for their new political duties will conflict with their district responsibilities. Most often that conversation takes place in person, but the proposed policy now asks for it in writing so the district has a written record.

"We're not asking,'' said Fiorentino, "for someone's campaign strategy.''

Smart thinking. Otherwise, the written document might be as ambiguous as these recommended policies.

Tread lightly in rewriting rules for Pasco school employees' behavior 01/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 5:31pm]
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