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Hernando teachers union wants School Board to fire superintendent Wayne Alexander over downsizing

BROOKSVILLE — It's official: Hernando County teachers have had it with superintendent Wayne Alexander.

In a resolution released Wednesday, the teachers union called on the School Board to dismiss its leader after less than two years on the job.

It said morale was at its "lowest level in decades due to unnecessary reductions in staffing, and blatant favoritism" in deciding which teachers should lose their jobs because of a projected budget shortfall.

The union called on the board to reverse recent job cuts pending a review by an independent committee.

"When you have a team that's having problems, what do you do?" asked Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers' Association. "You get rid of the coach."

The move comes two weeks after the district launched a wave of downsizing, telling about 200 non-tenured teachers and support staff that their positions were being eliminated. Those reductions come in addition to about 80 non-reappointments issued in March for performance reasons.

Alexander cited performance as the basis for the latest round of job cuts, saying it was driven by the need to cut at least $16 million from the district's $159 million operating budget.

"The district would rather not get rid of most of the people it has (non-reappointed)," he added, saying principals are being forced to remove effective teachers. "(But) you have to prepare people for the worst-case scenario, not the best."

"I don't see removing me as a solution to the budget constraints and unknowns that currently exist," Alexander said.

But Vitalo said the district's budget projections are outdated, with committees in both the state Senate and House of Representatives promising to erase most of the 15 percent shortfall that districts had been warned to expect.

One observer of the legislative scene said the truest state funding prediction probably lies somewhere in the middle.

"The good news is that the worst-case scenario seems to have been averted," said Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School Administrators.

"However, no one should be under the illusion that education has been held harmless. What these budgets do are enshrine the existing cuts (from previous years), and make them deeper.

"My best guess right now is, I think districts are going to be looking at a 5 to 7 percent further reduction, but it may be more than that," he added.

Alexander said he has little faith with predictions, particularly those built on the promise of undelivered funds from the federal stimulus, a cigarette tax or future gambling revenues. He said the district's recent layoffs were motivated by a desire to provide plenty of notice to employees whose positions might be in jeopardy.

But Alexander acknowledged that some teachers might prefer to keep their jobs for now, and take their chances with a summer layoff if the money's not there. He said he would "most definitely" be willing to negotiate with the union if that were its preference.

"They're saying, 'We'll take a chance, we'll roll the dice, cut less money now, Wayne,' " he said. "(But) if you kept your jobs, you might need to take a lot less money."

Vitalo said the union is prepared to negotiate with the district over other items on the district's cost-cutting list, such as a pay freeze or pay cut, as an alternative to the $16 million in job reductions under way. But the district abruptly canceled a negotiating session it had called for Wednesday.

"We would have to look at all (negotiating) options and then present that to our membership," Vitalo added.

But the union also wants to talk about the manner in which teachers have been chosen for non-reappointment, with some low-performing teachers being protected while higher performing teachers are fired, Vitalo said.

Rather than waiting and laying off teachers based on seniority and certification as the contract requires, he said, the district is taking advantage of teachers' status of serving at the will of the district during their first three years and playing favorites.

"They're turning people against people," Vitalo said. "It is a technique of fear and intimidation that is being exercised at the highest levels in our district."

Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.

Hernando teachers union wants School Board to fire superintendent Wayne Alexander over downsizing 04/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 7:34pm]
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