ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout his bid to become mayor, Rick Kriseman has made improving schools a central peg of his campaign and championed service learning, a curriculum that includes community service, as a way to improve grades and graduation rates in Pinellas schools.
He repeated that message Wednesday at a news conference, saying he has discussed service learning with Pinellas County School Board members. When asked whether school board members are interested in adopting the approach in schools, Kriseman said he had no doubts.
“Absolutely,” Kriseman said.
But at least three school board members said they have never discussed service learning or any education policy with Kriseman.
“He’s never mentioned it to me,” said school board Vice Chairwoman Peggy O’Shea. “I don’t know what his plan is; I’ve never had any conversation with him.”
School board member Terry Krassner also said she has not talked about education policy with Kriseman. Board member Renee Flowers said the only conversation she had with Kriseman was when he asked her to endorse him.
“I told him I was not endorsing anyone,” she said. “I did not discuss policy or his focus and direction for education.”
When asked about their responses, Kriseman said he was referring to a meeting with an earlier school board that visited with him in Tallahassee after he helped get a bill passed in 2009 so the state’s scholarship program, Bright Futures, recognized service learning.
He admitted he has not discussed his proposal for schools with board members or Superintendent Michael Grego since announcing his candidacy to run for mayor in February.
“It certainly is my hope to work with them and the superintendent,” he said. “There wasn’t a commitment made by them.”
The U-turn came on the day Kriseman unveiled a detailed plan for running the city, including a computer-driven system to measure how well the city and its workers perform. Similar programs have saved other cities, including Baltimore, Chicago and Louisville, millions of dollars by reducing overtime and inefficiencies, he said. Dubbing the system StPeteStat, Kriseman said he would give city workers more goals and review their performances more frequently, in some cases even weekly. Officials also would review more metrics, such as how many garbage pickups are missed, how long building permits take to be approved and how many potholes need repair.
Speaking at Seminole Park in Historic Kenwood, he also proposed equipping the city’s port to make it a research center in hopes of attracting companies developing clean-energy products such as solar panels.
“In the mayor’s office, we need new energy, new ideas and a new vision that will save more tax money and create more jobs,” Kriseman said.
Incumbent Mayor Bill Foster called Kriseman’s ideas a rehash of much of what the city already does.
“Bless his heart, he’s been out of touch for six years and probably has no idea what we do,” Foster said.
Kriseman’s release of his plan, some seven months after his campaign began, coincides with the mailing of more than 61,000 ballots sent out Tuesday by the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office. Mail ballots made up roughly 65 percent of the votes cast in the Aug. 27 primary election, meaning the next few weeks will be a critical period of the general election. Voters go to the polls on Nov. 5.
StPeteStat is based on the CityStat model, a data-driven approach to monitor and improve the performance of city departments. It requires department heads to be more accountable for how their staff is performing on at least a monthly basis.
Cities that use it maintain it results in better service for residents and big savings. Baltimore officials reported savings of $350 million over seven years. Louisville, which has a population almost five times that of St. Petersburg, was able to reduce its overtime costs by about $1.5 million in the first year it adopted the approach.
Overtime is a big expense for St. Petersburg, which paid roughly $8.4 million for extra hours worked in the 2013 financial year that ended Sept. 30. Almost $4 million of that went to police officers, with another $1 million going to firefighters, according to budget Director Tom Greene.
Kriseman declined to specify how much the city might save under his plan but said the data might enable the city to cuts its overtime bill.
Foster, who said he read a copy of Kriseman’s speech, said the city already uses tracking tools similar to CityStat and monitors spending on overtime.
He also listed other examples of how the city uses technology to improve services such as its involvement with Pinellas County’s SeeClickFix, a smart-phone application that allows residents to take a picture of a pothole or other issue and transmit it to the Mayor’s Action Center. The information sent includes the GPS location, and the problem is routed to the correct city department to be addressed, Foster said.