Saturday, February 02, 2008

Office of the Governor
The Capitol
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

February 2, 2008-02-

Governor Crist:

You campaigned on your dedication to education.

You may not be aware of how bad Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s go-it-alone policies in Hillsborough County are for education. They negatively affect students and teachers, the heart and soul of education.

The board goes along with Ms. Elia no matter how wrongheaded she is. The board seems to have no ambition but to occupy its ceremonial positions and not impact how Ms. Elia unilaterally runs the schools. There may as well be no board at all in Hillsborough County as the one that occupies that position now.

Ms. Elia omits teachers altogether from her unilateral decisions. She loaded an extra class on teachers at the beginning of the school year to solve her budget problems without alerting them or even all board members. She passed on the data to favorites.

I have heard teachers complain about how this burden harms their ability to do their job to pass learning on to students The board sits by supine in this as in all decisions. In the board room, all board heads swing toward Ms. Elia to see what their attitude should be on any question.

Now Ms. Elia has imperially loaded a grading procedure on teachers to dummy down grades without consulting them. I believe she arrogated this privilege after a visit with you, sir, which she inferred bestowed your approval on her grade-devaluation scheme.

Teachers have at last stirred in rebellion on the Elia grade-dummying -down move. See the comments of veteran science teacher Jackie Kalbas below. Kalbas’s objection to devaluing grades formed Tribune columnist Steve Otto’s recent column.

Elia, abetted by the board, denigrates teachers and students. Ms. Elia and her obedient board will not even give these sine qua nons in the education equation a permanent place on the board agenda. Both board and superintendent appear to want not to have to acknowledge that teachers and students are the reasons for schools. Taxpayers don’t fund schools for superintendents and board members to prance around, issue ukases, and wax important.

The superintendent and board want teachers and their students to be quiet and continue to provide the financial base that gives the administration and the board freedom to pursue their schemes of power and prestige in the political and education-bureaucracy’s worlds.

Ms. Elia is the least qualified of candidates who applied for the superintendent job in 2005. I reviewed the applicant file and as a former college professor know qualified from unqualified in education matters. Elia lacked degrees and experience to be the top candidate. Indeed, the lady can’t even punctuate and handle grammar with competence. For an industry devoted to instilling literacy into young people, this compromised ability on the suprintendent’s part is ironic if not obscene.

But Ms. Elia was incestuous inside political appointment as were the superintendents before her in the Hillsborough County’s closed, parochial world of school administrators. The disingenuous board charged taxpayers $35,000 for a sham nationwide search when its members already knew Elia was their choice. The board signaled Elia was its pick by lowering the Ph.D. degree requirement to fit her master’s degree.

Elia was the choice of the long-running inside administrative power cartel that schemes to put into the superintendent chair a person who will continue to bloat their salaries, award no-bid contracts to buddies and former administrators, and ignore the opinions of teachers, whom the administration terrorizes with loss of jobs by referring anyone who objects to administrative excesses to the Professional
Standards office.

I consider the no-bid racket to be one that invites graft. Logic suggests that graft has, in fact, accompanied it for all the years it has been in operation. The board with two exceptions supports the no-bid racket as well as the attorney. Mr. Gonzalez’s support rests, I believe, on his own no-bid award of the board-attorney job fourteen years ago.

A second problem with the Elia hegemony is that she is greedy. Even the Tribune has editorialized against this unlovely trait. She gets a “performance” bonus from a scheme continued from Dr. Lennard’s incumbency. He had negotiated it with an adoring board and the feckless board attorney, Tom Gonzalez. who enjoys a no-bid attorney sinecure that Lennard awarded him.

Board member Candy Olson cooperated with Ms. Elia to fold this Lennard scheme based on teachers’, not superintendent’s work, into her contract. As one can imagine, this is a bitter pill for teachers to swallow. A superintendent that scorns and devalues them gets the fruit of teachers’ work.

Even the two board members who gave Elia bad grades on her annual evaluation voted for this ill-conceived superintendent bonus in the unanimous tax giveaway of voters’ money that her bloated contract represents.

What can you do, sir, to improve the education in Hillsborough County that you assured voters you valued when you ran for governor?

First, be aware of Ms. Elia’s money-grabbing tendencies and the board’s collusion have resulted in a $300,000 salary that tops the pay of superintendents with impeccable credentials and varied, wide experience nationwide. Do something to rein in such bloated superintendent salaries in Florida. In this state the education bureaucracy comprises the academic weaklings who couldn’t make it in the world of valid academic achievement and substituted degrees in an exotic educational subculture of non-academic degrees often from marginal universities such as the diploma mill NOVA.

Second, encourage superintendents—especially ones who like Ms. Elia view teachers and students as the inconvenient money base for their power-- to include teachers and students in the decisions that affect both populations. Suggest to Ms. Elia directly that the board agenda feature a settled slot during which teachers and students get a say in how the board and superintendent run the schools. Suggest that Ms. Elia and the board send around an email welcoming students and teachers to participate in board colloquy and assure them that their comments won’t form basis for referring them to the Abu Ghraib cell block.

Third, be aware that Ms. Elia is of the genus that, if you give its members an inch, they will take a mile. When Ms. Elia comes to see you in Tallahassee, be alert that she on her return to Tampa will order the school public-affairs office to issue a press release that spins the visit as evidence that she has great pull with you and that the governor and she are simpatici on her most wrong-headed notions about education.

Ms. Elia will order the school public-affairs office to spin your relationship with her as latitude to pursue her my-way-or-the-highway mode of leadership that has been so injurious to the teachers and students and learning in Hillsborough County.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity.”

He didn’t say that a superintendent, a school board, or even a governor affects eternity.

Guard the rights of the ones who affect eternity. Protect them against a superintendent dismissive of and even, I believe, jealous of teachers’ centrality to education.

Hillsborough county’s misrun school system needs your attention, sir. The students and teachers need your succor.

Lee drury de cesare

15316 Gulf Boulevard 802

Madeira Beach, FL 33708

leedrurydecesarescasting-February 2,

c: press of SP and Tampa

This meeting with Crist appears to be one that Elia interprets as giving his go-ahead for her imposing grade inflation on the schools without consulting teachers.

April 17, 2007

Crist is listening

Gov. Charlie Crist is open to reviewing the FCAT standards in high school, where the state asks students to jump a much higher bar than in the lower grade levels. It's a pet issue for the Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who brought it up during a nearly half-hour meeting Monday with Crist in Tallahassee.

The district has found that 10th graders just meeting the state's standards rank in the top 20 percent of students nationally. At lower grades, students making the FCAT bar perform far less well compared to their peers nationally. Third-graders, for example, place just above the bottom third.

"I am willing to listen to further talk," Crist said. "If there are always ways that we can make it, you know, better, why wouldn't we?"

