Painful budget cuts loom. The school district's biggest endeavor in decades, the choice plan, is at a critical juncture. And each week, the Legislature threatens to inflict more pain.
The plate is piled high for Pinellas schools, but the buzz among teachers this week is over a single job in the office of superintendent Howard Hinesley.
In Internet chat rooms, teachers are crackling with outrage at the news that Hinesley's future executive assistant will earn between $44,324 and $64,447, and that the minimum education requirement is a high school diploma.
To earn that minimum salary, a Pinellas teacher with a doctorate would have to work 18 years. The same teacher could never hope to earn the executive assistant's maximum, thanks to a salary schedule that tops out at $53,850 for instructors. Teachers with bachelor's degrees would not exceed the executive assistant's starting pay until their 21st year.
"It's created quite a stir," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "The new town square of the Internet has been bristling with it."
A sampling from the anonymous posters: "Who comes first -- the superintendent's needs or the children's needs?" One educator laments that teachers have "given away" their labor for years. Another teacher with 33 years' experience begins, "Help me understand."
The job is being advertised because Hinesley's longtime assistant, Shirley Montgomery, will retire in June.
The executive assistant answers phones, assembles the School Board agenda, sets the superintendent's calendar, handles correspondence and manages the office, Hinesley said Wednesday. It's a salaried position that often requires overtime but offers no overtime pay, he said. It's also a year-round position, compared with a teacher's 10-month job.
Hinesley added: "It's just like any other position of responsibility. She has a lot of people picking at her."
Other requirements for the new job are six years of executive secretarial experience and the ability to type 60 words per minute, operate a computer, take dictation and transcribe. Candidates with at least two years of college are preferred.
The salary range is "nothing new," said School Board member Jane Gallucci. "I knew about it when I was a guidance counselor . . . The timing might be a little poor."
Three other secretaries in the executive suite could handle the load, Gallucci said. But it was Hinesley's decision, not the School Board's, she added.
Montgomery, who has held the position since 1985, earns about $55,000.
Indeed, the salary range for her job is published in the district's Compensation Manual, and has not changed in years. The executive assistant is one of hundreds of positions examined recently in a yearlong study of district salaries. The study compared district pay with that of similar school systems in Florida, and other local governments and corporations. It also examined how salaries within the district compared with each other.
The result: About 6,000 district employees got raises to correct inequities. The rest had their salaries cut or stayed the same.
Because the executive assistant's salary passed muster in the review, it most likely is the local going rate in government and business, said Hinesley, Moore and Gallucci.
However, Moore, who was on the salary review committee, said he was surprised at the low education threshold for the job. He said the requirement and the salary probably should be reviewed.
Like Gallucci, he questioned the hiring of a replacement during tough budget times. Pinellas' teacher salaries are comparable to those in districts of similar size in Florida, Moore said. "But we still have plenty of work to do."
"Is it right that a teacher with a PhD and 22 years' experience makes $53,000 a year?" she asked. "No. I've never said anything different. We need to go about changing that."