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Pinellas proposes pay bump up to $25,000 for teachers at struggling schools

Pinellas hired Antonio Burt last year to transform the five underperforming schools.
Pinellas hired Antonio Burt last year to transform the five underperforming schools.
Published Mar. 30, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG — Teachers and administrators at five struggling elementary schools stand to make up to $25,000 more next year, one of several major reforms proposed to transform the south St. Petersburg campuses, Pinellas County schools officials said Tuesday night.

These educators would have to reinterview for their jobs at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose elementaries as district leaders look to recruit top talent from other areas of the county and outside its borders.

The proposal, scheduled to go before the School Board on April 12, also calls for lengthening the school day at the five schools by one hour. This extra time teaching, in addition to a $5,000 "recruitment and retention" bonus, extra paid professional days and other financial incentives could add $20,000 to $25,000 to teachers' pay, according to Antonio Burt, the district's newly hired turnaround leader.

"We're finding the most effective candidates. We're not going to settle on a body," said Burt, director of school leadership for the district. He spoke after a community forum Tuesday evening at Lakewood High School.

The five schools, which are predominantly black, were the focus of a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation. A resulting series called "Failure Factories" documented the schools' decline to some of the worst in the state after the School Board abandoned integration efforts in 2007, then failed to provide the proper resources.

Notably, the series documented how district officials failed to steer the best teachers into the five schools. Their actions touched off a mass exodus of experienced teachers and replaced them with rookies. More than 100 teachers with 10 or more years experience left the schools after 2008.

The Times wrote about other Florida districts that had given teachers $25,000 bonuses and increased learning by extending the school day.

District officials did not specify how the new plan would be funded, but area superintendent Bob Poth said they received input from the county's teachers union.

The proposal calls for bonuses at the five schools to increase from $3,000 to $5,000, and for teachers to receive extra paid professional days.

Bill Corbett, the district's deputy superintendent, was heading up meetings with the union while Burt held focus groups with its members, Poth said.

"Obviously if there are any contractual changes, they'd have to be a part of it," Poth said.

Pinellas hired Burt in December to lead the transformation of the five schools. Formerly a top administrator in Memphis, he said he applied for the job after following the "Failure Factories" series. This month, the School Board approved an eight-member team to work under him.

Burt said Tuesday that this team, along with the area superintendents, would interview all of the applicants for the five schools. Much of the work would be done in the next month, he said, but allowed that it may continue into the summer as he recruits from out of state.

"It's a give-and-take. We're opening up a process to make sure we have the best candidate," Burt said. "I can guarantee you the process will be complete before the first day of school."

Under the proposal, students would go to school for 7.5 hours instead of the current 6.5. A teacher's day would extend from eight hours to nine. A half-hour would be flexible so teachers could leave early and then devote part of their evening to lesson planning.

Burt said the longer school day was important to ensuring that students — some who are multiple grade levels behind — would learn as much as possible.

For example, a 60-minute math lesson would become 80 minutes. Teachers would have "built-in morning meetings" when they could talk with students about issues at home and end with "reflection time," Burt said.

The district is fiddling around with the start and end times for the day. "We don't want them getting out at 4:05 p.m. and mixing with middle school kids," he said.

Dan Evans, the district's executive director for assessment, accountability and research, said the schools would also use a new assessment with tests throughout the semester that could return data on the students within a couple days. That would allow teachers to adjust their strategies with students in real-time, Evans said.

District leaders emphasized that the proposal was just that — a draft — but said these were the elements they planned to present to the School Board in two weeks.

"Most of what we talked about will probably be exactly as it is," said Evans, though he added that the district was "tweaking some things."

Burt presented the proposal to staff and to some parents, at Campbell Park, Maximo and Melrose. He plans to speak at Lakewood and Fairmount Park soon.

Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Gartner at Follow @lisagartner.