Elia cheered his response. "I felt like our work on identifying (the issue) for him paid off," she said. "I pointed out to him that we've had this as a concern for a number of months." Elia doesn't expect anything to happen overnight. After all, as far as explosive issues go in Tallahassee, there's none bigger than changing the FCAT.

- Letitia Stein, Hillsborough County education reporter

Failure Steve Otto column

Published: Jan 23, 2008

Jackie Kalbas wanted to talk about what's happening in our public schools. Kalbas is a long-time Hillsborough County science teacher and an institution at Wilson Middle School. She is one of our very best and I figure her letter speaks to the issue better than anything I can write:

"I was shocked at the front page article about exam curving in The Tampa Tribune. I read it three times in disbelief. I understand that there may be discrepancies in grades in the county, but this is not the way to solve that problem.

"First of all, the high school science curve was based on exam scores from last year. Some of the high school science exams were different this year. In science the curve was set before the exam was ever administered.

"Second, you don't improve education by lowering your expectations to match what the students achieve. You improve education by setting your expectations high and working with students until they meet those expectations.

"Third, whoever said that an exam should match classroom achievement for a nine-week period? Nine-week grades include extra credit, homework, participation, etc. It should be harder to get an A on a midterm examination which tests accumulated knowledge from two nine-week periods.

"If the exams are 'too hard' and do not reflect what the students should reasonably be expected to learn, then you fix the exams. If teachers are not doing their jobs, then they should be replaced.

"In truth, teachers have been given much more to teach than is humanly possible. Because of [the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] the curriculum has been expanded (we have to teach more standards). Because of this, we can't spend the required amount of time to teach concepts to mastery. We are left "covering information" rather than teaching. We have tons more paperwork, more communication with parents, more meetings and less planning time.

"There aren't even enough substitute teachers, so that many times we have no planning period because we have to cover classes for other teachers. All this means that some good teachers are doing less than their best through no fault of their own.

"If students who should not be in honors classes are being placed there regardless of their achievement, then this practice should be stopped. Yes, there are very capable students in this county who are disadvantaged by circumstances beyond their control. They are not achieving at the rate they could be and are therefore not getting into advanced and honors classes.

"We are not helping students by keeping them in classes where they do not belong. We're not helping anyone by devaluing the grades of high-achieving students with exam curves deep enough to bury a statistician.

"It looks good on paper when we have lots more students in advanced and honors classes. It doesn't look so good, however, when those students are removed or fail because they can't measure up. We need to be honest with ourselves, tell it like it is and work to solve our problems.

Up To College Standards?

"The newspaper article was quick to quote college sources that say curves are arbitrary and good exams hard to make. I'd like to see what some college professors think about this new 'curve the grade' policy. Do they really want students in their college classes who should not be there? Will colleges keep accepting Hillsborough County students with inflated grades? Will employers hire Hillsborough County graduates who earned C's with less than 50 percent achievement?

"If exam grades are having such a negative effect on students' overall grades and having an effect on their college entrance, then maybe exam grades should not be weighted so heavily. … No matter what, you don't curve the grades so that a student who earns 100 percent on an exam receives the same grade as a student who earns 61 percent. This was the case in regular physics in Hillsborough County this year. This is just WRONG.

Dumbing It Down

"It seems to me that we are 'dumbing down' education and lowering our expectations when we should be doing just the opposite. Every chance I get I argue that public education is not bad and that we are doing the best job possible with what we have to work with.

"I see teachers get to school when the doors open and leave long after the sun goes down. Teachers work nights, weekends, even during the holidays, and summer vacation to improve their students' achievement.

"I am a defender and advocate of public education. But this curve and the reasons for it are, in my opinion, impossible to defend. This latest decision about exams is the worst and does more to harm education than to help it. It devalues the grades of bona fide high-achieving students, it deceives average and below average students, it is a slap in the face to good teachers, and another black eye to public education.

"As a National Board-Certified classroom teacher for over 30 years, I hang my head in shame that my profession has sunk so low. If my children were still in school in Hillsborough County I'd be marching to the school board building demanding that this be changed."

Published: January 18, 2008

It has been widely thought that Hillsborough County School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia's contract gives her a hefty bonus for student achievement. She earned a $37,620 bonus this year alone, but look close and you will see it is only partly grounded in student gains.

Elia earned $13,600 for each school that achieved Annual Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. She got another $10,100 - at $100 a pop - for the 101 Hillsborough Schools that rated an "A" on the FCAT.

That's fair enough.

But she also was given nearly $8,000 for getting more students, particularly black students, to participate in advanced placement classes and to take AP exams - though the number of students who actually did well enough on the test to earn college credit did not improve.

Participation shouldn't be confused with achievement.

The Florida Department of Education also likes to pretend high schools are better than they are because more kids are signing up for advanced courses. One Texas study showed that students who merely participated in AP courses had a better chance of graduation from college than those who did not take AP classes. But the same study showed the best chance of college success was among students who actually passed AP tests.

In Hillsborough, just 45 percent of the more than 15,000 students who take AP courses score well enough on the exam to be given credit. And among minority students, the success rate was even lower.

On other significant measures, Elia received no bonus. There was no bonus for improvements in reading scores for black and Hispanic students in third, eighth and 10th grades. And although she did get a reward for higher math scores among minority students, at less than $1,800 it was just a smidgen of her overall bonus.

The two best measures of education success are nowhere to be found in Elia's contract: the high school graduation rate - not counting GEDs, which the state shamefully allows - and the number of Hillsborough high school graduates who need remediation when they attend a community college or university.

If the school board measured those things, it wouldn't be pretty.

More than 80 percent of those going into Hillsborough Community College need remediation in math, reading and writing because they are not prepared to do college-level work. At the state universities, 55 percent of new students needed remediation.

Elia can't be blamed for negotiating a good deal for herself. She is earning more than $290,518 this year.

It is the school board that is responsible for the largesse. The contract may say Elia is being judged on performance, but parents and the public should not be fooled.

If the Hillsborough School Board truly wanted to reward the superintendent for improving schools, members would change the measures to ones which show Hillsborough students are learning what they need to succeed in life.

Reader Comments

Posted by ( wazzamattaU ) on January 18, 2008 at 8:24 a.m. ( Suggest removal )

Does anyone still believe our schools are under-funded?

Report Abuse

Posted by ( ToeCutter ) on January 18, 2008 at 11:29 a.m. ( Suggest removal )

She needs a tax break.

Report Abuse

Posted by ( Major7th ) on January 18, 2008 at 2:39 p.m. ( Suggest removal )

And yet the budget for our music programs is 90% less than it was 30 years ago. Way to go bean counter, milk the morons that run this school system for all their worth. You obviously don't any teaching experience to make 10 times what our teachers make.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sisyphus - The Rock that Keeps on Rolling... has left a new comment on your post " Dr. Hi...":

I know you have so much to say... and so eloquently.

