New School Board chair to focus on funding, teacher recruiting

The Pasco County School Board has selected Alison Crumbley, left, as chairwoman for 2019 and Colleen Beaudoin, right, as vice chairwoman. JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times
The Pasco County School Board has selected Alison Crumbley, left, as chairwoman for 2019 and Colleen Beaudoin, right, as vice chairwoman. JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times
Published Nov. 26, 2018

Chairing the Pasco County School Board is largely a ceremonial role, consisting of running board meetings and helping coordinate the items that appear on the agendas.

Gavel in hand, though, the chairperson can use the seat as a bully pulpit for issues near and dear.

And that's what Alison Crumbley plans to do in her second stint as chairwoman, which began Nov. 20.

"I would still like to get the most we can get for our teachers as possible," Crumbley said, noting that contract negotiations remain incomplete, with the sides more than $4 million apart.

Part of the effort must include lobbying lawmakers to allow school districts to maintain their current property tax rates, so they can benefit from rising taxable values, she said. Crumbley will appear before the Pasco legislative delegation to discuss this and other issues on Dec. 17.

At the same time, she said, the district must find new ways to entice teachers to work in Pasco County during a time of intense competition for a shrinking pool of candidates. Several teachers have told the board that Pasco's pay is not competitive, and some have taken jobs in nearby districts that offer higher salaries, although sometimes for longer work days.

Pasco started the current school year with about 60 vacancies, significantly fewer than in recent years. That's still not acceptable to leaders who do not want to rely on substitutes who might have lesser qualifications than certified educators.

"Everybody's got a teacher shortage," Crumbley said. "We've got to come up with some ways to show teachers what we can offer in Pasco that you're not going to get anywhere else. We need to be more innovative than we have been."

Crumbley said she'd also like to spend the coming year adding more academic program options to the existing public schools. The administration has come up with ideas to boost advanced offerings in west Pasco feeder patterns, which could include closing some campuses.

The board will explore that idea and others in the coming months.

Crumbley contended it's important to provide children more accessible choices beyond the traditional mainstream fare.

It's not good enough, she said, to have programs "that you get on a list and can't get into." The district needs to look into improving its transportation to programs, she said, or place programs in more schools.

Nearly 100 students backed out of attending the district's new technical high school in New Port Richey this fall, after learning they could not get a bus ride from their home to the campus. The district provides buses from certain high schools to and from the technical high school.

It does not provide any transportation to several magnet and specialty programs.

STUDYING THE ISSUES: Less than a week after taking office, newly elected School Board member Megan Harding jumped into the subjects that have dominated discussion in recent weeks and months.

But she's not quite ready to stake out a position.

"I'm just gathering all the information and just processing it," Harding said, shortly after a visit to Hudson Elementary School, which has been recommended for closure in 2021.

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She intends to talk to teachers and staff at as many schools as possible, and is contacting principals to set up sessions. She also planned to attend the Florida School Boards Association annual fall meeting in Tampa, to learn more about the many tasks and responsibilities she now faces.

"I need to build those relationships first," Harding said.

She was certain about one thing: The need to broadcast and archive board meetings for easier public access.

The board currently makes an audio recording of its sessions, but does not stream or televise them. That does no good for people, including employees, who cannot attend the board's monthly 9:30 a.m. meetings. It also holds meetings at 6 p.m. each month.

"Teachers and staff members need to see those meetings when we cannot attend," Harding said. "That way, we can ask the questions when we need to."

She said she planned to ask her colleagues to consider the idea in the coming weeks.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at Follow @jeffsolochek.