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Eakins: Hillsborough schools could save $10M by ditching 'peer evaluators' who help rate teachers

Jeff Eakins said money for the peer evaluation system could be used for other expenditures.
Published Dec. 16, 2015

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board voted Tuesday to spend $818,000 on an efficiency consultant — a day after superintendent Jeff Eakins estimated the district can save $10 million by moving away from peer evaluation of teachers.

Instead, Eakins told teachers Monday evening at Riverview High School, "we would redirect peer evaluators back to other roles," perhaps as teachers or hybrid roles that combine teaching and coaching.

Nothing has been decided yet, and the evaluation system is one of numerous bits of unfinished business as students and staff head toward a two-week vacation.

Eakins has yet to name "priority schools," a group of schools that will need additional resources because of issues such as poverty and lower performance.

The teachers' union, which represents 20,000 employees, does not have a contract even though the pay year began on July 1. An offer on the table allows teachers to receive their scheduled raises retroactive to July 1.

Classroom aides would get 6 percent raises. But they would not be retroactive; instead, they'd get bonuses of $250.

And the union wants more stipends and incentives for social services workers, whose jobs are more demanding with the district's new push to avoid suspending unruly students.

"We've been waiting our turn," psychologist Dwayne Renaker told the board Tuesday.

Also on Eakins' plate is the task of adapting the district's evaluation system as a seven-year grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation draws to a close. A key feature in the reform effort, which received national attention, was the peer observation system, which rates teachers according to a universal rubric. Those ratings enter into the teacher's final score, which affects pay and job security.

But Eakins, though insisting he is not abandoning the Gates reforms, has said consistently that new research supports a less punitive, "nonevaluative" approach.

What's more, he told the Riverview group on Monday, the current system of evaluations and mentors costs about $17 million a year — money that is needed for other expenditures, including psychological services.

While nothing has been decided, he described a scenario in which the peer evaluators would be reassigned to jobs that might include teaching, coaching or hybrids of the two. "So that alone will probably save the district about $10 million, and that $10 million will then be redirected back to supporting the district in other ways, he said."

In some cases, they could be paid from sources other than the general revenue budget — and that would help the district resolve its fund balance issue.

The board voted unanimously to hire the Gibson Consulting group after learning that the $818,000 will come from purchase card rebates, not tax dollars. In fact, Eakins said, he and the consultants have also identified between $500,000 and $750,000 that can be returned to the general fund, the main source for school operations. That money represents indirect costs of supporting grant-funded programs.

In other business Tuesday, the district:

• Adopted revised policies, including one that allows limited text and social media communication between teachers and students. Staff will be trained to avoid any situation that would compromise ethics or student privacy.

• Approved four more charter schools: Avant Garde Academy and Plato Academy in northwest Hillsborough; BridgePrep Academy, a Spanish-English school in Riverview; and the Sports Leadership Management Academy, which does not yet have a location.

• Appointed Kevin Martin as principal of Lithia Springs Elementary School.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

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