But..... in today's high high paced world, we must all learn the "haiku" of email. Our ideas will be more read.

Publish this comment.

Reject this comment.

Moderate comments for this blog.

Posted by Sisyphus - The Rock that Keeps on Rolling... to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at 3:40 PM

Dear Sisyphus: I am not writing emails, darling; I am writing lucubrations for the ages.

When can we expect some snappy remarks on your site?

love and kisses, lee

Dr. Hildebrand:

Ms. Elia's communication below invites only principals and area directors to call you about this proposal that profoundly affects students and teachers.

Does this exclusivity mean that the administration once again did not consult teachers on a decision that will have deep impact on them and the students they teach?

Could you explain to this citizen why the administration, many of which can't punctuate and handle basic grammar as is the case with Ms. Elia, who makes $300,000 with purloined bonus dollars based on teachers' work, made this decision without soliciting the input of teachers and even students?

The administration does not consider teachers and students worthy of consultation it seems, and the supine board obeys Ms. Elia and refuses to set aside a permanent place in the board agenda for teachers and students to invite them to give their input on such things as Ms. Elia's recent ukase to dummy down grades (see teacher Kalbas's essay below on this problem in Steve Otto's recent Tampa Tribune column below).

One notes that administrators do not have traditional academic degrees, where real scholarship counts; instead, they have degrees in ad-hoc subjects with titles exotic to traditional scholarship or terminal degrees from diploma mills such as NOVA. Ms. Elia kicked out the only administrator in ROSSAC with respectable credentials, Marc Hart, on the trumped-up charge of alcoholism despite his holding a magna- cum-laude degree from Loyola, Ms. Elia dumped Mr. Hart because she feared that Board Member Faliero's adulterous affair with him would surface in the community at large and deprive Ms. Elia of the dependable rubber stamp of Ms. Faliero on the board since citizens might not want an adulterous board member overseeing their children's wellbeing.

Teachers, in contrast to administrators, have math, English, history, physics degrees, etc. The ersatz value and repute of the former education-manqué degrees do not equal the academic heft and validity of the latter in the education world. One would think that this degree-lite administration would be humble about its intellectual ability and thin education credentials to dictate to teachers who possess the real thing on matters that concern teachers' areas of respected, valid academic expertise.

The governor shall know of how this administration and board disregard and dishonor the schools' heart and soul: teachers and students. He shall know how the administration and board lord it over the Hillsborough County schools as if they were a plantation with the field-worker students and teachers' providing the unsung labor that produces education dollars to spend at the discretion--or, more accurately, indiscretion--of an administration ambitious to look good in the state bureaucratic-administration-featherbedding throngs that feed as parasites on the schools but that are not ambitious enough or smart enough or humble enough to do anything substantive to improve education because these bloodsuckers shut out the real educators--teachers-- from decisions that impact the schools.

I intend to alert him to this malignant situation.

lee drury de cesare

Sent: Thursday, January 31, 2008 5:24 PM
To: lee de cesare

Friday, January 25, 2008 12:23:50 PM
From: MaryEllen Elia
Subject: Proposed Rule Change: Lower Quartile Improvement Incentives
To: All-Principals
Cc: Lewis Brinson
John Hilderbrand
Attachments: Proposed Rule Change.pdf 379K

Attached is a proposed rule change that will be presented to the State Board of Education in April 2008. This change was recommended to Dr. Eric Smith, Commissioner of Education, at the FCAT External Review Committee meeting on January 18. If the State Board approves the rule change, it would go into effect this year.

I believe this proposed change will help a few schools in our district. The Department of Assessment and Accountability is currently looking at last year's data to see how schools would have performed had this rule been in place.

Additionally, Dr. John Hilderbrand and I, as members of this review committee, continue to present other issues related to the FCAT. We anticipate further recommendations being made to the Commissioner and the State Board.

If you should have any questions in this regard, please feel free to contact Dr. Hilderbrand at 272-4341.

I can't figure out how to convert a pdf file to regular text. As soon as I am able to do so, I will put the proposed changes here. If anybody knows how to convert a PDF message from Microsoft Outlook to Word, instruct me in Romper-Room langauge. I am not good at stuff like converting text. lee

MaryEllen Elia
Hillsborough County Public Schools
Phone: (813) 272-4050
Fax: (813) 272-4038


Thursday, January 31, 2008

For a while, we posted animal pictures of administrators. This one is Dr. Hamilton. We will miss his gaucheries now that he has finally retired. I know we're childish, but who wants to be mature all the time? I have a firm rule that if I can’t have some fun, I am not going to do it.

We had a great time searching the web for these gems. We exchanged images with great glee, saying, "Look at this one!" and "Here's a winner!" lee

It's instructive to see how Detroit deals with the adultery charges against a public official. The story continues in the Detroit papers. The euphemism of "romantic" text messages invites the question of how "romantic" is adultery?

The diction of newspapers is etiolated when it comes to sex because they are afraid of getting sued one infers. But at least the Detroit papers will write about illicit sex involving public officials. Elected officials could fornicate on Franklin Street, and the Times and Tribune would ignore it to write about a broken redlight on Nebraska.

What puzzles is what the tipping point is that catalyzes the newspapers. I suspect it must be the prudery level of the managing editor or the psychosexual history of the assignment guy. Or maybe the janitor has some issues with sexual improprieties.

  • Story Highlights
  • Detroit paper reports romantic text messages between mayor and staff member
  • Allegations of an affair arose during whistle-blower trial involving two officers
  • Kilpatrick and Beatty, former chief of staff, both denied a romantic relationship
  • Mayor's wife said she is hurt, angry, but she loves her husband________________________________

The letter to the board below comes from Bart Birdsall. Bart was my entrance into the pathology of the school board and administration. I had become friends with Bart when trying to help him get the board to acknowledge and do something about the bullying of gay children in the schools. The board and administration are reluctant to inflame and lose the bigot vote. The board, the administration, and the CTA union ill-treated Bart so that I had to reach out and help him if I could. He was badly outnumbered.

Bart had written some critical emails to Joe Stine, head of the county library and gay like Bart, for Stines's supporting Ronda Storm’s homophobic ejecting of gays from the county library.

We'll never know for sure, but here's what I infer happened behind the Wizard-of-Oz curtain of government.

Stines was not forthright or brave enough to write Bart back. Instead, I conclude, he went cry-babying about the emails to his boss, Pat Bean.

Bean is Elia's girlfriend. She allowed her to use her name as a reference for the superintendent job. I wrote Bean that her so doing was unprofessional. But she was too busy raising her salary and perquisites to pay any attention to me. I think she and Elia are in a Who-Can-Bloat-Her-Salary-the-Highest contest.

