A weekend interview with ...
... Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino. With her re-election bid successfully behind her, Fiorentino spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her plans and priorities for the coming four years.
What are your top priorities now that you have won re-election?
Since we have such a comprehensive strategic plan, we're going to follow in using that. Because we have a good foundation of successes that we've done, but using the strategic plan will follow those goals everyone has worked together to put this plan together. There's two main categories when you're looking at this. One is the academic. We want to make sure there's a challenging learning environment for all kids. ... The other thing is making sure that we expand on our career academies and making sure that what we're teaching kids is going to be relevant to the marketplace today. And then, making sure we have best practices in every classroom for the students.
The other end of working is managing the business, if you will. There's the business end. So, overcrowding has been an issue since I've been here, and we'll continue to look at facilities, some new schools, but making sure that we have a good, safe, sound learning environment for children. The other thing that is major is the ERP, which, as you know, we have been working very hard to save money for that and we have been preparing for that over the last couple of years. And now, making sure we have that in place so we're bringing our computer systems from the late '60s, early '70s into the 21st century.
Let me ask you about the plans for the business side, because I know one of the big issues is finance.
That was No. 3. I was getting there. The other big thing is the budget. As you well know, the economy, not just at the school system but in Pasco County, in the state, in the nation, has been an issue. We've heard that the legislators will go ahead and have their swearing in on Nov. 18 and then they'll turn around and they're telling us they'll have a special session. So we need to be looking at, right now from everything we've been told, it's between an $8-million and $12-million budget cut. Taking that into consideration, the other thing we've heard is that the estimating revenues are continuing to drop, which will have an impact on next year's budget. So we still have challenging financial times ahead. And we're going to work together to make sure that we have consensus and there's good communication with all stakeholders so we can have a good plan in place and make recommendations to the board as we meet those challenges.
So you have $8-million to $12-million you need to cut this year. What is it that you're looking at to cut?
Well, what we had originally planned when we just thought we were going to have a $4-million cut, we do know we had some savings with the insurance, so we're going to use that. We're looking at the FTE. When you look at those students, you don't know which students left. Every student has a different amount of money. That's why we keep asking to wait. ... So we're looking at that. And to be honest, this is one of those times where we've talked about, we are going to have to dip into reserves to keep this year nice and calm.
At this point I don't know. We are looking to see how much money we are saving in energy. The gas prices are starting to come down, so that will help us. We've been doing a lot of savings that we're hoping will exceed what we anticipated for savings. And if that case comes up, that may reduce it a bit more. Then whatever we need, we'll have to take from reserves. Or at least make that recommendation to the board.
So reserves might be what covers much of that $8-million?
Yeah. Yeah. We had anticipated $4-million. But when they went from $4-million to $8-million to $12-million, we were like, holy mother. That's not what we were expecting.
If you take that out of the reserves, then how will that affect the bond ratings you were talking about before?
It is going to affect them. That's part of the concern, too. That's why what we're trying to do is not cut as much. We're trying to look at other things like the gas, looking at areas that we've had additional savings in. And to do other things that may cause additional savings.
Like cutting programs?
We're trying very hard not to impact classrooms. Remember, our main goal is to educate children.
Of course. So then, if you're looking outside the classroom, would you be looking at field trips? Sporting events? Extracurricular activities?
All that stuff. That's not off the table. Yeah. We are trying not to impact the schools. And this year I think we'll be fine. It's next year where we're going to have the problems.
The biggest thing that we saw over the election was this feud between the administration and the teachers and employee association. How are we going to fix that? Or, who has to fix it and how is it going to be fixed?
You know, the election is over. And now it's time we kind of bond as a team and move forward. We did some of that last time. And I'm hoping we will be able to to a better job this time.
How do you bond as a team? Do you invite them out to lunch? Do you say, 'Let me hear your ideas. You have four hours of my time'? What do you do to get that point?
Those are things I need to talk with the groups about, and not via the newspaper. That's just stuff we need to hash out together, how we're going to do this. ...
They seemed to be basically attacking your leadership style a lot. ... It would seem they want you to do something. You probably want them to do something, so ...
No, I think we both need to come to the table and we both have to work on it. And I think we'll be able to come to, well, I think that members and nonmembers at this point realize that we're a team and this has gone too far and we need some healing. And that is both my and USEP's job in doing that. ...
When you look at things ... what do you see being the direction for the school district for the next even 100 days?
I think the idea is to keep a very calm and steady course. We have had many successes, and again it's due to all the employees and their hard work. So there's not going to be a paradigm shift here. It's going to be continuing on the steady course and working together so we can continue to make our school district one of the best in Florida for our students.