ST. PETERSBURG — Three teaching positions are being cut from one of Pinellas County's star magnet programs, setting off a fire storm of false rumors Wednesday that the Pinellas County Center for the Arts program is history.
"That's a flat out lie," said Kevin Gordon, principal of Gibbs High School, home of the PCCA program for theater, dance, music and visual arts. "I'm not sure where that's coming from."
The truth, district officials said, is that PCCA has hovered at about 12 to 13 students per teacher for the last few years, though it was designed to have a ratio of 19 to 1.
"We can no longer afford to subsidize that difference any longer," said Deputy Superintendent Cathy Fleeger.
The district is tasked with cutting about $26-million from the 2010-11 budget.
By eliminating three PCCA teachers — one in art, one in theater and one in visual art — the school will be brought to a student- teacher ratio of 18 to 1.
Despite the staff cuts, said Fleeger and Jeanne Reynolds, supervisor of performing arts for the district, the district has no plans to water down PCCA.
"The district is very committed to the program," Reynolds said.
Students will still audition to be admitted, they said. Thespian and Improv troupes will remain intact, despite rumors otherwise.
Part of what has brought the district to make these cuts is the fact that PCCA hasn't experienced enrollment growth needed to keep all of its 17 or 18 teaching positions in place, Reynolds said.
Though applications are high, she said, fewer numbers of parents are committing their students to the program, perhaps due to publicity over Gibbs' struggling academics.
Amanda Kiener, 18, a theater student who graduates Thursday, said she heard the news as soon as she finished her last exam Wednesday.
Teachers Suzanne Pomerantzeff (dance), Michael Nangle (theater), and Melissa Hunt (art), were leaving.
The rumored ramifications snowballed.
Students were abuzz, Kiener said. Some said they would transfer back to their zoned schools. And Facebook postings mourning the loss of the program had parents seeking the truth.
"I feel so much better," Kiener said after hearing the district's response to the rumors.
None of the teachers have been recommended for termination. Reynolds said two of the teachers are on annual contract and will be able to apply for positions elsewhere in the district. Nangle was considered a substitute.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.