I infer Bean sent the emails to new superintendent Elia, just dying to flex her muscles in her new power slot and rev up her sadistic use of power. Sure, she told buddy Bean, she would be glad to punish the little worm of a school-media technician and scare the bejesus out of him by making him fear for his job. What's a buddy for if not to perform such acts of sadism for a girlfriend?

The emails came from Bart's home computer; so even the board attorney said that they were not basis for punishment of Bart for using the school email for personal issues. Even so, Elia sent the emails to the Professional Standards Abu Ghraib Cell Block and told Kipley to sic the computer people on Bart's computer records to strain out any gnat that would offer pretext for punishing him for something--anything.

The fishing expedition turned up nothing except Bart had posted a notice of the gay march against the shutting of gays out of the library on the media bulletin board, its purpose ostensibly.

Even without any pretext of a valid charge against Bart, however, Kipley called him into her office for her mind-games routine. I believe she takes great pride in these Goebbels interviews with trembling teachers.

CTA sent a representative with Bart, but that's about as helpful as sending an amoeba from one of the biology labs. The CTA is so far ensconced with the administration in betraying teachers who pay it $500 a year to undercut them that CTA minions all have bed sores.

After the mind-games session calculated to terrify Bart with vague allusions to non-existent wrongdoing, Kipley said she would send him a letter to summarize the situation. Bart told the union representative as they left that he was dissatisfied but wanted only a letter of apology. Bart wanted his dignity restored. The union guy told him just to be quiet and that everything would be fine.

I don't know how many of you read the NYT; but it had an article recently on how Giuliani terrorized people when he was mayor, causing long-term mental anguish for some. Bart's reaction was similar. He believed he had been a good and productive employee and thought this charge was misplaced and cruel. His state of mind was such that he had to go to a therapist.

Meanwhile, Kipley sent Bart a registered letter that did not summarize the real situation but which said, in effect, "Don't do any thing wrong again, or dire things will happen to you."

Candy Olson also saw Bart at the gym during this ordeal and screamed at him that he could lose his job. Candy’s always good for piling on. She allies herself with whoever she thinks is in power and then apes that person’s behavior.

The only thing Bart wanted was a letter of apology from Kipley for the mistaken charge. She didn't answer his requests for one. So I asked the board lawyer to get Kipley to send one. He met Bart for an interview at Eats, a restaurant near Bart's house, not extending to the matter the dignity of an office visit. He told Bart that he, Gonzalez, would have no problem getting the letter of apology from Kipley for Bart. Bart never got that letter although Bart prompted Gonzalez several times.

Gonzalez also did not construct the pamphlet telling teachers their rights when they went into Professional Standards gauntlet. He promised me to do that at least three times. Gonzalez lied. I doubt that he had any intention of keeping this promise to a member of the public who pays his salary. He has been in his no-bid job for fourteen years and has become synchronistic with his board and administration bosses in their contempt for public accountability.

Several teachers called Bart during and after his ordeal to tell him of their scarifying experience with Kipley in Professional Standards. One had to sort pencils endlessly while waiting for Kipley’s sadism to be sated and only then would Kipley decide to release the teacher from the punishment rituals that Kipley seems to relish so much. I believe she slavers over these duties. Kipley told another teacher that she couldn't tell a soul about what went on during her punishment in Professional Standards. Free speech is suspended in the Abu Ghraib cell block. Kipley denied another teacher the right to attend her students' graduation, which broke the teacher's heart. I believe this was the teacher whom the administration brought in on cooked-up charges about a field trip that didn't have all the t's crossed on the application. These referrals to Professional Standards seem always to concern tremendous trifles.

My inference from these data is that Kipley is a sadistic character, moved from principal of Hillsborough High to the Professional Standards job because, I heard, the teachers there and Kipley were at loggerheads and that some would not go into an interview with her without a tape recorder.

So instead of firing Kipley, the administration gave her the Professional-Standards job with a salary jump instead of firing her as would have been condign. This case confirms the adage that if you mess up, you move up in the schools' odd bases for promotion.

The administration did not advertise the job, of course. And Kipley didn't have a psychology or criminal-justice degree but a home-ec degree. Home ec! For the lord's sake, that's making béchamel sauce, not adjudging professional behavior of teachers.

A bizarre footnote to this tale is that Bart came to
Tiger Bay because he wanted to hear Elia speak. He joined so he could ask a question of the speaker. He sat with my husband and me. The CTA union collaborators trooped in with a large contingent of administrators and sat at their table, yukking it up and ignoring Bart. I noticed Connie Mileto, kindergarten teacher and Jim Hamilton protégé who zipped past other candidates to get the government-representative sinecure. This munchkin’s professional behavior was not up to the mark. It included jumping on her diminutive legs to lock her arms around the neck of some guy, squealing a greeting betimes. Very professional to be sure. That jumping-and-squealing routine must convey just the right degree of gravitas in the halls of the legislature. The munchkin also made various squawking noises during my question when I got up to address Ms. Elia during question time. Such is swell psychology in her job to bring around the other side to her point of view. One felt that a political science or psychology degree would have given the Munchkin a better background for the government-representative position than a kindergarten sheepskin.

When Ms. Elia descended the platform, Bart and I went up talk to her about his ordeal with Professional Standards. He asked her why she sent the emails from his home to Linda Kipley. She said that she was not very knowledgeable in technology and that she did not know that the "from" line at the top of an email identified from where it came.

Bingo. That's when I knew we dealt with a practiced and not very astute liar. I believe lying is reflexive in Ms. Elia. She lies when the truth would be more to her advantage.

After this interview, I began attending the board meetings, watched the proceedings from the back of the room, and formed a picture of the sorry situation that obtains in ROSSAC and among the board dais potted plants.

The board and administration form a team that exploits the tax base of the schools for their joint purpose of control of power and money. The students and teachers are the field hands who provide the basis for the state's giving money to the administration and board to run their empire. They want teachers and students to keep their distance and leave ROSSAC and the board to pursue their narcissistic agenda, bloating Elia's salary and assenting to all her demands--including loading an extra class on teachers to solve her budget problem and cramming a grade-inflation scheme down teachers' throats without the courtesy of consulting them or even acknowledging their existence on these or any issues. The potted-plant board, poseurs as benefactors of education, goes along with Elia's every whim, rubberstamping all she puts underneath their noses.

Bart's great interest besides Pilates and opera is nutrition. He has striven to nail down the fact that the school cafeteria food is lousy--both for nutrition and taste.

Candy once had the head of the food program to come and address the board on this issue after one of Bart’s food emails. The woman’s spiel was mere template piffle.

Below is Bart’s most recent email to the board on the subject. The people on the podium could use some valid nutrition information. Just about all of them are overweight. Swell role models for good nutrition they are for the students.


