The Pasco County School Board met for the last time Tuesday before the 2012-13 school year begins, and the theme of the meeting carried a familiar tune: budgets and bullying.
Tuesday's meeting was the first public hearing session on the district's budget for the upcoming year, and board members approved a tentative $1 billion plan, which is down 4.6 percent from last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times—including a tentative millage rate of 7.341 mills—without discussion.
Only one person addressed the board during the public hearing portion of Tuesday's meeting.
Jim Ciadella, a representative of the United School Employees of Pasco, said the budget, if approved, will further exacerbate the "trying times" that school employees face, as workloads and stress levels increase. The two furlough days in the plan are equivalent to employees donating two days of pay, he said.
A final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.
During the regular meeting, former Hudson Middle School assistant principal Buffy Simon broke down in tears as she addressed the board.
Simon of Land O' Lakes said after being "abruptly removed" from her position at Hudson, she was told she is not eligible to apply for other available AP jobs. She said her removal came after reporting a hostile work environment.
At the time she was told to support the principal, Simon said. She also recounted a text message received during school hours that asked her to attend a fundraiser for Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, after which she was told it was "in her best interest" to support her boss.
This is the type of environment the district is currently supporting, she said.
Simon said she has a master's degree in educational leadership, and her career is on the line.
"I cannot sit back anymore," Simon said.
Former Sanders Elementary employee Peggy Lopez of Land O' Lakes also addressed the board to voice her concern over documents released to Patch.com as part of a public records request, a move she said demonstrated "bully tactics" by the district.
"I really feel it a wrong thing to do to release these files when I have never seen them," Lopez said.
Lopez said, according to her contract and union officials, such documents should not exist, nor should they be released to the media.
A public records request was made by Patch as part of an inquiry into an ongoing series of stories addressing issues at Connerton Elementary. Documents pertaining to the employment of Lopez and Cathy Brown, both organizers of the movement to have Connerton Principal Anna Falcone removed from her position, were requested in order to substantiate a claim by the school district that both had "issues" during their employment. As a result of that request, the investigative files and formal files of both were obtained. The contents of those files, however, have not been published on Patch.
"I don't know if these files are legal or not," Lopez told the board. However, she said, she planned to make sure every district employee knew these types of files existed, referring to the investigative files.
"These files need to be purged," she said.
After the meeting, district director of employee relations Kevin Shibley said investigative files are only initiated if allegations of misconduct warrant an investigation.
The notion that the district has investigative files on all employees is not true, Shibley said. If an employee is being investigated, they would know an investigative file exists to document that investigation, he said.
And those investigative files are part of the public record, Shibley said.
Those are in addition to all emails and written correspondence to the school district, regardless of whether there is a formal investigation, Pasco Schools spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said.
Those documents are accessible to any employee or member of the public by request from the human resources department, however people have to be very specific in what they are looking for when making a request, and due to the number of requests received, it can take a few days, Shibley said.
If someone asks an HR representative for what was given to the press, they aren't going to have any idea what that may encompass, as press requests are handled through the media relations department, Romagnoli said.
The law is clear as to what documentation has to be retained and for how long, Ramagnoli said. And all of those documents are public record under the Sunshine Law, she said.
See also: Issues at Connerton Elementary
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