Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen's mishandled move to end salary supplements for some high school magnet teachers has created more hard feelings than the potential savings are worth. Now it is going to be very difficult to come to a graceful conclusion and avoid leaving permanent scars on the county's signature programs.
Janssen abruptly signaled last week she plans to cut academic coaching supplements equal to 14 percent of a teacher's base salary at four high school magnet programs: The International Baccalaureate programs at St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor University highs, the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High and the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High. That would save the district more than $650,000 as it struggles to deal with a $26 million budget shortfall. But it would be a hefty pay cut to more than 90 teachers at some of the county's most successful programs, and it was not communicated well.
The affected teachers, some School Board members and the teachers' union were caught by surprise. The pay cut was not put in any broader context, and it was not well vetted. It turns out the two IB programs generate far more money from the state than the salary supplements and benefits for the IB teachers cost. How does it make financial sense to cut the salary supplements for the academic coaching that helps the students pass IB exams and earn IB diplomas, which generates more money for the district?
In a school district with plenty of issues, Janssen has created another one that could have been avoided. The success of its most popular programs is being compromised, parents and students are angry, and magnet teachers and their colleagues in other programs are pitted against each other. The former St. Petersburg High principal should have known better than to create a situation where some St. Pete High teachers are high-fiving and gloating that IB teachers face a 14 percent salary cut.
The salary supplements for these magnet teachers are a form of merit pay, and all four programs can point to significant student achievements. They aren't bonuses; the teachers are compensated for giving up their planning periods and performing additional work that leads to greater student success. Merit pay based on performance and job description is coming for all teachers. The district better involve more voices much earlier in that discussion than was done in this botched attempt to save money.