Pinellas School Board terminates Superintendent Julie Janssen

08/23/11 Janelle Irwin
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Today the Pinellas County School Board terminated Superintendent Julie Janssen. The board determined Janssen would be terminated without cause, giving her a severance package equivalent to her annual salary -- about $200,000.

Two months ago, school board members told Julie Janssen to shape up or ship out. Today the board voted on the latter, but not until September. The decision was an emotional one for Janssen who said she wanted to stay in position for the rest of her contract, which wasn’t set to expire until September of 2013. She said she regretted not having a more effective evaluation process, but will be leaving on good terms.

Janssen hasn’t said yet what her professional future will hold, but is hoping to take advantage of the situation by spending time with her family.

And quite the vacation it will be. According to the terms in Janssen’s contract, her without cause termination means she will collect over $200,000, plus benefits. If Janssen goes back to work, her earnings will be deducted from that amount. The original proposal submitted by her attorney, Ron Meyer, would have allowed her to keep the entire severance package despite any future employment. Meyer abandoned that proposal though. Instead he argued the board had no grounds for a “just cause” termination despite recent allegations.

Allegations that Janssen withheld public records were brought up by activist Sami Leigh Scott, who formally filed a complaint last week. Scott has been an outspoken Janssen opponent. She thanked school board members for taking action, but urged them to choose Janssen’s successor cautiously.

Not everyone wanted Janssen ousted though. An outpouring of supporters showed up; some to give their thanks, others to submit last minute pleas to save Janssen’s job. Dexter Rogers looked up to Janssen as a mentor. He said she is the reason he came to teach in Pinellas and isn’t happy with the school board’s decision.

Another supporter, Jeff Frances, waved a disapproving finger at the media for forcing Janssen’s termination with an onslaught of negative coverage.

The school board members themselves even expressed respect for the embattled educator. Board chair Carol Cook asked reporters to remember Janssen’s legacy in their coverage. Each took a turn in thanking her for her service. Linda Lerner said this decision was not an easy one.

After unanimously agreeing to terminate Janssen’s employment contract, the board turned their attention to who would fill the position on an interim basis. A final decision won’t be made until another special board meeting on August 30th, but they did approve a motion to hold a discussion interest in the position with John Stewart. Stewart was the former deputy superintendent under Howard Hinesley and also served as a superintendent in Polk County. Julie Janssen said in a press conference following the meeting, she would support Stewart in the position.

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