Pasco teacher retires to protect colleague's position
Courtenay O'Connell had the seniority to stay.
River Ridge High, where she works, is losing a media specialist as part of the Pasco school district's budget-cutting layoffs. With 35 years in, O'Connell could have remained.
Instead, she chose to give up her job in order to let a less senior person stay on. O'Connell, the school's media liaison, explained her decision in an e-mail to reporters: "Instead of completing my 5th year in the DROP program, and so as not to displace my partner of 5 years, I choose to retire after 35 years as a public school educator."
There's been much disappointment among Pasco educators, hundreds of whom were told they might not have jobs in the fall. District officials have said that many teachers are making a similar move as O'Connell's, making it easier for teachers with fewer job protections to have a position when all is said and done.
O'Connell said Pasco County was not her first choice for a teaching job way back when. "In 1976, when my ex-husband was getting ready to be discharged from the Navy in Newport, RI, I applied to 60 of Florida's 67 counties. For three weeks, I traveled to all of them, looking for a job," she wrote.
Art O'Donnell interviewed and hired her "on the spot" that summer, as Pasco County coped with overcrowding with a 45/15 school system. "Pasco County was the final county I visited," she wrote, "and I am so thankful that this is the county in which I have worked all these years. This was and still is a growing county, with an educational system that allowed me to achieve excellence professionally and personally."
She was hopeful that things will turn around soon:
"Thirty-five years ago, Superintendent Tom Weightman grappled with tough budget decisions, and now Superintendent Heather Fiorentino is faced with tough budget decisions. Mistakes will be made, and lessons will be learned. As things change, things remain the same. It's going to get better, and it's going to get worse. No matter what, I won't be involved with what transpires, but I will continue to read about it in the newspapers every day."