Teachers Union president warns school board not to trust Rendell’s data

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Liz Cannon, head of the Indian River County teachers’ union, warned school board members last week not to judge Mark Rendell’s fitness as district superintendent based on the year-end data he gave them, because the figures used by Rendell that she checked were wrong, making it appear teachers are better paid with better benefits and less turnover than is actually the case.

“After viewing the superintendent’s workshop on Tuesday, I could not sit quietly while so much of the data shared was questionable,” Cannon said.

“As the board prepares to evaluate the superintendent, I want to ensure that the data he provides is scrutinized carefully so that an informed decision can be made. The public has a right to verify the data as well.”

Board members must turn in their annual evaluations of Rendell by July 13. The evaluations will become public documents a few weeks later, about the same time the board is slated to discuss Rendell’s contract renewal in a public meeting.

Rendell has been with the district three years, a period in which the district has been plagued by numerous problems and scandals.

Last year three out of five board members voted to extend his contract for a fourth year, through 2019, with board members Laura Zorc and Charles Searcy voting against extension.

The upcoming vote later this month will determine whether Rendell’s contract is extended again, to July 2020, or beyond.

Going public is new for the local teachers’ union. Up until now, Cannon has worked behind the scenes to try and improve conditions in the district, but she told board members more light needs to be shined on Rendell and his claims.

“Several years ago, it was requested that the Indian River County Education Association handle our issues behind closed doors so as not to air our dirty laundry in public,” Cannon wrote in an email to the board. “For the most part, we have tried to do this. District staff has been very open to working with us, but the superintendent seems to turn a blind eye to many of our concerns. We have tried to work with him on many issues, only to have little to no response.

“For example, following my own incident of receiving a broken nose while trying to break up a fight and having the students return to school shortly thereafter,” Cannon said, “I wrote Dr. Rendell a letter pleading with him to do something about the discipline problems in our school.”

“Not only did I receive no response to my letter,” but Rendell told the Indian River Taxpayers Association in May, “We are doing a great job at discipline in our schools.”

“This is simply not true,” Cannon said.

Last year Cannon discovered Rendell’s teacher-turnover numbers were wrong, but the allegedly false figures were revealed after his contract was renewed, too late to have an impact on the school board’s decision.

“He had no response as to why the data was so skewed,” Cannon told board members, warning them this year‘s data is equally questionable.

“Several of you seem to believe that Dr. Rendell is providing you accurate data without really checking the sources,” Cannon said.

In particular, Cannon disputed Rendell’s claims about teacher pay and health benefits.

Rendell told the board district teachers make an average salary of $48,093 a year, putting them first in average pay among the five area school districts, but Cannon said the superintendent included 200 higher-paid non-teaching positions in his calculations that skewed the number.

She said teachers in the district actually earn an average annual salary of $47,589.

What’s more, according to Cannon, Rendell falsely boosted the district’s ranking by not taking into account that Indian River County teachers work more hours than teachers in other districts. A comparison of hourly pay puts the district in fourth, not first place, Cannon said.

Rendell’s computation of how well IRC teachers are compensated also failed to account for the teachers’ larger contribution to health insurance premiums compared to other districts, which lessens their take-home pay. The Indian River County School District is in last place among five area districts in how much it contributes to teachers’ health insurance.

The five-year strategic plan, adopted last year, is supposed to be the measuring stick by which Rendell is judged.  The plan has five goals and 45 data points, which include measures of academic achievement, such as pass rates achieved in end-of-the-year tests.

Rendell’s presentation to the board did not include some of the required information about students’ academic success or failure, and board member Laura Zorc noted that pass rates at high-performing charter schools – over which Rendell has no control and for whose success he deserves no credit – were inflating numbers he did provide.

“When you each sit down with Dr. Rendell,” Cannon said to the board in her email, “I urge you to ask to see how he calculated his data. Knowing this information would give you a better understanding of how our district is actually doing, and how Dr. Rendell is doing. I made sure to include links to where I got my data. Are we truly meeting the goals of our strategic plan?”

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