Pinellas employees turn out to challenge proposed budget cuts
For more than an hour tonight, Pinellas school district employees asked the school board to spare a litany of jobs from $60 million in projected budget cuts. “You can’t be efficient with children. You can only be effective,” guidance counselor Patricia McDaniel told the board, as 25 fellow counselors stood and another 70 audience members looked on. “And the only way to be effective is to have time to build a relationship."
The outpouring came as the school board wrestles with a sixth consecutive year of deep cuts, brought on by fewer students and fewer state dollars for schools.
Last week, district officials put forth an initial proposal that called for the elimination of nearly 400 positions, including 70 guidance counselors, about 60 media specialists, dozens of teachers and scores of support workers.
“The budget process is fluid,” Superintendent Julie Janssen said before speakers began lining up. Despite initial recommendations, budget and finance staff continues to scour for options that will “make less impact on our schools and our employees.”
In the meantime, Tuesday’s showing left no doubt that employees will publicly press their case. “Our media centers have been taking cut after cut over the past seven years,” said Kate Kohler, a media specialist at Palm Harbor University High. “If we continue gutting our school libraries, we are sending a negative message about our priorities to our students and our parents.”
In other business, the board voted 6-1 on an initial proposal to change when the public can weigh in with comments at board meetings. Linda Lerner was the lone dissenter on that vote, but the board voted 4-3 against a Lerner motion to postpone the initial vote until the May 10 board meeting. (Lew Williams and Terry Krassner joined her on that vote.)
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