Pinellas County school officials call on legislature to make improvements to public ed

11/20/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Pinellas County Schools, Peggy O'Shea, Michael Grego, Dwight Dudley, education


Pinellas County legislative delegation from 2008. Some shown in photo are no longer in office.

photo by Sean Kinane

Pinellas County School Board members rubbed shoulders with state lawmakers Wednesday morning in hopes of getting some of their priorities heard in Tallahassee. During a breakfast served up by culinary students at the Clearwater PTEC campus, Pinellas School Board member Peggy O’Shea hopes to get additional resources to expand career-driven curriculum.

“Because then kids leave high school with job skills, true job skills that they can take into the workforce and come out with a better future than they would have with just a high school diploma with no career background.”

She also hopes to secure funding to improve, maintain and expand school infrastructure. O’Shea understands the tough political climate in the state legislature, but says lawmakers should be concerned with what constituents want for their children’s education.

“I think when you’re elected to office whether it’s school board or the state legislature, you’re not elected because people want your ideas to go forward. You’re elected because they want you to carry their ideas forward.”

Funding for public education suffered a more than $1 billion cut in 2011 shortly after Governor Rick Scott took office. In 2012, Scott’s budget restored $1 billion of that. But critics argue it didn’t come close to replacing what was slashed. Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego is hoping to get some of the funds back.

“Our base student allocation is still down hundreds and hundreds of dollars. We’re trying to recover from that and our request is that we provide those funds in a very flexible manner not tied to specific things, but provide the district some flexibility so that our bargaining and our unions can sit down and insure that these funds go for the betterment of students.”

Grego is also focusing on changes to the state educational standards as districts transition to Common Core. The new standards are aligned with almost every other state in the nation and are intended to be tougher. But new tests to accompany the standards haven’t been chosen yet. Grego says the state should allow districts a three-year transitional period.

“We’ve been used to writing our own – the FCAT over many, many years and it has been validated. It has a high level of reliability. Now we’re jumping to another assessment. We don’t know what that assessment is. We don’t know – it’s not been validated, it hasn’t been tested. We’re setting high standards. We’re attaching that assessment to teacher performance pay, administrative performance pay. So we have that cart before the horse.”

Grego is also worried about the school grading system many see as flawed. He says Pinellas implemented a grading rubric that takes multiple factors into account instead of relying solely on students’ testing scores.

“We take a look the same way we did a few years ago where we looked at our high school grading system and we said there’s many things that contribute to good schools. We looked at advanced placement. We looked at accelerated courses. We looked at various graduation rates. We looked at a variety of measures for high schools. We’re saying that that same type of system, the examination should take place with elementary and middle the same way that we very successfully did it in partnership with the high schools.”

Members of the Pinellas County legislative delegation listened to pleas from the school board as well as stakeholders such as the Classroom Teacher’s Association and the PTA. When asked about his legislative priorities for public education, Representative Dwight Dudley, a Democrat, says he wants to see more of a push toward early childhood education.

“It’s pretty obvious that so many kids from lower socioeconomic situations come into our school system so ill-prepared and they end up behind, brutally behind, deeply behind, irreversibly behind and we need to do something about that.”

By focusing on children as early as infancy, Dudley says it could have a marked effect of student success.

“The experts say that, The Annie Casey Foundation says by about third grade they lose interest in school. By fifth grade they’re completely disinterested, they become behavioral problems and disruptive and so on. They end up dropping out. They’re five times more likely to be incarcerated.”

Dudley is not on the education committee that writes bills, but he says he will be an advocate for early childhood education and support a bill if it’s brought up. The legislative session starts March 4.

*These dates have been corrected since this story was broadcast.

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