Dear Board Members:

I read with interest the article about the students' questions at your student session. Out of the mouths of babes.....

Vittorio Ottanelli questioned the cafeteria lunch quality. As you know I have been saying that the school lunches are terrible for a while. I pack my tofu and vegetables and rice everyday, because I can not eat the school lunches. Ottanelli may be referring to the taste. I believe the healthiness is the major problem

I hope some of you have gone to the schools and sat down with students and eaten these meals. It will give you a new perspective.

Look at what they choose also. Choose the same things and eat them and see if you gain weight or not. I bet you do.

I believe another problem is the snack lines or the "a la carte"

items that can be bought. These are chips and sweets and ice cream.

There must be a solution to this.

The private sector is not the answer either, b/c then McDonald's will be selling fries in the schools. I would rather eat a dead possum than eat a Big Mac.

At 40 and about to turn 41 I work daily on my weight. It only gets harder as you get older. It saddens me to see 12, 13, 14 year olds with big bellies. They will have an even tougher time losing weight as they get older. We owe it to them to make sure the cafeteria food improves not just taste-wise but health-wise too.

I am confused by the Times article that says Ottanelli's question was drowned out by applause from the supervisors and principals. Why would they start applauding before his question is answered? From the Times article it sounded like rudeness to this student. I hope you will make an effort to answer his question either publicly or to him personally.

It would be easy to find which school he attends and send him a private note.

I am glad that you take the time to listen to student questions once a year. Students are stake holders in their education, and Essrig did a good thing to start this. Why not hold a forum for teachers to come and ask questions also? I have been cc'ed to many emails to you from Lee asking for a time for teachers at each board meeting. I think it is a legitimate request. At the very least offer a once a year forum like you do for students. Teachers and other employees are stakeholders also. Many of us want the system to improve. Many ideas are better than 7, especially when the ideas or questions come from the trenches.

Also, I believe teachers should be on a Facilities committee so that teacher input goes into the building of new schools. Teachers know what problems arise when a bathroom is either too large or too small in a hallway or where teacher planning areas should be. This is another thing you could do to make sure architects hear another viewpoint about what is needed. Supervisors have been out of the classroom for a long time and have forgotten the little details or the problems that arise when some area of a building is built a certain way. They forget that nooks and crannies are places for students to hide and kiss each other, etc.


Bart Birdsall

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I was glad to get this comment. It educates me and reminds me to ask Ms. Cobbe another question for public information. lee

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Dinner after Women's March for Choice in Washingto...":


In the interest of accuracy, I think a few things should be clarified:

1.) Lawson, who is a software vendor, started out in the 1970s as a supplier of mainframe computer software to IBM. I am familiar with them through a parent's career, and I think I can say without exception that the likelihood of Lawson having a connection within the school district or board is pretty slim. That doesn't mean there could be some sort of connection via relatives or friends, but Lawson itself has been around long before any of the Board members came on the scene.

2.) The IDEAS e-mail system is not filtered, in the sense that e-mails are blocked, to the best of my knowledge. In fact, spam has become such a problem within the system that it takes up a measurable portion of the traffic, despite there being some filters in place to keep it to a minimum.

3.) The Websense system is just that - it is a filter that prevents inappropriate content from entering the District's network, and in doing so, can also be set up to filter or block specific Web sites, classes of sites (blogs) or domains. Websense is a service that provides regular updates to the filters as well as allowing custom configurations to them that the end users (HCSD) can set up to their liking, e.g., block Lee's blog but not April Griffin's.

If you want to look for connections, try poking around in Assessment & Accountability for the link between them and the Scantron company....

Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at 2:29 PM

I sent my draft. See corrections below, please. ldd

From: Linda Cobbe []
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 4:41 PM
To: lee de cesare
Subject: Re: suppressing free speech

From what I can tell, this is the part addressed to me, but I'm having difficulty determining what you're saying in a couple of the sentences. I have underlined the sentences I need you to clarify.

I understand a technology committee made the decision to interrupt my blog's and two other teacher blogs' access to the schools.

Please tell me the names of the people on that committee and the name of the chair. Was Mr. Davis, he? Tell me also if the committee got the permission of the board to interrupt the flow of free speech into and from a publicly supported institution so that I can pass it on to elected officials who should know of such derogation of free speech in a public institution supported by taxes. I would like to see the order and who signed it that authorized this shut-down of free speech to and from the schools. This request is all public information.

Every valid committee in tax-supported institutions when it makes important decisions such as curtailing the First- Amendment rights of citizens takes committee notes. The Technology Depar tment must have followed this standard protocol. I would like to have a copy of those notes, please, that order the shutdown of free email speech in the public schools for me and teacher bloggers. Thank you.

May I add this question: where is a list on the school Web of people or organizations that the Technology Committee or other authority has deprived of free-speech rights by denying email access? Are these decisions all approved by the school boad? Thank you. lee

Hooper, I am proud of you. You managed to write something negative about the Hillsborough County School superintendent's greed despite your being a sap for the wiles of her girlfriend La Belle Dame sans Merci Faliero, about whom you wrote a troubadour's newspaper love song in times of yore.

Not so yore, however, as to render this volte face null. It impressed me.

Your fans, among which I number, feared the tenor of that besotted Faliero salute meant she had swished you away to her piney-woods elfin grot and that we would see nor hear Hooper again, what with the lady’s making sweet moan and other allurements of elfin grots in general and Faliero’s in particular.

We feared to find you far gone, alone in the wither'd sedge of Lutz or Seffner, accosting passers-by with, "Is this a planet to which none have gone before?" And "Tell me how to get back to the St. Petersburg Times dispensary."

Keep on the path to recovery. Take your vitamins plus anti-oxidants to dissipate the effluvia of elfin grots, floss twice a day, and avoid those fairy grots that imperil reporters from newspapers which have no counseling departments for staff who rank susceptible to La Belle Dame sans Merci types in this piney-woods venue if yokelism which immures us.

Your mother is proud of you. She has magneted that rebuke of Elia greed to the frig. That's what we mothers do when our children do us proud.

A fan,

lee drury de cesare

Scoring bonus points; a fashionable way to give

Published January 28, 2008

Every time I say that a person makes a lot of money, one of my friends reminds me it's relative.

"We don't know their mortgage payment, their expenses or the challenge of their job."

He has a point. Still, a number of Hillsborough school district employees have expressed dismay about the $37,620 performance bonus that superintendent MaryEllen Elia recently received.

I won't say her total compensation of $290,620 is "a lot," but maybe she could find a way to symbolically share some of that bonus with the teachers and support staff. The perception that her wages are out of line with the rank and file needs to be addressed.

Teachers did receive pay increases, but an act of appreciation would mean, well, "a lot." ...

Dinner after Women's March for Choice in Washington. We had over a million who marched for women's reproductive freedom.

