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Survey lists concerns on schools

Discipline, curriculum and funding top the list of problems confronting Pasco County schools, according to a survey by a group of community leaders.

Teachers and residents seem closely aligned in their concerns, and administrators are the only group to identify the need for improved public relations, naming it their No. 1 issue.

Discipline is the top issue among teachers, and curriculum and a need to teach basic skills is first with residents, followed by discipline.

The open-ended survey garnered 476 responses from residents, teachers, administrators and district employees such as custodians and secretaries. Their concerns are expected to become the focus of a telephone survey and subsequent forums seeking solutions.

The surveys were analyzed by Bruce Hall, chairman of the department of educational measurement and research at the University of South Florida. On Monday, he presented the results to a Leadership Pasco committee called Collaborative Alliance Among Business Leaders and Educators Together Improving Education, or CABLE TIE.

CABLE TIE emerged to conduct the study after voters rejected a proposed sales tax increase last September that would have paid for school construction and renovation. District officials wanted to clear up misconceptions about public schools they said they heard during the tax campaign.

"I think the citizens are closely in line with the teachers," Hall said Monday of the survey.

"And the administrators are a little out of synch with the teachers," said Mike Denmark, Leadership Pasco president and head of CABLE TIE.

Part of the problem, Hall said, is that there is no way to know if the administrators who wrote in are based in schools _ principals and their assistants _ or are working in the central administrative offices in Land O'Lakes.

Hall said the committee also seemed perplexed that residents so clearly identified financial issues but failed to approve the sales tax increase 10 months ago.

He and the group discussed how many of the issues can be traced to money. Salaries, growth, class sizes and even discipline are all financial issues. For example, tight funding can lead to larger class sizes, which can lead to discipline problems.

"It would seem to me that since it went down so resoundingly they might be saying . . . "We're not going to give you any more money until you spend it wisely,' " said Kurt Browning, Pasco's supervisor of elections and a Leadership Pasco member.

Voters might have been saying they understand the problems but don't want to pay more taxes. In the words of CABLE TIE member Jack Smith, "I think you need more money, just don't get it from me."

Based on the survey responses, district employees and residents have numerous opinions about the schools.

"We haven't had a decent raise in six years," wrote one teacher.

"Most students view discipline as a joke," wrote another.

One resident complained that there is "too much wasted time teaching alternative history," adding that "political correct" lessons in areas such as "black education" and "Indian history" ought to be taught after school by volunteers.

Still, there were those who used the survey to offer compliments.

"Pasco schools do an excellent job with thousands of students . . . in many ability levels," wrote one resident. "Schools are criticized for the few negatives and seldom receive recognition for all the wonderful successes they produce."

CABLE TIE is not finished asking for opinions. Hall has proposed a telephone survey of at least 300 residents _ 100 teachers, 100 parents, 25 administrators with an emphasis on school-based administrators, 25 staff members, 25 businesses and 25 retirees who live in Pasco year-round.

After the phone survey, CABLE TIE will hold focus sessions to brainstorm possible solutions to school problems. The plan is that by next spring, CABLE TIE will be finishing work on a marketing strategy for the district.

"It kind of interests me that they're looking at some of the same issues that the School Board has been tackling," said Assistant Superintendent John Long.

Long cautioned against reading too much into a small sampling and said he thinks the telephone survey, which will target specific parts of the population, will be more revealing.

School Board member Marge Whaley was one of the first district officials to call for a marketing plan. She said she was appalled by the misconceptions she heard from residents about schools during the campaign for the sales tax and was not surprised that administrators listed public relations as a top issue.

"I think those are very astute administrators," she said. "Until we do better with the public, and the public means everybody, I don't think we'll have more money for schools."

TOP 5 CONCERNS

Teachers, school administrators and citizens each identified their top five concerns regarding Pasco schools in a survey conducted by Leadership Pasco.

TEACHERS ADMINISTRATORS CITIZENS

1. Discipline Public relations Curriculum

2. Planning time Funding Discipline

3. Class size Salaries Funding

4. Salaries Growth Pressures

5. Curriculum Discipline Community / parent support

Source: Bruce W. Hall, University of South Florida

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