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Figures add twist to debate over extra pay for magnet teachers

As some of Pinellas County's magnet teachers fight to keep their salary supplements, their supporters are increasingly making this argument: The programs make money.

Or at least two of them do.

The International Baccalaureate programs at St. Petersburg High and Palm Harbor University High are two of the four marquee magnets whose teachers may lose extra pay for academic coaching.

This year, 61 IB teachers will cost the district $440,000 in salary supplements and benefits.

But the two programs also generated $1.1 million for the district this year, thanks to a state funding formula that pays districts extra for every IB exam passed and every IB diploma earned.

"The fact that the program generates money for the district … makes it almost a no-brainer that we should keep it the way it is," said Ron Ladd, a Seminole resident whose son is a senior in the IB program at St. Petersburg High. "I'm concerned that if you take away the coaching money, you're not going to have the success rate."

District officials offered the figures to School Board members Thursday during a broader discussion about budget cuts. One board member said the numbers were giving her second thoughts about whether the supplements should be cut.

"That does put it in a different light," said Linda Lerner. "They're generating the money. They're have a high success rate. It becomes a different issue."

The district announced last week that it was cutting the academic coaching supplements — equal to 14 percent of a teacher's base salary — for the teachers in the two IB programs, as well as those at the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High. Altogether, 93 teachers are earning $650,749 this year in supplements and related benefits. They sacrifice their planning periods as part of the deal.

The proposed cut is drawing strong resistance from the magnet teachers and their students but also fueling hard feelings among other teachers who don't get the extra money. Some IB teachers are also saying that because of the revenue generated by the IB programs, their supplements should be considered separately from those offered at Gibbs and Lakewood.

Thursday's board discussion on the subject focused exclusively on IB. The discussion dominated a portion of a workshop that had been dedicated to budget cuts.

After cutting $104 million over the past four years, the district is preparing to slash another $26 million, which is what put the knife to the supplements.

According to district data, the expenses for the two IB programs totaled $339,000 this year, excluding the supplements. That includes items such as exam costs and instructional materials and other bonuses IB teachers receive for each exam passed.

State law says 80 percent of IB revenue must go back to the schools that generated it, while 20 percent goes to the district. It also spells out allowable uses for the money.

Superintendent Julie Janssen raised the possibility of using the money to establish another IB program in a mid-county high school or to start one in a middle school. Board member Nina Hayden said that would allow the district to bring more rigor to more students.

"I'm leaning towards spreading that (money) out," she said.

It remains to be seen how much weight the revenue argument will carry. Supplement supporters are expected to make a plea at Tuesday's School Board meeting.

Board chairwoman Janet Clark said after Thursday's discussion that she was not swayed.

Special education students also bring in additional funding, but "their teachers don't get more money," said Clark, a former special education teacher. "It bothers me when you start saying one group of teachers is doing more than another group."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Figures add twist to debate over extra pay for magnet teachers 05/21/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 1:25am]
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