Parents ask district to weed out kids attending incorrect schools, prior to rezoning

Published Sept. 21, 2016

Hoping to prevent being drawn out of the attendance zones for Mitchell High and Seven Springs Middle schools, several Trinity-area parents have urged the Pasco School Board to first root out children attending the schools using false addresses.

School district officials are listening, said board attorney Dennis Alfonso. They just haven't decided exactly how to proceed.

A key concern from the district's perspective, Alfonso said, is making sure that any action doesn't look punitive against a select group of children. He is advocating a districtwide process that requires all students to provide proof of residency, or some other documentation showing they are in a school through approved methods.

A first step under consideration is developing a standardized list of acceptable documents. District leaders also are talking about changing policies to make it a parental responsibility to update their address and other related information, Alfonso said.

At the same time, he continued, parents who file complaints about children lying to get into a school will have to understand that children's information is personal and private. That means the district will not be able to reveal its findings to the people who made the complaint.

Alfonso added that the district will need to take into account that, at the end of the day, it is responsible for education first and foremost.

"We are not the address gestapo," he said. "We are not going to hire someone to go out to a house and see who is sleeping there."

Address verification to deal with school crowding is not unusual. The Broward County School District moved to crack down on false addresses earlier this year as a step to possibly avoid needing to redraw attendance zones, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

HEADING OUT: With the Pasco County School District's budget up for approval, several teachers stepped up to tell the School Board that its 2.65 percent raise offer, while appreciated, wasn't enough.

Pasco's average teacher pay is 54th among 67 districts in the state, United School Employees of Pasco president Kenny Blankenship noted, and it's causing educators to take jobs elsewhere "as fast as they can."

Districts with lower average pay, according to the state Department of Education, are primarily small rural ones.

"Although pay is important," Blankenship continued, "it isn't the only thing."

He raised the USEP's ongoing concern that teachers on annual contracts — close to half of them after state law changed so new hires could not get continuing agreements — could be released even if they get "effective" or "highly effective" evaluation ratings.

"Any reason for non-renewing an effective or highly effective teacher is equine excrement," Blankenship told the board.

The union is fighting to get that changed, pointing out that other Florida districts have offered such protections. Pasco leaders contend it would violate state law.

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To drive home the point, Blankenship related the story of Stephanie Barnes. An eight-year teacher in Pasco, most recently at Lake Myrtle Elementary, Barnes received a "highly effective" rating in 2014-15. She embraced leadership roles, Blankenship said, and took pride in her work, students and school.

When she ran into areas of concern from her school administrators, he shared, she responded with enthusiasm to improve her performance. Yet, at the end of 2015-16, Barnes was not renewed.

After that, Blankenship said, Barnes was unable to get another teaching job in Pasco. But she "immediately" got a job teaching in Hillsborough, at about $8,000 more per year.

"How is this in the best interest of students?" he wondered. "It's not."

Board members did not respond. Blankenship promised to bring more stories like Barnes' to the board in the future, stating there are many others.

"Morale is the lowest I've seen" in years, Blankenship said, "and it's pitiful."

ACCREDITED: The Pasco School District has won re-accreditation from AdvancEd, the nonprofit organization that reviews K-12 schools in areas such as teaching and learning, leadership and use of resources.

A team of educators spent several days in the district, conducting interviews and reviewing documents as part of the process.

"There is much to be proud of in Pasco at this time. The district's Success Plan and the clearly worded statements of Vision and Mission provide evidence of a clear focus on the needs of the children of Pasco County," lead evaluator Edlow Barker wrote in a Sept. 16 letter to superintendent Kurt Browning.

The Pasco system has been accredited districtwide since 2006. Before that, schools were reviewed individually.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.

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