From: lee de cesare []
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 12:06 PM
To: ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; 'Tommy Duncan'
Subject: GRAFT

Ever-vigilant Board Members:

I think you should look more closely into the collapse of the school after it was built; the lack of disaster insurance--the lawyer's job; and who's driving a late-model Porsche parked in the administration-board parking lot.

Casting-room Couch smells graft.

Why doesn't each member appoint a community expert to form a citizen's committee to review the bid process, the inspection process, the legal gloss, etc?

lee drury de cesare


Did you get my email today about how a deep throat spoke to me?

Apparently, Jim Hamilton was in charge of Facilities when he had
Blake High School built. Blake High School is built so poorly that if there is a category 2 hurricane, it will collapse like a house of cards. This was what Doug Erwin thought. Jim Hamilton wanted to "get"Doug Erwin b/c he knew that Erwin knew about this.

Also, the whole Lawson system mess up that resulted in late paychecks for teachers.....well, the person who created Lawson was a friend of a school board member (don't know which one), and the district ended up paying much more for Lawson (to fix it) than if they had used another

At some point Elia was in charge of special education stuff at certain schools, and when she was, some of the schools never saw her face enter the school. She is all about herself and what makes herself look good.

I am working on getting more info for you soon.

This comes from the Anonymous Mail Bag of Casting-Room Couch:

From: Anonymous []
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 11:47 PM
Subject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de....

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post " Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de...":

It is horrible how shameless the school district seems to be. There is also a rumor going around that Candy Olson's husband was a lawyer for a malpractice lawsuit years ago. He defended many people who were harmed apparently. At the end of the day they were awarded millions, but they each only saw a couple or a few thousand and Olson's husband ended up with millions and had to lie low in
Miami for a while. I hope this is not true, but it is a rumor going around.

It is sad to think that everyone in power in
Hillsborough County may be totally corrupt.

Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at
7:29 PM

Lee's comment: I don't blame a woman for what her husband does and vice-versa. But I do blame a woman for her shameless anti-citizen, anti-teacher, anti-student performance on the Hillsborough County School Board. lee

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

We’ve Got Mail!


Did you get my email today about how a deep throat spoke to me?

Apparently, Jim Hamilton was in charge of Facilities when he had
Blake High School built. Blake High School is built so poorly that if there is a category 2 hurricane, it will collapse like a house of cards. This was what Doug Erwin thought. Jim Hamilton wanted to "get"Doug Erwin b/c he knew that Erwin knew about this.

Also, the whole Lawson system mess up that resulted in late paychecks for teachers.....well, the person who created Lawson was a friend of a school board member (don't know which one), and the district ended up paying much more for Lawson (to fix it) than if they had used another

At some point Elia was in charge of special education stuff at certain schools, and when she was, some of the schools never saw her face enter the school. She is all about herself and what makes herself look good.

I am working on getting more info for you soon.

From: Anonymous []
Monday, January 28, 2008 6:29 PM
Subject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on <!-- GoStats JavaScript Based Code --> _gos='mo....

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post " _gos='mo...":

I cannot say that there is any filter on email with the school district. However, there is in fact a block by the district-subscribed filter, Websense for your blog. That would seem to be inappropriate if based only on unpopular speech.

The company is Websense Anyone can learn more about how it works by drilling around on the website. I think what the district is doing is wrong, but what can you do?

Publish this comment.

Reject this comment.

Moderate comments for this blog.

Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at
3:29 PM

From: Remember Doug Erwin []
Monday, January 28, 2008 5:05 PM
Subject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on <!-- GoStats JavaScript Based Code --> _gos='mo....

Remember Doug Erwin has left a new comment on your post " _gos='mo...":

Yes. Blogs are blocked via a 3rd party filter "Websense" under it's catagory of "social networking". "Websense" actually does a good job protecting the youngsters from the seemy-side of the web. Mommies and daddies like it.

Blocking blogs was a School Board Technology Committee decision based on The WALL, Eskay Espresso, Casting Room Couch, and other blogs that served as an information (and sometimes anti-administration) flash point. Since it was their decision and recently initiated I suspect it can also be undone.

There must be minutes of the meeting somewhere.

Ms. Kurdell has added you to her personal "spam filter" since it sounds like she is the only one who sends it back labeled as spam. Apparently you have ticked her off to the extent that she has singled you out.

Take solace in the fact that when the ostrich buries it head its' "arse" is the identifying orifice.

Hope this helps. Gotta stay anonymous. Too long 'til retirement.

The time stamp will drive 'em nuts!

Publish this comment.

Reject this comment.

Moderate comments for this blog.

From: Anonymous [] e=
Monday, January 28, 2008 11:41 PM
Subject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de....

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post " Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de...":

The school board and Elia know exactly how dumb the voters are! These people have been getting away with murder for years! Why stop now? Everyone in the school district considers ROSSAC full of criminals who were pulled out of schools and given administrative jobs as an excuse to get them out of the schools where they were messing up. So now they mess up and do all sorts of ridiculous things at ROSSAC. They will never stop. They have no shame whatsoever. They will continue to rake in taxpayer dollars and get rich off taxpayer dollars and continue their unsavory practices. Since they've gotten away with it for years, why stop now? They weren't voted out yet. They probably won't be. I bet the Faliero affair is nothing compared to what goes on in ROSSAC.

Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at
7:44 PM

From: Anonymous []
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:30 PM
Subject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de....

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post " Susie Creamcheese of The Wall teacher blog has de...":

It is horrible how shameless the school district seems to be. There is also a rumor going around that Candy Olson's husband was a lawyer for a malpractice lawsuit years ago. He defended many people who were harmed apparently. At the end of the day they were awarded millions, but they each only saw a couple or a few thousand and Olson's husband ended up with millions and had to lie low in
Miami for a while. I hope this is not true, but it is a rumor going around.

It is sad to think that everyone in power in
Hillsborough County may be totally corrupt.

Publish this comment.

Reject this comment.

Moderate comments for this blog.

Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at
7:29 PM

Posted by Remember Doug Erwin to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at
2:04 PM

''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''; ''

Ms. Cobbe: your message is underneath the following comment on Hildebrand's and Hutek's credentials. The comment is meant for the two scholars manqué and the board that rubberstamped Ms. Elia's or Lennard's hiring of them. ldd



None of Hildebrand's degrees come from academically challenging areas. The "Educational Research and Evaluation" folderol is academics-lite piffle.

Mr. Hutek must know that NOVA is a diploma mill. Everybody else in the academic world does. The bureaucratic administrative establishment in the Florida education system has bales of NOVA diplomas and uses them as tribal-shibboleth passports into administrative and bureaucratic school jobs. These bureaucrats' abilities are in inverse ratio to the bloated salaries of their perches that suck the financial blood out of funds that should go to schools.

