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Two Hillsborough teachers, one job, plenty of benefits

TAMPA — Sixteen kids. Two teachers. One job.

Lauren Piper and Heather Velez envisioned the scenario more than a year ago when both were pregnant.

They knew they wanted to spend as much time as possible with their newborns after returning to work. But the elementary school teachers also knew they couldn't afford to lose their entire incomes.

The answer to their proverbial wanting your cake and eating it, too?

Perhaps they could actually "share" a job. That way, the new mothers would be at home most of the day and lose just half their pay.

Piper could teach the morning portion of their third-grade class, while Velez stayed home with their babies. Then at lunch, the teachers would switch. Pay and benefits would be split.

• • •

Job sharing is not a widespread trend, but it isn't as rare as some might think.

In 2008, the Families and Work Institute found that of 1,100 companies surveyed nationwide, 31 percent offered job sharing.

Still, it remains a hard sell for the majority of the country's employers, said institute president Ellen Galinsky. "Benefits get in the way of more doing it," she said. "Do you give them full, pro-rated? And are you paying them more?"

Deer Park Elementary principal Lou Cerreta welcomed the idea for Piper and Velez, who came back to work in August. The Hillsborough County School Board outlines job sharing in its manual.

"There are things we do to reach an even balance," said Cerreta, who has had two other sets of teachers share jobs in the past.

Modern issues may be driving the practice. More women are working these days, so achieving a proper work life balance has never been more important, said Beth Smith, editor of Hybrid Magazine, a publication for working women.

"With the economy, women are being forced to look at their life and what's available and how they want to view themselves as a wife and a mom," Smith said.

Still, job sharing success doesn't come without hard work.

"It's almost like a marriage," said Cerreta. "It takes a lot of communication and extra work on each teacher's part."

• • •

Every day, Velez, 32, and Piper, 27, do a waltz of sorts to manage child care and teaching responsibilities.

Piper drops off her 5-month-old son William at Velez's Town 'N Country home around 6:30 a.m. She leaves her car there and drives Velez's car to school.

"My car is the car we use for the babies," Piper said of her silver Honda Element, which is large enough to hold two car seats for William and Mayzie, Velez's 10-month-old daughter.

After the dropoff, Velez feeds William a bottle, while Mayzie sleeps. Much of her morning is spent between play time with the babies and getting ready for her day at work.

Piper arrives at school around 7 a.m. where she teaches math, writing and social studies. Velez handles science and reading in the afternoon.

It's one of the academic upsides to teachers sharing jobs, Cerreta said, adding that these teachers "get to specialize."

Other details like salary and benefits had to be hashed out as well. Each teacher gets half the pay she made before maternity leave. That means $21,000 for Velez and around $20,000 for Piper. As for insurance, Velez, whose husband Garrett works in information technology, uses the school's plan. Piper, whose husband, Bill, is in the Army Reserve, is on her husband's plan.

They share a school e-mail address as well as a five-slot picture frame on their desk, which has pictures of both families.

But some things aren't so cut and dried — tracking their students' behavior from one teacher to the next, for example.

Piper gives students yellow or red cards when they misbehave in the morning. But by the time Velez arrives in the afternoon, some have conveniently "forgotten" their bad behavior.

"Um, I don't remember my color," they tell Velez.

The kids say they like having two teachers, although they do notice differences.

"Mrs. Velez has a funny habit — she asks us to remind her of things," 8-year-old Gianna Palmieri said.

And Mrs. Piper? "Always has stories," Gianna said.

Eight-year-old Enrique Freire's favorite part: "You don't have the same person watching you all the time."

• • •

It's about 11:20 a.m. on a hot muggy day at Deer Park. Mrs. Piper grabs her shades and a green LL Bean tote. It's time to line up for lunch.

The students snake through the hall and down the stairs. Piper leads them into the cafeteria line, then exits out the side door where Velez is waiting.

William and Mayzie stay strapped in their car seats, as their mothers catch each other up on the day's events so far: William napped at 8 a.m. One student's parent called. Then Piper drives away, and Velez enters the cafeteria and takes her students back to the classroom.

She is thankful for the time she spends with her daughter, but also for the change of pace that comes midday.

After being in the company of gummy infants all morning, Velez says, she actually looks forward to an afternoon of structure.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Two Hillsborough teachers, one job, plenty of benefits 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:41pm]

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