Board frets as teachers quit

Published February 21, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - It was enough to make School Board members wring their hands and talk of lawsuits.

Fifteen teachers resigned their positions with Hernando County Schools after the end of the first semester, leaving the district with classes to cover and jobs to fill in midyear.

"I can understand why a spouse would have to leave if their partner were leaving the district," said board member Jim Malcolm recently. "But if we have contracts here and people are just moving on, as far as I'm concerned, it's a breach of contract."

Such midyear departures aren't unusual, and the district generally has "not held people to those contracts," said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.

Board members said maybe it is time to think about doing so - or at least force those who leave to travel back to Hernando County to pick up their last paychecks and perhaps submit to exit interviews.

"It doesn't make sense to have a contract that's one-sided," said board member Sandra Nicholson. "The contract is good for one side, but it's worthless for us."

For students and teachers at Hernando High School, the departure of a first-year teacher has brought five chemistry classes - including the school's inaugural Advanced Placement course in the subject - to a near standstill.

"This is something we have worked very hard for, to get an AP chemistry teacher," said principal Betty Harper. "I feel that teaching is not a 9-to-5 job. It's a career, and (such teachers) need to stay one year. I think they're letting down the students."

Other science teachers and substitutes have been rotating to cover the classes, and the school is struggling to find a qualified replacement, Harper said.

But in the meantime, some of the school's most ambitious students are doing their best to cover tough material without a regular teacher.

"Of course, there's been some frustration," said senior Seth Spencer. "A lot of people have dropped the class and opted for anatomy or physiology or something."

He's been studying a book on the subject, How To Get a Five on the AP Chemistry Test, hoping he can independently boost his score and get off to a good start in college.

J.D. Floyd Elementary School lost three teachers at midyear, but principal Marcia Austin said the school has already found replacements.

At her school, she said, such departures did not involve teachers casually abandoning their posts. More typically, a teacher leaves because of a pressing family matter or because the school has found fault with his or her work during the probationary period, she said.

"Sometimes we lose them for the purposes of salary, (like) our guidance counselor who went to Hillsborough County for $10,000 more," Austin said. "For me, it's a nonissue when it comes up. They're either family or health-related, or there are performance issues."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.