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Hillsborough school survey offers grim options

TAMPA — The Hillsborough school district is asking its 25,000 employees to weigh in on possible actions if the Florida economy continues its downward spiral.

None of the options are good.

Layoffs or salary reductions? Pay more for health care or eliminate a day from the school year?

School officials are circulating a survey to see "which budget-cutting strategies our employees regard as acceptable and which they see as an absolute last resort."

Consider this a wakeup call for a district where teachers have received a 20 percent pay raise over the last three years.

"The survey was important to let people know just how dire it is out there," said Yvonne Lyons, executive director of the teachers union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "I don't think our children or our teachers have really suffered like they have in some other districts."

While other districts were cutting salaries and issuing pink slips, Hillsborough managed to give employees a 2 percent raise this year. Leaders have pledged to protect the classroom and try to avoid layoffs.

But the survey does not sugarcoat what the future could hold for the district, Hillsborough's largest employer, if statewide budget cuts in education continue.

School employees could face a furlough that would require them to take days off without pay. The district could adjust the formulas used to decide how many custodians and guidance counselors are assigned to schools.

Employees can voice their views — from strongly agree to strongly disagree — on the six worst-case scenarios. Possibilities include layoffs and salary reductions for all employees.

"There's a lot of scary terms in there," schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. "We don't want there to be any secrets. These are things that other districts have done. And we just wanted to hear from our employees what they think about it."

School officials don't want to take any of these steps, Hegarty said. And while it might be common sense that people don't want layoffs, the district didn't want to assume without asking.

Not surprisingly, early responses indicate that school employees feel the same way.

"We've been fortunate so far, but we're still not out of the woods yet," said Luis Perez, president of the union representing the district's blue-collar workers, the Hillsborough School Employees Federation. "We're still in an economic crunch here."

Like the teachers union, Perez has not received anxious phone calls about the survey, which was released by e-mail a few days ago. Employees can respond voluntarily and anonymously through Wednesday.

They also can propose alternative budget cuts for the district to study. Perez suggests eliminating noneducational field trips. And he thinks the district should freeze hiring in areas where layoffs could be coming.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

facts

School survey

A survey is asking Hillsborough's 25,000 school employees to weigh in on possible budget cuts, including:

• Layoffs

• Pay more for health care

• Furloughs

• Salary reductions

Hillsborough school survey offers grim options 01/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 12, 2009 10:49pm]
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