Superintendent of Pinellas Schools Clayton Wilcox's wife wrote his thesis a school-board member told me. He picked it up on the way out the door of NOVA heading for the superintendent job for which the obtuse Pinellas board hired him. The Pinellas board may be worse than Hillsborough's. I haven't had time to scrutinize it. I believe there are five on it who want creation taught along with evolution as science. So far, only Belle Dame sans Merci Faliero has hinted at that goal on Hillsborough's board. When Ms. Falliero is not pursuing unorthodox romance, she is citing her evangelical religious beliefs and how these impact her decisions on the board. The only thing that these religious tenets do not seem to impact is Ms. Falliero's romantic vagaries.

The Wilcox so-called thesis is marginally literate and wouldn't' pass as valid degree requirement at Saskatchewan Agricultural College and Horse-shoeing Emporium.

A young St. Pete Times reporter, bless the boy, passed that "thesis" on to me. I will never reveal that innocent reporter's identity to his bosses for them to kick him out in the street for fraternization with a reader. He will then have to become a perpetual graduate student in some forlorn university at the end of the civilized world. That's the career arc of kicked-out reporters. The president of NOVA won't answer me about why NOVA approves such marginally literate productions as Wilcox's woeful effort as fulfilling NOVA's ersatz degree requirement. I can understand his silence.

I urge Dr. Hutek to put his thesis on display in the professional-standards office for citizen review and the entertainment of the schools' English teachers.

Such credentials as these tax-paid fellows cite confirm my inference that academic weaklings get gimcrack degrees and head for school administrations, where the money is. Teachers certainly don't get $100,000-plus starting out with degrees in academically shallow areas. Their degrees are in history, physics, chemistry, language, and other intellectually challenging areas of solid academic training. Schools of education have hustled into the university world and from thence have got a franchise on pulling down the money to be had in the administration racket. Those who opened the universities to these academic poseurs get the blame.

Such matriculants in trivia have piled in at the Hillsborough County administrative casting call. A Stanford-Binet assessment would register Hillsborough County's ROSSAC denizens in the lower quartile I wager. That's why these deficient scholars need pricey consultants to tell them how to do their jobs. So taxpayers not only pay the bloated salaries of the administrators but pay also the consultants who come with flashcards to instruct them in how to do the jobs they are supposed to know how to do themselves.

The head of the Hillsborough County schools building department, Cathy Valdez, has an early-childhood degree with a salary of $137,000; the head of the lobbying department, Connie Mileto, pulling down $127,000 and rising, has kindergarten credentials glossed over by the endorsement of her sponsor Dr. Jim Hamilton. During the time of Mileto's acquiring this flossy perch for which she had not a shred of training since "Eency Weency Spider" was not one of its requirements, Hamilton divorced his heartbroken wife one understands. I must ask La Belle Dame sans Merci to explain the dynamics of this situation to me. I understand that it was the talk of ROSSAC for a while.

Ms. Elia hires and fires by tapping into her buddy network. She fires for political reasons, recently firing former public-affairs head Marc Hart for drunkenness. In reality, she fired Hart to protect Jennifer Faliero, chair of the school board, from the gossip surrounding her affair--which she instigated--with Hart. Hart was worth rehabilitating and keeping: he had a degree magna cum laude from Loyola, the best ROSSAC has seen cross its threshold.

Ms. Elia wanted to retain Ms. Faliero on the board because Faliero was a reliable rubberstamp for Ms. Elia's vile projects such as downloading an extra class on teachers without consulting them and dummying down grades of high school students without consulting teachers so that more students could make high grades to make Ms. Elia look good in the education community and with the governor. Then she could get more of those plastic Mickey Mouse awards the board is always oohing and ahing over.

Holding marginal degrees is one reason why nobody in the administration can handle basic punctuation and write with a rhetorical felicity over junior-high level. Just read some of the Romper Room stuff that comes out of these sources. Dr. Hamilton wrote like a parody of the Katzenjammer Kids. He hadn't mastered the difference between "your" and "you're."

All jobs should get advertised to make sure applicants with the best qualifications get hired to serve the students, teachers, and citizens of Hillsborough County. Intelligence and a solid academic background from a decent school make a difference in the quality an employee-advertised-personnel sweep draws on the open market. Buddy hiring has undone the Hillsborough County school system with shoddy credentials and low-caliber people. That racket has to change.

I don't need to ask if you made PBK, gentlemen. One knows you didn't.


Ms. Cobbe:

I understand a technology committee made the decision to interrupt my blog's and two other teacher blogs' access to the schools.

Please tell me the names of the people on that committee and the name of the chair. Was Mr. Davis, the head of technology, he? Tell me also if the committee got the permission of the board to interrupt the flow of free speech into and from a publicly supported institution so that I can pass it on to elected officials who should know of such derogation of free speech in a public institution supported by taxes. I would like to see the order and who signed it that authorized this shut-down of free speech to and from the schools. This request is all public information.

Every valid committee when it makes important decisions such as curtailing the First- Amendment of citizens and personnel records committee notes. The Technology Department must have followed this standard protocol. I would like to have a copy of those notes, please, that order the shutdown of free speech in the public schools. Thank you.


From: Linda Cobbe []
Tuesday, January 29, 2008 8:44 AM
To: lee de cesare
Subject: Re: - public information

John Hilderbrand's response to your request below:

Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education
Florida State University

Masters of Education in Educational
of Miami

Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Research and Evaluation
Ohio State University

The Ohio State University, as well as the Univeristy of Miami and The Florida State University, each have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Marilyn Brown, Tampa Tribune, explained the grading scale and why it came about. She did not use the term "dumming down" grades. Also, changing the grading scale on the semester exam does not impact Mrs. Elia's "performance pay". None of the variables used for her performance pay are based on, deal with, or include course grades, course credits, or student grade point average.

Degree information for the other two you requested:

Marc Hutek
B.A. USF Mass Comm/Public Relations
M.A USF Counselor Education
Ed.S. Nova Southeastern Education Leadership

David Steele
B.A. University of Florida, Secondary Education
M.Ed. Harvard, Administration
Ph.D. USF, Ed Leadership
Graduate fellowships at USF 1984-85, 1985-86
Master Teacher 1986

Linda Cobbe
External Communications Manager
Office of Communications
Hillsborough County Public Schools
901 E. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33602
813-272-4510 FAX

Florida has a very broad public records law. Most written communications (including e-mail) to or from public employees are public records available to anyone who asks. Your e-mail communications and your e-mail address may therefore be subject to public disclosure.

"lee de cesare" <> writes:


School Employees David Steele, Marc Hutek, John Hilderbrand:

Marilyn Brown,
Tampa Tribune, quotes you in the article below as boosters of the new program to dummy down grades in the public schools.

