The Gulf County School Board could find all sorts of adjective besides best and brightest to characterize the district’s experience behind a state mandate to reward outstanding teachers.
Now, the board is faced with a revised program, one over which the board will have ownership and one that may very well change once again before the next school year begins.
On Tuesday, the board’s consulting attorney for union matters, Leonard Dietzin, provided an overview of the new law which he labeled “Best and Brightest 2.0” and emerged from a settlement between the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Education Association which alleged the program was discriminatory.
The old law, which provided one-time bonuses annually to instructional staff rated “effective” or “highly effective” on personnel evaluations, is replaced by a new one different in several important respects.
The first, and most important for the Gulf County School Board, is that the FDOE will not establish the rules or policies under which the program will operate.
The policies and guidelines under which the program will disburse funds will be established entirely by board members.
Each district receives state funding based on full-time equivalent student population: for Gulf District Schools that will mean roughly $273,000.
Secondly, gone is the provision of providing proof of being in the 80th percentile when taking college entrance tests the ACT or SAT.
Further, the list of eligible school positions was also expanded to include nearly every position which comes in contact with students during the day, from counselors and social workers to media specialists and classroom teachers.
However, much to the consternation of district officials, pre-K teachers, even if they possess a Master’s degree, would not be eligible under the program; only K-12.
For Gulf District Schools, the new law will also expand the ability to reward paraprofessionals: Dietzin noted the district is among a minority in the state that already evaluated paraprofessionals “effective” or “highly effective.”
“The law has started a bit of class warfare as the last one did,” said Dietzin, who works with 15 school districts. “It picks winners and losers, like the last one did.”
The program also has a three-pronged approach, aiming dollars to recruit, retain and recognize school personnel.
But, for a district the size of Gulf County, two of those areas, recruitment and retention, would not be areas the district would likely expend funds, translating into most of the $273,000 going toward recognition of school employees.
The retention component applies only to schools that realize a gain year-to-year in test scores of 3 percent and continue that 3 percent gain each year over at least three years.
The district has no such high-performing schools.
The recruitment component, which allows the district to expend up to $4,000 per teacher to recruit a teacher to the district, is not likely to be used more than four or five times, Dietzin said.
Those dollars could only be used to recruit a teacher with a Master’s degree in math, science or the computer sciences or who has at least five years teaching experience.
That leaves the recognition dollars, which will be disbursed to school employees selected by school principals based on school board policy yet to be crafted.
“The board has control over the parameters of this award,” Dietzin said. “None of this is fair.
“The big thing is this time this is our law, our money, so we’ll have some say.”
The first steps, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said, would be discussing options with the union; the district and union have a scheduled negotiating session today.
After receiving feedback from the union, the board would meet in executive session to craft a direction and policy, which would ultimately have to be presented during a public meeting before it became board policy, Dietzin noted.
A major question, Dietzin and Norton each noted separately, is the expiration date on this version of “Best and Brightest.”
On Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a proposal he will send to the Florida Legislature in his 2020 budget that would include raising the minimum salary for teachers in Florida to $47,500.
That is roughly $10,000 more per year than is the current average among Florida’s 67 school districts and more than $10,000 above the starting salary for a teacher in Gulf County.
Florida lawmakers may or may not follow the governor’s lead, but either way impacts to teacher salaries will almost surely be impacted, Norton said.
In turn, Dietzin noted, it could mean the death knell for the “Best and Brightest” program.
Due to the requirements and workload under new school safety rules, the district made some tweaks to its administrative structure.
The most obvious, at least to the public, is the promotion of Jennifer Guffey to principal at Wewahitchka Elementary School.
Guffey was already the assistant principal to Billy Hoover, who will transition to take over the Adult School and affiliated programs.
Hoover will take over for Duane McFarland, who will now become the district’s full-time safety official.