Pinellas School Board presented options for possible exit of school chief

The seven people charged with hiring and firing Pinellas County's schools chief must decide not only whether they want her to go, but how they would show her the door.

In anticipation of a board meeting Tuesday to decide the fate of superintendent Julie Janssen, School Board members received a memo laying out three options.

Board attorney Jim Robinson on Tuesday told the board it could:

• Agree to part ways with Janssen under a negotiated settlement that could include paying her up to a year's salary. She earns $200,000, according to her contract.

• Terminate Janssen "without cause," pay her a year's salary in accordance with her contract and agree, on their attorney's advice, to avoid voicing any opinion critical of her during the meeting.

• Pursue terminating Janssen with "just cause," pay her nothing, and face a potentially lengthy legal process. An administrative law judge could rule the board's decision didn't meet the standards of "just cause." At that point, the district might have to pay the $200,000.

School superintendent since September 2008, Janssen couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. But last week she acknowledged she wasn't sure she would continue to lead the district after one-on-one talks with board members about her performance.

She has been under pressure to improve, especially in the areas of communication and leadership — deficiencies that board members highlighted during a June workshop.

One question board members must decide now is whether their concerns rise to the level of "just cause."

"Unsatisfactory performance or failure to meet job performance expectations could constitute just cause," Robinson wrote in his memo to the board.

Janet Clark said the idea of terminating with cause seemed reasonable on the surface: "Her performance is not up to snuff."

Still, Clark said she hasn't made up her mind what she would support on Tuesday.

Other board members also were reluctant to talk publicly about whether they would want to terminate Janssen with or without cause, saying they needed to know more about the legal ins and outs.

But the idea of striking a negotiated settlement appealed to some. Robin Wikle and Lew Williams both said they want to avoid a long, drawn-out process.

"I would support a negotiated agreement if that would be the decision of the board," said Wikle. "I think that she really cares about kids and the district and if there's an amiable way for us to resolve the situation, then I would want to go in that direction."

Williams said it sounded like dismissing Janssen "without cause" might provide a speedy remedy.

Carol Cook, the board chairwoman, said she's "seriously considering" whether she would support a negotiated settlement, saying it may be "the cleanest" way to sever the board's relationship with Janssen.

But Linda Lerner, the longest-serving board member, said she'd be cautious about negotiating a severance package: "It if comes to that, it will probably be a difficult decision for many board members considering the hard times people are in," she said.

Several board members, meanwhile, were still working on their written evaluations of Janssen due Tuesday.

Krassner, a former principal elected to the board in November, was the first to turn it in.

She rated Janssen "unsatisfactory" or "below expectations" in all but one of eight categories and "meets expectations" in curriculum planning and development.

"Dr. Janssen has lost the confidence of this School Board member and many of our county's most passionate advocates for public education," Krassner wrote. "Pinellas needs a superintendent who will build a world-class school system for our students to ensure their success in tomorrow's global society."

Wikle said she submitted her evaluation Tuesday afternoon. Williams and Lerner said they planned to submit their evaluations Tuesday night.

The Aug. 23 meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the district's headquarters in Largo.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8707.

Contract's terms define 'just cause'

The Pinellas School Board could decide to terminate superintendent Julie Janssen's contract "with just cause," and not pay her any severance. "Just cause," according Janssen's contract, is defined as:

>> Without limitation, any material breach of her contract.

>> Violation of any requirement or provision of Florida Statues related to the legal duties of Superintendent, School Board policy or clearly established legal precedence binding on the superintendent.

>> A failure to perform the duties of the office.

>> Failure to follow the direction of the School Board acting in accordance with the law.

>> And/or any matter that would be basis for termination for just cause that would apply to instructional personnel of the school district as specified in Florida statute.

Pinellas School Board presented options for possible exit of school chief 08/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 12:21am]

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