To put your recommendation for grade inflation in context, may I have as public information these data: your terminal degree, in what subject, from what institution, and whether you were a member of Phi Beta Kappa if your institution were prestigious enough to have a chapter?

Could you add as well whether management consulted the teachers at your schools in this radical dilution of grades, or did Ms. Elia order you to just impose it on the teachers without consultation from them? Is, in your opinion, this dummying-down scheme to make Ms. Elia's record look better so that she can extract more "performance" money from the taxpayers than her already bloated salary of $300,000 represents?

Ms. Brown quotes you, Mr. Hutek, as saying this: "It's known," he said. "That's why so many kids are so into exempting their exams." What does this bizarre construction mean in standard English, Principal Hutek? And is this an example of your customary method of expressing yourself?

I will post your responses on
www.leedrurydecesarescasting-roomcouch.blogspot for people's edification about how the school system runs.

Please send the answers to this request for public information to Linda Cobbe
of the public-affairs office so that she can convey them to this citizen.

Thank you.

lee drury de cesare

----- Original Message ----
From: William Birdsall <>
To: lee decesare <>
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 5:44:12 PM
Subject: Exam grades

This is what the woman in Steve Otto's column today was writing about.....



Click Here to Print




Exam Grades Going Higher

By MARILYN BROWN The Tampa Tribune

Published: Jan 12, 2008

TAMPA - Higher grades are in store for Hillsborough County's nearly 50,000 high school students when they are handed their first-semester report cards in a couple of weeks.

After decades of grading semester exams one way, the district has created a new system sure to boost grade-point averages.

It's no longer 90 percent correct for an A, 80 percent for a B, 70 percent for a C and 60 percent for a D.

Just 62 percent correct on the physics semester exam equals an A, for example. The Spanish IV exam still requires 90 percent right for an A, but the district's other hundreds of semester exams are all over the place on the new scale.

"I can guarantee you no student is going to get a worse grade," said David Steele, the Hillsborough County School District's general director for secondary education. "Our goal is to ensure the grade on the semester exam mirrors the class grades for the nine weeks."

That's not grade inflation, say officials, because some teachers have been adjusting semester exam grades anyway when they realized the tests were too difficult. The new scale is based on the classroom grades of all students throughout the district for each subject.

Semester exams make up one-third of a semester grade. Classroom grades, which are not affected by the change, make up two-thirds of the grade. That means an A or B on a semester exam instead of a C is significant. Passing a course with a D boosted by a higher exam score can mean the difference between failing or earning a credit needed to graduate or move up to the next grade.

Students See Difference

Marissa Hutek, a junior at Tampa Bay Technical High School, already sees the difference.

"Last year and the year before, I was so frustrated," she said. "I was an A student. I would get Cs and Ds on the exam. It would bring my whole average down."

Headed to college and a career in medicine, Hutek said, "I wish this would have started last year and the year before; my GPA would have been a lot higher."

Last year, during the holidays, Hutek says some of her friends were called at home and told they failed a class and had to take it over even though they had gone into the semester exam with passing grades.

When Hutek returned to school this year after the holidays, a couple of her teachers gave students their grades, explaining there was a new scale for semester exams.

"Everyone was surprised," Hutek said. "They were really happy."

Most students don't yet know about the change, principals and teachers said. Hutek figures she knows more about the changes because her father is a high school principal.

Marc Hutek, principal at Armwood High, said, "I'm glad that we picked up on the fact that there is a discrepancy" and "I like it for my daughter's sake," but he has had few complaints from teachers or parents about the difficulty of some tests.

"The exam scores will certainly increase," said Hutek, who said he has seen that the difficulty of some tests doesn't match the grades students earn in class.

"It's known," he said. "That's why so many kids are so into exempting their exams."

Hillsborough allows students with few or no absences and at least a C average during the nine-week grading periods to exempt up to four semester exams each semester. Seniors who qualify may exempt all their last semester's exams.

"The brightest kids will tend to exempt their most difficult exams," said Richard Bartels, principal at Freedom High School. "They weigh all their advantages. We all know grades matter when kids are applying to college."

The new grade scale offers consistency, he said. Differences in teacher grading include everything from their own classroom exams, extra credit, projects and papers, he said. And, "you could have 50 teachers teaching one course and 50 different ways to arrive at a final grade."

"What the semester exam does do is provide a common experience for everyone taking that particular course," Bartels said.

Building a quality test is difficult, said Joe Pedulla, associate professor and senior research assistant for the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Educational Policy at Boston College. "I teach whole semesters on that. "

"You're talking about an impossible task to say 90 percent should always be an A within a subject area," he said. "Assigning of grades is always a subjective process."

Hillsborough's new scale is "unusual - not unheard of," Pedulla said, but then again, so are district-created semester exams. "It's just not where public schools are right now."

"There is no absolute right or wrong," Pedulla said. "The judgment has to be defensible." What Hillsborough is doing is "a defensible approach," he said.

Earning an A with just 62 percent right "has the appearance of being easy," but he said it's a matter of how the test is scored: "You're adjusting the various cut scores for the grading for the difficulty of a test."

Semester Exams Draw Attention

Hillsborough's semester exams - unique for decades - are attracting more attention as the state begins considering statewide end-of-semester exams. They are also useful to help districts gauge teacher effectiveness for its merit pay programs.

The state's annual standardized testing program covers only reading, math, writing and science, and not all those are tested in all grades. Hillsborough was first in the state to have a merit pay plan approved because it could use its semester exams to gauge student performance for other subject area teachers. But teachers are evaluated on actual scores, not on letter grades.

The district is paying $3.1 million during five years for the software was used to scale the semester exams, said John Hilderbrand, Hillsborough's testing and accountability chief. But it is also used byteachers to create their own tests and improve exams.

"I know they're tough tests; we've done the analysis," Hilderbrand said.

Hillsborough is changing the grading of its semester exams at the same time high school teachers have added oneclass period to their day. They now teach six out of seven periods, a move by the district to save money that drew fire from teachers. The district has agreed with the teachers union to evaluate the effect on students and teachers of the heavier workload.

Steele confirmed he has heard from principals that some teachers suspect the timing of the new grading scale was done to ensure student performance would improve.

"We will not compare semester grades," Steele said. "We will be comparing raw scores on tests that are new or have changed."

For now, principals and teachers said they are taking a wait-and-see approach

"Teachers are on board with it; they want consistency, too," said Mark West, principal of Bloomingdale High School in Valrico. "Having a district test is better, it prepares the kids for the kind of college exams they'll have."

"I think it's fair. I think it's right," West said. "So now a kid taking an elective at Bloomingdale and a kid at Jefferson get a consistent, fair shake, just like a kid at Plant or Newsome."

Reporter Marilyn Brown can be reached at (813) 259-8069 or