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School officials tie salary to tests

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Hillsborough administrators will take a 5 percent pay cut if any school gets an F from the state. State officials applaud.

Top-ranking school officials in Hillsborough County have vowed to take a 5 percent salary cut next year if any school gets an F under the state's new grading system.

School Superintendent Earl Lennard announced Monday at a back-to-school news conference that his eight deputies and assistants volunteered to join him in the pledge.

Should any school get an F, it will cost the administrators $46,968, including $8,250 from Lennard, who earns about $165,000 annually. The money would go back into the school district's general fund, Lennard said.

Recognizing the unprecedented pressure high-stakes testing and accountability have put on principals and teachers, Lennard said: "There's no question we're all in this together.

"This central administration will do everything possible to ensure you receive the support you need."

Lennard also said he is encouraging an additional 189 central office administrators to join in the salary pledge, which would mean at least another $485,200 would be put on the line. That figure is based on the low end of the pay range for the affected positions.

Clearly, though, it was the superintendent's personal pledge that had the greatest impact on state officials and on Hillsborough's 1999 Teacher of the Year honorees, who were invited to Monday's news conference.

Lennard told them he expected every school to rise at least one grade level, which would amount to 35 A's, 85 B's, 37 C's and no D's or F's.

"I've seen principals eat worms, I've seen vice principals kiss pigs to get students to read a certain number of pages, but I've never seen a superintendent put his salary on the line," said Darlene Cleminson, top teacher at Mann Middle School.

"Obviously," said Kathy Brady of Gaither High School, "he has great confidence in the school system and our teachers to bring up those grades."

Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher, through a spokeswoman, said he hopes other school superintendents will join Lennard in making a similar financial commitment.

Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, in a telephone interview, said he congratulates Hillsborough for drawing "a commendable line in the sand" that says it is unacceptable to accept the "sad statistics of the past."

That data shows that a school in which there is a large concentration of minority students, poverty is high and family breakdowns are prevalent likely will score poorly on standardized tests.

"The big question is, are we simply going to accept the fact that high-minority, low socio-economic schools perform in the lowest quartile of student achievement, or are we going to view that as a challenge to overcome?" Brogan said.

Clearly, he added, Hillsborough is saying it is unacceptable for a "two-tiered system of public education to persist, one for the haves and one for the have-nots."

Indeed, of the state's 280 elementary schools with poverty rates above 80 percent, only 17 got a C. Of the remaining schools, 55 got an F, 206 got a D and two were ungraded.

Lennard said he is aware that in Hillsborough, all 34 elementary schools that got a D were among the poorest of the district's 106 elementary schools.

That includes Sulphur Springs Elementary, which last year got a D but was perilously close to getting an F. That would have happened if just one more student had scored below a 3.0 on Florida Writes.

If that were to happen next year, it would cost Lennard and his top staff nearly $47,000.

Lennard said the central office staff will assist schools in getting the resources they need, whether it is for additional teacher training, class size reduction or after-school and Saturday school tutoring sessions.

"It may be we will not succeed, but it will not be because we have not set our goals high," he said in an interview. "At least when I'm shaving every morning, I can look at myself in the mirror knowing that I have done every bit that I could for every youngster in the county."