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Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer

Marlene Sokol

Marlene Sokol has worked at the Times as a reporter, editor and columnist since 1988. After launching North of Tampa in 1996, she served first as its editor and later as a general assignment reporter specializing in the suburbs. She now covers education in Hillsborough County.

Phone: (813) 226-3356

  1. Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough


    TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises. But the Hillsborough County school district says it can't afford to give its teachers anywhere near that much, while the teachers say they deserve nothing less.

    Here are five things to know as bargaining resumes this morning:

    1. The union and the district are officially at an impasse. But they still can bargain, and have a session scheduled for 8 a.m....

  2. Top Hillsborough teaching honor goes to a Lewis Elementary educator


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year is a self-described "busy, busy bee" who never tires of exploring new ways to help students learn, even if she has to be creative.

    At 56, Bonnie Bresnyan also is a mentor for the next generation of special education teachers.

    She allows no excuses for her "differently-abled" students at Lewis Elementary School, according to her contest essay, an exuberant string of bee-themed metaphors that still managed to convey her sophistication....

  3. School board member is 'dumbfounded' by Times report on Hillsborough substitute teachers


    TAMPA — Members of the Hillsborough County School Board reacted with outrage, mild concern or, in some cases, not at all to a Tampa Bay Times report on misconduct by contracted substitute teachers.

    Responding to the Times article published Sunday, member Lynn Gray said she believes the district's arrangement for assigning subs should be discussed in public by the full board....

  4. For retired teacher, sub job was rewarding


    For every misstep involving a substitute teacher, Hillsborough County School District officials and their contractor say there is a far greater number of positive outcomes.

    Since 2014, they said, more than 1,000 Kelly Educational Staffing recruits have made the transition from substitutes to district teachers.

    Sandra Denham, 64, went full circle.

    Denham helped built a successful special education program at Plant City High School, but committed to early retirement at the end of the 2015-16 school year....

  5. Parents vent at school district meeting over fate of Lee Elementary School


    TAMPA — Leaders of the Hillsborough County School District tried Thursday to reassure parents they are doing their best for the displaced students of Lee Elementary School, who lost their school in a September fire.

    To some, it was a hard sell.

    "I'm really, really disappointed in the horrible lack of communication," parent Taryn Sabia told district chief operating officer Chris Farkas....

  6. Napping, name-calling, stealing, outbursts: Who's subbing for your kids' teachers in Hillsborough?



    Kenneth Spain told his students at Chamberlain High School that he overcame a pornography addiction when he found Jesus.

    Pornography and Jesus are both taboo topics for public school teachers, so this became a case for the Hillsborough County School District's professional standards office.

    Spain resigned. He asked if he could return as a substitute. A letter in his file said not just yet....

  7. District: Michael and Kimberly Hoskinson will return to Coleman Middle and Plant High School


    TAMPA — Educators Michael and Kimberly Hoskinson, who were accused in November of child abuse but later cleared of wrongdoing, will return to their jobs in the Hillsborough County Public Schools.

    The school district announced their reinstatement on Wednesday, after superintendent Jeff Eakins and two School Board members appeared with Michael Hoskinson at a faculty meeting at Coleman Middle School. Hoskinson, 53, has led the A-rated school in South Tampa since 2006....

  8. Attorney: Tampa educators won't face child abuse charges


    TAMPA — Something bad happened at the South Tampa home of Michael and Kimberly Hoskinson at the beginning of November.

    But it was manipulation, not child abuse, defense attorney Richard Escobar said Monday, announcing that the couple will not face criminal charges stemming from their Nov. 13 arrest.

    Fabricated evidence landed the Hoskinsons, educators at two of Tampa's most prestigious public schools, in jail, according to letters of release from the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office....

  9. Hillsborough chief of staff Alberto Vazquez hired by Connecticut school district


    TAMPA — The top deputy to Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins is leaving for a similar position in Hartford, Conn.

    By an 8-0 vote, the Hartford Board of Education named Alberto Vazquez Matos its new deputy superintendent Tuesday night. He'll make $175,000 a year.

    That's nearly $20,000 more than he earned as chief of staff in Hillsborough, a school district about 10 times the size of Hartford's....

  10. Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking


    TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.

    The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring, have not been able to agree on a pay package for the current school year that affects 20,000 employees, most of them teachers.

    The union wants about a third of its teachers to advance along a schedule that would raise their salaries by $4,000. ...

  11. Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer


    TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.

    Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirts, teachers made so much noise outside the room that it was hard to hear discussions inside about the work they're doing to boost high school graduation; or the budgetary problems that are getting in the way of $15 million in pay raises....

  12. Hillsborough school district names Teacher of the Year finalists


    Finalists were announced Tuesday for Hillsborough County Teacher of the year and other honors.

    Winners will be announced at a banquet on Jan. 16.

    The finalists for teacher of the year are: Jennifer Jackson, seventh grade science, Stewart Middle; Alexa Trafficante, fourth grade, Gorrie Elementary; Bonnie Bresnyan, Exceptional Student Education, Lewis Elementary; Nicole Meyerson, fifth grade, Carrollwood Elementary; Lisabeth Leist, math, Steinbrenner High School....

  13. Yet another charter school is slated to open in Riverview


    TAMPA — The forward march of the charter school movement will continue this afternoon with a contract coming before the Hillsborough County School Board for another privately managed school in Riverview.

    Creekside Charter Academy will be the sixth publicly funded Hillsborough school to be managed by Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Fort Lauderdale.

    Charter Schools USA's growth is rivaled by Miami-based Academica, which got approval on Nov. 14 to manage two new sports-themed SLAM schools that are also in the Riverview area. The first local SLAM opened this school year in Citrus Park....

    Waterset Charter School opened this year in Apollo Beach with about 800 students. [Photo courtesy of Waterset Charter]
  14. Hillsborough teachers balk at school district offer of $1.8 million in bonuses


    TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises.

    Instead, Hillsborough County's pubic school teachers on Monday were offered slightly more than a tenth of that, a lump sum of $1.8 million to be shared among roughly 20,000 employees the union represents.

    "Our superintendent has had to make extremely difficult decisions," employee relations manager Mark West told the bargaining team. "We are asking you to be patient."...

    Hillsborough County School District officials negotiate Monday with members of the teachers union. Teacher representatives balked at a district offer of a onetime $1.8 million bonus to be shared among the estimated 20,000 employees represented by the union. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
  15. Superintendent: Hillsborough teachers are 'positioned very well' on pay


    TAMPA — Responding to a week-long "work the contract" protest by Hillsborough County school teachers, superintendent Jeff Eakins said Wednesday he is confident the students will not suffer.

    "I trust our teachers are doing right by kids today," Eakins told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

    Concerned about stalled pay talks, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association has asked its members to work only during their contracted hours as an illustration of the extra labor they normally perform after hours....

    Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Wednesday detailed progress the district has made and assured parents that students are being served despite a week-long "work the contract" protest by teachers over pay. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]