More than two dozen Pinellas high school students rallied in front of school district headquarters Wednesday to protest deep cuts in their teachers' pay.
At issue is last week's decision by the district to cut the academic coaching salary supplements - equal to 14 percent of a teacher's base pay - that has been given for years to 100 to 120 teachers in four marquee magnet programs.
"A lot of teachers are thinking about retiring early. It hurts," said Fedner Lauture, 17, a junior in the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High. "Being an academic coach isn't a trifling thing. They help us a lot."
The supplements are given to teachers in the IB programs at St. Petersburg High and Palm Harbor University High; the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High; and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High. They sacrifice their planning periods as part of the deal.
Cutting the extra pay will save $700,000. The district is facing a $26 million shortfall next year after cutting $104 million in the last four years.
By 2 p.m., about 30 sign-carrying students from the four programs had gathered for the demonstration, which was scheduled to continue until 5 p.m. More than 100 students indicated on a Facebook page that they would take part.
"My CAT teachers helped me my entire way through school," said Victoria Joyal, a 2009 Lakewood High graduate who is now a computer engineering major at the University of Florida. Joyal said she drove from Gainesville last night to take part in the demonstration. "I don't think they should be deprived of their pay. And I don't think students should be deprived of their services."
The academic coaching supplements are a sore spot with many traditional teachers. But several students at the demonstration said their teachers deserve more because they work harder.
"I had regular Lakewood teachers. Some of them were really great," Joyal said. But overall, "there was no comparison."
Joyal was interrupted by a shirtless man walking his dog. What are you protesting? said Claude Hart, 60, who said he lived in the neighborhood and didn't work because of a disability.
Teacher pay cuts, Joyal said.
"Well, they're cutting everybody else's," Hart said. "Get used to it."
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.