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Settlement: Hernando School District Wrong To Dismiss All Moton Teachers


Hernando County Schools admitted it cannot get rid of every teacher at a troubled elementary school when it signed a settlement with the local teachers union this week.

District Superintendent Lori Romano announced in April that all 47 teachers at Moton Elementary School would either be relocated or would not have their annual contracts renewed.

The move angered members of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association who felt they were not properly consulted ahead of the announcement.

The union filed a grievance against the district late last month and the two groups began to negotiate an agreement.

Three major takeaways from the settlement, which was signed Tuesday evening, include:

-Three teachers with annual contracts were supposed to be guaranteed positions at the school because they earned "highly efficient" ratings this year, the best possible score. They will get their jobs back at Moton without having to reapply.

-18 tenured teachers who were previously not given a say in what other Hernando schools they would move to will now get to relocate to one of their three preferred choices.

-The signing bonuses for teachers who take jobs at Moton next year will be re-negotiated with the union, rather than solely determined by the district.

Vince LaBorante, President of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, called the agreement a "win."

"We basically called out the school district because they violated our contract and they basically admitted that they did," he said.

"I think we gave them a really good reminder that if we want to have this 'collaborative' type of working environment, than things of this nature need to be brought to the table to be discussed and the Teachers Association, the union, needs to be included in these discussions."

LaBorante is demanding more transparency from the district in the future.

John Stratton, Executive Director of Business Services for Hernando County Schools, said he thinks that will happen.

"We appreciated the union wanting to come together with us on this," he said. "We're hoping we're never in this situation again, but I feel confidently that if we were faced with something like this, we would work together and have a game plan on how we both want this to go."

Stratton said Superintendent Romano was trying to save the school, which received a D rating two years in a row, from being taken over by the state when she made the decision to re-staff.

"It's about improving our school and not giving up any kind of authority or control we have over one of our schools," he said.

If Moton earns a third failing grade this summer, Stratton said the district would have to report to the Florida Department of Education by January with its plan for the following school year.

"Looking at three options of closure, closing the school temporarily and re-opening as a charter or bringing in an outside agency to run the school," he said.

Stratton says school officials feel by re-staffing they have put themselves in a better position to prove to the state they are making an effort to improve Moton, in the hopes of getting an extra year to earn a passing grade even if the school fails again this time around.

But if Moton earns a C this summer, the district would regain control of the school, and Romano's decision to overhaul the entire teaching staff before the school year was over -- and during state testing -- would have been unnecessary.

A number of union and Hernando school board members have criticized the timing of her decision. Stratton said the district was trying to give teachers ample time to seek other employment.

LaBorante said though the union is celebrating the new agreement, his members still have mixed feelings about Romano.

"The emotions really go from a range of 'She did what she felt she needed to do for the students of the school,' to, you know, distrust," he said.

Most of the open positions at Moton have already been filled, some by current teachers who went through the hiring process again.

As of Monday, 14 current teachers have been rehired, 11 were transferred internally within the school district and another 11 were hired externally. The district hopes to fill the remaining positions this month.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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