STUART, Fla. — The state Department of Education has rejected an agreement between the Martin County School District and the local teachers' union on a teacher evaluation process required for the district to draw money from a $1.3 million federal grant.
An email to district officials sent Wednesday afternoon, just before schools closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, indicated the rejection could affect the district's ability to draw funds from the federal Race to the Top program as early as this week.
But after a conference call with district officials Monday morning, the state relaxed that stance.
Kathryn S. Hebda, deputy chancellor for education quality for the state Department of Education, said the district's funds "are OK for the time being, but there's going to come a time when they're not OK."
In the email sent at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday, Hebda stated the agreement between the board and teachers improperly:
Holds that teachers can't be fired or disciplined because of their evaluations for two years.
Would prevent evaluation results from being considered when the district reduces manpower.
The state's "conflict" with the agreement, Hebda wrote, "may place your district's status as a (Race to the Top) participating district in jeopardy. Until that conflict is resolved, I regret to inform you that your ability to draw down funds for Race to the Top purposes may be suspended as early as next week."
The district has been earmarked to receive the grant money over four years. Among the criteria required to get the money was for the district to develop, with union approval, a new teacher evaluation system based equally on student performance and instructional practice.
"The problem is that the state law we have to follow is so complex and so unclear that it's incredibly difficult to see what we can and can't do," said Pam Kessler, president of the Martin County Education Association.
Hebda said there's "no hard, fast deadline" for the district to have the new evaluation system in place other than the end of the school year but added, "It would be difficult not to hold up funding for districts who are not done by Dec. 31."
Schools Superintendent Nancy Kline said the district "plans to have all agreements in place" by Dec. 31.
The county School Board met in a hastily called executive session Monday morning to "give direction to the district on how to continue the negotiations," Kline said.
The next negotiation session is scheduled for Dec. 13."We may have to do something before that," Kessler said.