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Pasco School Board set to define ‘newly hired teacher’ for state bonus

The effort might be short-lived, as lawmakers appear poised to rewrite or eliminate the ‘Best and Brightest’ program in 2020.

Hoping to make the state’s controversial “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus more palatable, Florida lawmakers last spring rewrote the criteria by which educators might earn one of the awards.

They got rid of the much derided SAT and ACT score requirement. In its place, they created new categories, including a $4,000 “recruitment” bonus for “newly hired teachers.”

Lawmakers didn’t define exactly what they meant by “newly hired,” though. And when asked, the Florida Department of Education demurred, as well.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Which teachers qualify for a Florida Best and Brightest recruitment bonus?

So now the Pasco County School Board is ready to set its own definition. With the money already in its accounts and ready for distribution, district officials figured they needed to establish guidelines so they’d know how much funding would be left over for smaller awards left for “recognition.”

If the board approves, a “newly hired” teacher would be one who was hired into the Pasco district on or after July 1, 2019 — not those who transferred from one school to another within the district, as some people had suggested the rule might allow.

“It made the most sense to us to focus on people who are coming to us for the first time in their career,” explained assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley, who wrote the proposal after conferring with district staff and United School Employees of Pasco officials.

“We didn’t feel like the aim of the law was to give money to people who are bouncing between schools in the district, because that doesn’t really help us with recruitment.”

To qualify, teachers also must meet other state expectations, such as being a “content expert” in math, science, reading, civics or computer science. The Pasco district does not plan to require that the teachers currently be instructing in those fields for which they are deemed expert, though, instead focusing on whether they meet the qualification.

Shibley suggested that, by setting its own rules where the state left flexibility, the district would have the opportunity to direct money to more teachers.

He noted that after the “recruitment” and “retention” bonuses are distributed, the remaining funds could go to educators for “recognition” based on evaluation results and principal recommendation. Those awards could apply to a broader cross-section of employees, too, because they are offered to instructional personnel rather than the more limited K-12 classroom teacher criteria of the others.

To make the decisions easier, the district is recommending the board give these bonuses to any instructional staff members who meet the evaluation level of “effective” or higher. See the district’s proposed Best and Brightest rule for more details.

Whatever the School Board decides, its action could be fleeting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for replacing Best and Brightest, perhaps with a different bonus plan, and Senate Appropriations chairman Rob Bradley has filed a bill to kill it outright. Supporters of DeSantis’ call for increased teacher salaries have encouraged lawmakers to add the nearly $300 million line item to the general fund so it can be applied to salaries rather than one-time payments.

The Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations committee already has held two workshop sessions on how to improve teacher wages, which DeSantis has set as one of his top priorities for 2020.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Ron DeSantis says teacher pay, e-Verify top priorities to pass in 2020