Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego wants the power to fire any employee within 90 days of being hired or suspend an employee without pay.
School board members say the policy will save district personnel precious time spent doing paperwork, while members of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association worry about the precedent it could create.
The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the change before the School Board votes at its meeting today at 10 a.m. in the School Administration Building, at 301 Fourth St. S.W. in Largo.
Currently, school board members have to vote on whether to suspend any employees without pay. The change would allow the superintendent to let employees who agree to a suspension start without a vote from the board. Contested suspensions would be reviewed.
“This doesn’t take away any due process. If an employee disagrees, it goes to the school board, and we have a conversation,” Grego said.
Nevertheless, there is still concern the changes would cause the school board to relinquish its authority as employers and give it exclusively to Grego, said Bruce Proud, executive director of the Pinellas County teachers union.
“By not having it go to the board, these decisions will be based on a recommendation by a principal to a human resources department and may not get the scrutiny that it would normally get on the board agenda,” Proud said.
Many school districts give their superintendents the power to suspend employees without pay, said Florida School Board Association Director Wayne Blanton. Because school board meetings typically happen only every two weeks, the superintendent may need to remove a teacher or employee from the classroom before the school board makes a formal decision. Currently, Pinellas employees can only be suspended with pay until the board votes, meaning they receive their full salaries until the board makes a decision.
Most school districts also give their superintendents the ability to fire employees within 90 days of being hired, without a school board review, Blanton said.
“You don’t have to give a reason or anything,” he said.
After 90 days, firings typically go before the school board, Blanton said.
“Technically, the employer is the school board, and school boards can have policies to do whatever they need to do,” he said.
In Hillsborough County, firings and suspensions work the same way they do in Pinellas right now.
“We always bring terminations before the board, regardless of circumstances,” Hillsborough school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said. “The superintendent makes recommendations, and the board votes on it. That hasn’t changed in our modern history.”
The school board seldom disagrees with one of Grego’s recommendations to fire an employee, Pinellas School Board member Terry Krassner said. She said she doesn’t think employees will find the change jarring.
“I’m very comfortable with this idea,” she said. “In all honesty, I don’t really know why we haven’t made those changes already and released some of the issues that should [have been] up to the superintendent all along. I can’t think of a time when the board has disagreed with one of Grego’s suggestions to let someone go, and that’s a reflection of our confidence level in him.”