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Teachers request a change of scenery

Most days, it takes first-grade teacher Laura Perricone an hour to pick her way from her north Pinellas home to Bardmoor Elementary School in Seminole. To curb stress, she listens to books on tape.

"As a teacher, you get creative," said Perricone, who has worked at Bardmoor two years.

Some teachers also try to make a move.

Like hundreds of others, and more than two dozen at Bardmoor alone, Perricone applied to transfer to a new school. Her request was denied.

Every spring in Pinellas County, about 1,200 teachers try to play a game of musical chairs. For years, maybe 150 teachers would get their wish. But the transfer process has changed in the past two years, and now more than 350 teachers typically get permission to move each year. The district has about 7,400 teachers.

On their transfer applications, teachers don't have to explain why they want a change of scenery. Based on focus groups and surveys, district officials say most want to work closer to home or advance their careers.

At many schools, groups of teachers apply to transfer every year _ not because they really want to move but because they want to keep their options open. A teacher can't apply for a job opening unless a transfer application is on file.

"I always put mine in every single year, no matter whether I am happy or sad," said Bill Durst, a music teacher who is moving from Ozona Elementary to Oakhurst Elementary to be closer to home. Last year, he spent $1,400 on gas. "It protects my interest."

Some teachers want to escape administrators they don't support. For that reason, teachers union executives, principals and district personnel officials keep tabs on the requests. They look for schools where an unusually high number of teachers want out.

"Sometimes it's because they're not happy or 100-percent happy," said Bill Cooper, principal of Largo Middle school, where 17 teachers requested transfers. "Sometimes it's because we're not 100-percent happy administratively, either."

This year, 26 teachers at Bardmoor requested transfers, more than any other school in the district. At Ozona Elementary, it was 22. At Clearview Avenue Elementary, it was 20. Most elementary schools have about 50 teachers, so those numbers represent nearly half a school's faculty.

Some teachers at those schools did not want to be interviewed about their reasons for requesting transfers.

Bardmoor principal Linda Nore said that about a dozen request transfers every year and never take them. She used to do the same when she was teaching. She said she thought the numbers were also high this year because of the possibility of budget cuts.

For all the people leaving, many wanted to come in. The list of people requesting to move to Bardmoor took up four pages, she said.

"I'm sure there's a few people who aren't my fans," Nore said. "But the majority are."

At Clearview, two veteran teachers said they needed a change but didn't want to elaborate.

"I want to see all children treated fairly," said Rutha Clark, who has been teaching at Clearview for 17 years but has moved to Maximo and already loves her new assignment and boss, Barbara Hires. "The principal I am working with is wonderful."

At Belleair Elementary, teachers have expressed concern about how administrative decisions have been made; 16 requested transfers. Area superintendent Lew Williams has been monitoring the situation there.

At Maximo, which has an extended year of 210 days instead of 180, 17 teachers requested transfers. Rob McMahon, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said some teachers don't want to work a longer school year and prefer to spend their summers relaxing and recharging for the fall.

"You don't want somebody in a setting where they're not happy, where they would rather be somewhere else," McMahon said. "It's not good for kids."

McMahon said the union had heard some concerns about administrative decisions at High Point, where 17 teachers requested transfers. Principal Archie Miller said he thinks many of those wanted to work closer to home, though he said a couple may have sought new assignments because they weren't happy at High Point. He said some teachers didn't support a decision he made during the year about a behavioral specialist.

On a recent survey, Miller said, more than 80 percent of his staff felt they had a say in school decisions.

"I have lots of shared decisionmaking in my school," Miller said. "We have a good school. We have a happy school."

Harriet Konstantinidis, who is in charge of secondary hiring, said she studies the numbers each year to look for trends. She used to notice that many south county teachers were seeking jobs north. Lately, though, she sees movement in every direction.

She has not noticed a mass exodus from D-rated schools to A-rated schools.

Konstantinidis has not studied the transfer requests for 2001-2002. Because her department is trying to fill vacancies before school starts next month, she said she could not provide an exact tally of the number of requests that were granted.

In 2000-2001, 1,159 teachers applied for transfers, and 369 requests were granted.

Paula Lamb, an area superintendent, said she got an anonymous letter this spring suggesting that she look into the high number of transfer requests at some of the schools she supervises. Those include Bardmoor, Clearview and High Point.

She noted that at Bardmoor and Clearview, the principals are fairly new in those positions and still feeling their way around. She held a meeting with principals to discuss the issues but afterward felt confident that the number of requests did not indicate a larger problem.

"Sometimes, it's a good thing when people leave," Lamb said. "It gives the administrator some latitude to do some needed replacements. Sometimes a staff can be together for too long."