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Julie Janssen admits her future as Pinellas schools superintendent is uncertain

For the first time, Pinellas schools superintendent Julie Janssen indicated uncertainty Thursday about whether she'll continue to lead the district in the face of ongoing clashes with School Board members.

Shortly after welcoming hundreds of beaming new teachers during an orientation, Janssen told the St. Petersburg Times that some board members relayed in recent one-on-one conversations that they are not satisfied with her progress since they aired concerns about her leadership in June.

Asked whether a majority wants to replace her, Janssen said: "I don't know. I don't know. It's hard to tell because one day it's one way and another day it's another way."

She added, "They will vote with their heart. They'll do what they think they need to do."

Board member Terry Krassner said Thursday she wants resolution on Janssen's leadership sooner rather than later. She asked board attorney Jim Robinson to explore having a special meeting on Aug. 23 to discuss Janssen, rather than the workshop that had been previously scheduled.

The difference: Board members can vote at meetings. They can't at workshops.

Special board meetings can be called by the superintendent, the chairman or a majority of the board. Chairwoman Carol Cook said Thursday she needed more information before deciding whether to call a special meeting.

"I thought our agreement in (June) was that we would bring it back on the 23rd and discuss the progress that is or is not being made," she said.

Cook, one of Janssen's strongest supporters, declined to talk about the superintendent's performance. And several other board members said they were not ready to talk publicly about any possible recommendations on Janssen's future.

But Krassner and Linda Lerner both said they have not seen progress.

"Things have not improved," said Lerner, a potential swing vote.

"This is a new school year. We need to get off on a positive note," Krassner said. "I just feel like we need closure."

The clanging contrast — of a new beginning for teachers and students, overshadowed by a cloud over the superintendent — was on display Thursday.

Janssen confidently paced the auditorium stage at Pinellas Park High School, cracking jokes between references to new technology in classrooms and the need to infuse literacy skills in every subject.

"Children don't choose to fail," she said at one point. "Together we can soar, and we can make those children's dreams come true," she said at another.

A half-hour later, Janssen said in a brief interview that she has received mixed reactions from the five board members she has met with — all but Carol Cook and Robin Wikle — as part of her annual evaluation process.

The members' written evaluations are due Tuesday.

"Some of the things that they may say, I disagree. But they're in charge," said Janssen.

"So you know, I try to explain it, whatever it is they're talking about, and you go on."

She continued: "You know, I cannot become dysfunctional because I worry about me. Because it's not about me. The important thing is we stay focused. These kids have one year to be in this grade. These teachers have one year to get this done.

"And if I can't continue to do that, I need to get out of the way."

A majority of board members flatly told Janssen in June that she had two months to fix what they considered to be major flaws in communication, decisionmaking and other areas. Wikle said she would ask for Janssen's resignation if that didn't happen. But things have remained turbulent.

Lerner complained when she found out about district reports from news reports rather than Janssen's administration. Several members criticized changes she proposed for the communications department. And this week's 7-0 vote to extend teacher training contracts with the University of Florida — a Janssen priority — belied weeks of angst over the program's cost and worth.

Like the other board members, Wikle and Lew Williams declined to give their thoughts on Janssen's status.

"There will be things said on the 23rd that she would need to hear directly," Williams said. "I want to be fair to her."

Wikle said she'll meet with Janssen on Monday. Until then, "I'm not comfortable talking about her future or her lack of future."

Wikle also said she supported Krassner's call for a special meeting.

Board members Peggy O'Shea and Janet Clark could not be reached for comment. O'Shea has been one of the superintendent's strongest supporters; Clark, one of her toughest critics.

Janssen said the board members who told her they're not satisfied "probably are looking for four votes" to replace her.

"So I take my chances on that, too," she said. "I'm not at the end of my career. I'm going to be working a week after I'm not working here. ... I think my skills are recognized outside this district."

She also said she is not worried about what may happen Aug. 23.

"It'll happen whether I worry about it or not," she said. "For me, every day is, I continue to go forward. If I don't have this job tomorrow, at least we've put things in place."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas schools superintendent Julie Janssen

Salary: $203,000 plus a $10,800 car allowance and $3,000 communications allowance.

Contract: Runs through Sept. 30, 2013. The board has the right to terminate it at any time, with or without cause. Depending on the circumstances, the board could be required to pay her a year's salary and benefits.

Julie Janssen admits her future as Pinellas schools superintendent is uncertain 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 8:39am]
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