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Pinellas debates how to tell employees about changes

With some major changes coming to five schools facing state intervention and the closing of a special education center, the Pinellas County School Board and superintendent Mike Grego talked Tuesday about how to tell employees in a sensitive and timely manner.

Board members asked Grego Tuesday to give employees some peace of mind about their jobs for the coming school year.

"We have a lot of people out there who don't know where they're going to be," said board member Terry Krassner.

Grego said that he prefers to talk to the School Board about proposed changes first in a public work session. But, with Florida's open records law, that means the details are available to the press. For two items on the board's agenda today – the schools facing state intervention and the possible closing of a special education center – that meant press coverage ahead of when district officials scheduled themselves to talk to employees.

To avoid that problem, many superintendents in other school districts speak to board members individually – to avoid breaking the law – and communicate possible changes to school faculties ahead of public meetings. Grego said he wants the board conversation. But he noted that the "era of social media" makes it a challenge.

"We're faced with people writing things on blogs before we're even done here," he said. "…Well, I deserve and we deserve to have that discussion (at the meeting,)" he said.

Grego said district officials are visiting the five schools today and Wednesday. District officials also will be at Hamilton Disston after the meeting today, he said. Grego said he also chose not to tell the staff members at the five schools earlier because of the timing of the FCAT and other board meetings.

"It was a conscious decision, and I stand by it, not to disrupt schools during the FCAT," he said.

But he noted that preliminary plans for those schools were submitted to the state in November so the staff members had some notice that this was coming.

What do you think? Should the district communicate more with employees before items show up on a board agenda? What's the best way to handle it?