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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas okays smaller budget; employees plead for help



A solemn Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously tonight to approve a slimmed-down, $1.33 billion budget with a slight hike in the property tax rate. But not before more than 100 district employees sent an emotional message about potential cuts that are still being negotiated.

Antonia Tijerina, a guidance counselor at Pinellas Park High School, told the board her husband is unemployed and they had to refinance their house even after she got a second job. “I appreciate the fact I still have a job,” said Tijerina, one of nearly 20 employees who spoke. But “please consider the burden that additional budget cuts would make.”

“We’re all moved by your personal stories,” board member Linda Lerner said before the vote. “There are not easy answers.”

The district cut about $50 million from its budget this year, pushing the total over the last six years to about $170 million. But it’s still negotiating with employee units over some items, including a possible increase in health insurance costs. The teachers union proposed Monday that teachers receive small, mid-year raises.

“Your employees ... have earned the right to know how much they will earn this year,” teachers union president Kim Black said. “Yet they still do not know their compensation levels” for this year or how much their health care will cost.

Fred Matz, the district’s chief financial officer, noted after the meeting that the district recently ended talk of mandatory unpaid leave days, better known as furloughs, for the district’s 17,000 employees. Asked about the union proposal for a salary increase, he said, “They’re still talking (salary increases). And we’re not.”

The bargaining sessions are set to continue this week.

The new tax rate is $8.39 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, up five cents from last year’s rate of $8.34. The owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 and a homestead exemption would pay $3.88 more. With property values down, the slightly higher rate is projected to generate $20.8 million less.

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 9:30pm]


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