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Cape schools fare well with state ‘recognition funds’; Monies accompany earning A grade

By Staff | Sep 19, 2008

Schools in Lee County were included within 1,900 schools statewide that received a total of $147 million from the Florida Department of Education for receiving an “A” or showing improvement in the state’s grading system.

The Florida Grading System has been criticized in the past for assigning high grades to schools throughout the state who exhibited improvement but still failed to make federal standards under No Child Left Behind.

Specifically, last year a record number of schools across the state received an A — 1,959, with 47 of those in Lee County.

When schools score an A or show improvement, they are given “recognition funds” that account for $85 per student in each school. Last year these funds were valued at $100 per student, but fell after the state came up short in this year’s legislative session.

“It is a very solid reward system for the hard work of our teachers for accomplishing certain academic achievement levels,” said Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik. “I certainly support getting as much of this type of bonus money to our teachers and support people.”

Amounts presented to schools vary on how many students are in attendance, but Cape Coral elementary schools, such as Cape Elementary, each received $68,680, and Caloosa Elementary received $88,522.

Diplomat Middle received $75,395 and Gulf Middle $84,235.

Cape Coral High received the most of all schools in the Cape bringing in a total of $167,593. Mariner High was a close second with $165,085.

On Wednesday, Florida’s Education Commissioner Eric Smith commended the efforts of teachers, parents and school administrators statewide for the increase in A schools.

“I’m honored to recognize these outstanding schools for their unwavering commitment to the success of our students,” said Smith. “Through the collaborative efforts of teachers, parents and school administrators, we can continue to inspire our children to achieve to their highest potential.”

Now that the money has been sent to schools in Cape Coral and Lee County, it is up to individual School Advisory Councils to decide how it will be spent.

Depending on a collaborative decision between school staff and the SAC committee, the funds can go for staff bonuses, new equipment or technology for the school, or to hire additional personnel.

While these recognition funds reward teachers who have worked hard to increase test scores, some educators have expressed concern over the effects that the introduction of this money could have on district staff, especially in trying economic times.

The Lee County School District is struggling with a gap of $29 million in state funds. Further, Superintendent James Browder announced on Sept. 9 that 60 additional employee positions could be cut following a reduction of 154 earlier this year.

This round of cuts could include teachers, he said.

A surplus list currently shows 17 employees, with six working as teachers and guidance counselors in the Cape. Whether they can find a position in the county depends on the October enrollment numbers.

District positions are being shifted around to prevent employees from losing their jobs, but even employed staff across the county are fighting off a tumbling economy leading some to question whether bonus decisions could divide the staff.

Tough decisions on where the funds end up need to be made such as whether to issue bonuses to all staff — including custodians, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers — or just teachers, and whether teachers who left the district after the year of improvement should receive the bonus as well.

Many teachers are presumably expecting these funds to supplement their income after the district announced it was stalling salary negotiations until September.

Donna Mutzenard, spokesperson for the Florida Education Association, said salaries are still frozen and union officials plan on meeting with the district later this month to resolve the issue.

She added that recognition funds sometimes cause disagreements between staff.

According to state statute, recognition funds cannot be negotiated and if a decision is not made by Nov. 1, all of the money goes to current classroom teachers.