Pinellas County's teachers are suffering in part because school district leaders have failed to adequately address nine years of declining enrollment, the head of the teachers union said Friday.
Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said the district for too many years has allowed schools to hire at a rate that outpaces student need.
"If you can't even afford the people you already have, why are you hiring more?" Black said.
Top district leaders said this week that they're taking a hard look at staffing numbers, which indicate that there are too many employees in the local schools, even after state class-size laws are factored in.
A count of students on the 10th day of school on Sept. 2 showed 101,921 attending classes — an 11 percent loss of more than 12,000 students since 2003.
Over that same period, instructional staffing has increased 4 percent from about 7,793 positions to about 8,265, district figures show.
Deputy superintendent Jim Madden and the district's head of human resources both said Thursday that the increase cannot be completely attributed to a state law that began mandating smaller student-teacher ratios beginning in 2003.
But exactly how many teachers would fall into the category of "too many" isn't clear.
The district has created 1,012 teaching positions since 2003 in order to keep classes in compliance with the state class-size law, according to district spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. And the total number of instructional positions has gone up 472. But it's unclear where the district should be in terms of numbers once the enrollment decline is accounted for.
"I don't know that we've ever looked at exactly how many extra people we have," School Board chairwoman Carol Cook said Friday.
Assistant superintendent of human resources Ron Ciranna said his staff is reviewing the numbers school by school and could have a figure next week.
Teachers in the district are facing potential cuts to their insurance benefits this year and have experienced a drop in annual average income in the last four years.
Like all state employees, they must now contribute 3 percent of their pay to pension plans, due to a change in law.
All this stacks up to a lot of employees receiving less, said Black, which makes continued hiring all the less understandable.
The district did implement a hiring freeze this year, Ciranna said. But Black said she's not completely sure the freeze held in every school.
"I don't want people to be out of a job, obviously," Black said. "But I want the people who are in the job to be paid appropriately. And that's not happening."
Cook said the school district's trend of losing students has been "while I wouldn't say distressing, it's been bothersome.
"Bottom line," she said, "is we're going to do the best job we can for the students we have."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.