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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco schools might meet class size mandate without new hires, union chief says

Having failed to meet Florida's class size requirements in the fall, the Pasco school district now faces the task of complying in 2012-13 or paying off a $4 million fine.

District finance officials have projected that the schools will have to hire 126 teachers at a cost of about $6.4 million to meet the mark, which in turn would reduce the fine to closer to $1 million.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb suggested during a budget committee meeting on Thursday that the district might be able to fill the slots with existing employees, rather than hiring more people. That would eliminate the $6.4 million expense, she said, making it easier to balance the budget.

"We believe the class size reduction could be handled almost entirely internally through transfers and reallocations of positions," Webb told the committee, which she co-chairs along with superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

The district has nearly 300 certified teachers in positions that do not directly instruct students, she said. "A great many of those could be converted."

Fiorentino said she and her staff will take a closer look at each of the jobs to determine whether they are required by any state or federal law, and whether the duties they perform have added benefits to academic performance that a classroom teacher might not be able to provide. "We are looking at those positions we think legally we can do," she said.

Webb acknowledged that not all the positions could be easily switched, and that not all of them should be. Still, she said, "We need to use whatever creative means we have to fill our class size reduction needs."

She also recommended asking all secondary level teachers whether they would be willing to vountarily teach a sixth period next year for a stipend. The School Board has in the past discussed requiring all middle and high school teachers to teach six periods out of six, as a way to save about $12 million. But the USEP has not been willing to negotiate that deal, and the board has not seriously approached the subject again.

Webb said she still won't back a "six-of-six" proposal, but if some teachers want to volunteer, the schools should know about it as soon as possible to further limit their need need to hire additional personnel. Fiorentino said she would ask principals to investigate the options as soon as possible.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 4:03pm]


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