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Schools to rely on substitutes

Published Oct. 13, 2005

The Pinellas school system plans to keep using substitutes to fill as many as 200 vacant teacher positions. The continued hiring freeze is necessary, Superintendent Howard Hinesley said Wednesday, because the school system could face further state cuts, possibly as early as September, and because the district may yet reduce the number of class periods in high schools from seven to six.

If high school students take six courses a day instead of seven, the district will need 157 fewer teachers than it currently employs.

"We need to be screaming at the people way up in Tallahassee and in Washington, (D.C.)," said Karen Bell, Woodlawn Elementary School PTA president.

Mrs. Bell, a retired Hillsborough County teacher, has three children and said she will be involved in the school system for many years to come. "Somebody at some level of government has got to realize that education needs to be the top priority. I'm tired of watching the children get the shaft because government can't balance the budget."

The change would not take place before the 1992-93 school year. If the 157 positions are eliminated then, it would be the substitutes, not permanent teachers, who would be let go.

"We want to be ready to absorb the loss of those positions if we need to," Hinesley said. "Our financial problems are not over yet."

All teachers who retire or resign will be replaced with substitutes, who receive no fringe benefits and no seniority credit for the time they spend as substitutes. That is expected to save the school system $3-million to $4-million, Hinesley said.

The only exception will be minority teachers and exceptional-education teachers. Because they are in short supply, any vacancies in those areas will be filled by permanent teachers.

As of May, 63 teaching positions were being filled by long-term substitutes, said Ron Stone, associate superintendent for human resources.

Hinesley has limited to 200 the number of long-term substitutes to be hired. Once there are more than 200, the first people hired as long-term substitutes will be offered permanent jobs.

"The idea will provide some hope for them," he said.

Newly hired long-term substitutes will be paid $67 per day with no benefits. Those who already spent the last school year as a long-term substitute will get a raise to $75 per day.

Hinesley said the short-term financial outlook continues to be bleak.

State Education Commissioner Betty Castor told him this week that unless the economy improves dramatically, schools could be facing cuts as early as September, he said.

A committee will spend the summer analyzing whether the school system should eliminate one class period in high schools.

"I don't think any of us want to see the school day reduced," said Laurie Ulbrich, president of Pinellas County Council of PTAs. She said doesn't think anything will really be accomplished "until we figure out a better way to fund education in Florida."

As part of education reforms a few years ago, the state urged districts to offer seven classes a day and gave them extra money to help pay for the extra class.

That incentive money was cut in the past Legislative session, and Pinellas lost $7-million, Hinesley said.