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Peers praise superintendent's pledge

But other counties' officials don't promise to take a pay cut if their schools get an F rating.

Hillsborough School Superintendent Earl Lennard got high marks Tuesday for putting his money where his mouth is and vowing to cut his pay by 5 percent should any Hillsborough public school be graded an F by the state.

Lennard, whose annual pay is $165,000, said that eight deputy and assistant superintendents also pledged to take the pay cut and that he would be asking another 189 central office staff members to follow suit.

In addition, at least one Hillsborough County School Board member plans to make the same pledge.

The salary pledges, the first of their kind in the state, drew conditional praise Tuesday from superintendents in other districts. None, however, promised to make the same pledge.

"I think what Earl did is very admirable," said Pasco County School Superintendent John Long. "He's a leader in the state and he set a standard we all need to consider, and we will consider that."

Still, Long said, he believes Lennard's pledge is at least a year premature because the state's grading system, based primarily on standardized test scores in reading, math and writing, is in its infancy. Yet to be developed are the benchmarks for judging a student's progress from one year to the next.

John Fryer Jr., superintendent of Duval County public schools, said he, too, commends Lennard's effort but believes it is placing too much stock in a grading system that still has a lot of bugs.

"It's a good step forward, but it's not yet a thorough measure of a school's performance," he said. "It's a very complicated system, and yet it's still just a snapshot, and it doesn't account for a student's progress from one year to the next."

Lennard agrees with that assessment but said he wanted to send a strong message to principals and teachers, that while they are feeling the pressure to avoid the stigma of a bad grade, so, too, are the district officials.

"When you do what we did, you make it personal _ that you, too, are putting yourself on the line, along with the people in the schools," he said.

Terry Wilson, executive director of the Classroom Teachers Association, said such support is unprecedented.

"It was a bold move," he said. "It's playing well with teachers. People look at it as a sincere move."

School Board members earn $32,296 a year. Carolyn Bricklemyer said she will give 5 percent back if a school gets an F, and Sharon Danaher said she also hopes to make the offer, depending on her family's finances. The remaining five School Board members were unavailable for comment.

Ron Stone, an associate superintendent and spokesman for Pinellas County schools, said that Lennard's pledge is a "bold move and we applaud that" and that it is likely to be discussed at School Superintendent Howard Hinesley's next staff meeting.

Hinesley was not available for comment.

David Friedberg, chief of security for Hillsborough County schools, said he sent an e-mail to Lennard on Tuesday, saying he would put $3,500 of his $70,000 salary on the line, because "that's how I was raised. You join in."

"I'm sure there are those who will say I don't teach, I'm not a principal, so why put my money on the line?" Friedberg said. "While I don't have a direct influence on the curriculum being taught, I certainly have a direct impact on how it is taught.

"My responsibility, and that of my department, is to make the schools as safe as possible so teachers can teach and students can learn. If children are to succeed, it needs to be a collective effort."

Should any school get an F, and should all of Hillsborough central office staffers participate in the pledge, more than $500,000 would be raised for the district's general fund. The School Board would decide how to spend the money.