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Lesson for teachers: gloom

Bay Point Middle School teacher Dan Smith spent Thursday afternoon hearing crummy plans for his profession: less money next year, fewer teachers, fewer classes.

His imagination filled in the rest: Poor morale. More kids shoved together. Less equipment with which to teach them.

Smith's conclusion: He still wants to teach. But he and other teachers wondered Thursday if school, as it has functioned for years, will ever be the same.

"It's frustrating because you don't become a teacher to get rich. You become a teacher because you think what you do is important," said Claudia Maynard, who teaches eighth-grade language arts.

And now this.

About 20 teachers had watched on TV as school Superintendent Howard Hinesley announced his plan to cut 922 jobs to save $32-million.

If School Board members approve Hinesley's recommendations, fewer classroom teachers will be needed because the school day will be shortened from seven to six periods in middle and high schools. High schools will lose their registrars, occupational specialists, activities directors and media assistants. Teachers who supervise intervention centers for troubled students will be replaced with paraprofessionals.

"Any cuts at all are criminal," said Bay Point science teacher Peggy McCabe, who left a job in public relations recently to teach. "I love working with kids, but I'm not going to do it under impossible odds."

McCabe said she has to scrimp for beakers and test tubes. The cuts are going to cause morale among her colleagues to plummet, she said.

At Clearwater High School, a devastated and angry faculty filed out of the media center Thursday.

"It definitely does not look good," said physical education teacher Dea Loy. "There is a strong possibility graduation requirements will be lowered and that will directly affect a lot of P.E. teachers."

Mary Cummings, head of the school's guidance program, was sympathetic.

"These teachers work hard to build strong programs," Cummings said. "Then along comes something like this."

It was a glum afternoon for teachers everywhere. Several whistled in surprise as they heard the superintendent explain the cuts. Some seemed disgusted as they strode out of the room.

"The gains we worked so hard for are just going to erode away," said Maynard. "Our job becomes one of supervision rather than being able to instruct."

Several teachers said if they were mad at anyone, it was the Legislature. Of course, elected officials are doing what they think people want, Maynard said.

"We're dealing with children who have parents who are taking a back seat and letting this happen," said physical education teacher Martie Blue. "They don't understand it. They're hearing from their kids that everything is normal."

At Clearwater High, silence followed Hinesley's announcement. The only applause had come earlier when the teachers learned Clearwater High School would not be losing volunteer coordinator Matile Hendry.

"What an important job she'll have next year," Cummings said.

Principal Ed Evans, who was involved in discussions about where to make the cuts, said: "This hasn't been a fun time for me. I know it hasn't been for you, either.

"And it doesn't make it any easier when you're sitting here with people you know won't have a position next year," Evans added.

Hinesley told teachers that he expects these cuts to be permanent.

"We need to stick together as a faculty," Evans said. "We need to stick together as a county. Take your anger out on the Legislature."

Teacher John Tsacrios reminded everyone that Pinellas County's Tim Jamerson, D-St. Petersburg, is chairman of the House of Representatives' Education Committee.

"He's the one you should harass," Tsacrios said.

Teacher Roger Magee furnished the staff with Jamerson's Tallahassee telephone number: (904) 488-0925.

Back at Bay Point Middle School, teacher Dan Smith tried to retain some enthusiasm.

"Leave teaching? The future of America is here," said Smith, who teaches geography to sixth-graders. "It's one of the reasons I've stayed in teaching as long as I have. I feel there's importance in this."

Evans at Clearwater High assured his teachers he would do everything within his power to keep them on staff next year.

"I don't want to lose anybody," Evans said. "This is one of the worst times I can remember. The 1968 (teachers' strike) was nothing compared to this."