Controversy at Palm Beach County Schools

By Emily Pantelides - bio | email
Posted by Rachel Leigh - email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - For about a month now rumors of budgets cuts, teacher layoffs and expensive new hires had been swirling around the school board. Fox 29 wants answers. So, we sat down with Superintendent Art Johnson to talk about the rumors and about a veteran teacher who's not coming back to work next year.

"I'm in shock, complete and utter shock," said Heidi Sperounis, a dance teacher at Bak Middle who was just told her 12 year career her at the school is over.

"I was asked to come in and sign my evaluation. It was an exemplary evaluation, like it's been for four years, and the next sentence was, 'I'm not going to renew your contract for next year.'"

But about a month ago, the school board said no teachers were going to lose their jobs and the budget was balanced. At the same time, the school board hired a new chief academic officer, Jeffery Hernandez, who will be paid $180,000 a year.

We wanted to know why someone could be hired for $180,000 a year at a time like this and why when the school board said no teachers would lose their jobs when teachers are, indeed, losing their jobs.

Emily Pantelides: "With Hernandez's salary, we could keep some of those teachers on. So why did you hire him?"
Art Johnson: "Mr. Hernandez is an asset to our school district. Remember, we have a balanced budget. The core mission is to improved the schools, and he will assist in doing that."
Emily: "More than extra teachers?"
Johnson: "Yes."
Emily: "He warrants the $180,000 you are paying him?"
Johnson: "Yes."

When we asked the superintendent about teachers. He was emphatic and said teachers whose contracts are not being renewed have nothing to do with budgets cuts.

Emily Pantelides: "Why is your contract not being renewed?"
Heidi Sperounis: "Based on budgetary realignment of schools."
Emily: "So your principal said it was about the budget?"
Sperounis: "Correct."

Johnson: "Teachers are not out of work because of the budget. You are mischaracterizing that."
Emily: "How?"
Johnson: "Because it's not a layoff. We have continued to have rising achievements, including Bak Middle School."
Emily: "But let me get back to these teachers. They have not been told they will be reassigned, what do you say to those teachers?"
Johnson: "I will repeat what I said to you: Teachers on contract with us will be reassigned. Teachers with any type of performance issue would not."
Emily: "So, if it's not the budget and there really are no teacher layoff's, what's the reason these teachers contracts are not being renewed?"

The superintendent of the school district says it's about school re-alignment. When Fox 29 asked what that means, he told us it's up to each individual principal. The principal of Bak Middle says he does not comment on personnel issues.