Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pasco teacher contract talks continue focus on evaluations

With some key financial data still unavailable, Pasco County teacher contract negotiators kept their attention turned to improving annual performance evaluations as they met Thursday afternoon.

Representatives from both sides continued their focus on the same goal of helping educators who need it, rather than punishing them.

Differences remained, though, in how to get there — particularly after the United School Employees of Pasco complained in the spring about the timeliness of collecting evaluation data and providing feedback at some schools.

The USEP on Thursday provided a counter to the district's evaluation language, which arrived a week earlier. Its plan added some new concepts, such as an evaluation appeals committee and a grievance process, that the district had not contemplated.

"The concept here is, long before you get to an unsatisfactory or needs improvement [rating], there is a time you will be notified of deficiencies and will be given time to overcome them," USEP lead negotiator Val Smith said during the talks.

She asked for two added classroom observations for teachers at risk of receiving a poor evaluation.

The USEP further proposed language clarifying that evaluations are confidential between the administrator and employee. Smith noted that in some instances, instructional coaches who are teachers, not administrators, are drawn into the evaluation process of colleagues without adequate consent.

Teachers might be more welcoming of support from those coaches, she said, if they "don't feel there are private conversations going on about them behind their backs."

She also called for a standing committee to annually review the evaluation model.

"An extra page and two more committees," district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said in response to the proposal. "I think that's a record, two more committees in one document."

She noted that teachers already can appeal the student performance measures portion of their evaluation, and wondered how creating an outside appeal committee would help.

"I don't know how you effectively appeal an observation … when you are asking people to rule on something they have never seen," Scalise said.

Smith responded that it would be similar to a jury being asked to rule on evidence, which would have to be clear and convincing. "We are not looking to just create committees for the sake of creating committees."

Scalise asked questions about other parts of the USEP proposal, but did not comment on the standing committee or grievance process portions. She agreed that the goal is "to bring to fruition that improvement that is necessary" among struggling teachers.

Also during the talks, Scalise told the teachers of the district's plan to let lapse an agreement on reading plans, which had become in many ways a stand-in for rules on professional learning committees and professional development.

The processes have already become part of the district's "life blood," Leading and Learning director Lea Mitchell said, and do not need to exist in a separate agreement. Besides, she added, the reading requirements that were the vehicle had become obsolete.

Both sides said they would consider the others' proposals, and respond at a future meeting. Their next date has not been set.

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