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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

More cuts coming for Pasco school district budget

Pasco School Board member Joanne Hurley liked the numbers better before noon.

At that point, as far as Hurley knew, the School Board faced a $19.5 million budget shortfall for 2013-14. And having made the difficult decision to revamp the way the district staffs its media centers, she was under the impression the board had covered the gap.

Then came the board's budget workshop, where chief finance officer Olga Swinson revealed that a closer look showed the deficit to be closer to $25.5 million. And to make matters worse, superintendent Kurt Browning told board members he didn't have many good options to make up the difference — particularly if they insisted on using only recurring revenue sources. (They did.)

"We were much further ahead at 10 a.m than we are now," Hurley said with a sigh.

What drove the new outlook? An expected loss in per-student funding because of changes to virtual course budgeting by the state, an increase in the district's contribution to retirement funds and rising district costs for dual enrollment courses (another new piece of legislation) all contributed. There also was the superintendent's desire, echoed by the board, to give a similar percentage raise (4.75) to noninstructional staff that the governor and Legislature had put into their budget for teachers.

"I think morale would just be below the ground if we weren’t able to do it," chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said.

The only issue was how to pay for it.

"I do not know where I am going to come up with $2 million for dual enrollment plus another $3.5 million for raises … unless we do some real soul searching and make some significant cuts in other areas," Browning told the board. "All the big chunks of money are gone."

He said he would look at ideas such as curtailing sports activities, reducing district-level staff and cutting back student support services. And he asked for ideas. When he floated the possibility of dipping into reserves, board members wouldn't hear of it. They noted that they changed the media, literacy and technology positions without nonrecurring resources, and they didn't see it as fair to turn around and pay for raises from that pool of money.

"It’s going to mean some more hard cuts and it’s going to make more people unhappy," Armstrong acknowledged, saying the district must live within its means.

The board and administration said they would look at ideas and discuss them when they next meet. See the district's latest budget analysis here.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 4:16pm]


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