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Budget challenges remain for Pasco School Board

LAND O'LAKES — The four-day week might be off the Pasco County School District's table, but the need to cut expenses remains.

Even with the Florida Legislature adding about $1 billion back into public education funding statewide, the district still faces a projected budget shortfall in 2012-13 of close to $26 million, chief finance officer Olga Swinson informed the School Board this week.

Lawmakers added $13.4 million in state funding for the district, Swinson said, but local funding dropped by $4.5 million because of reduced property values. In addition, she said, more than $1 million of the new money from Tallahassee is restricted for specific purposes, such as extended day reading programs for the lowest performing elementary schools.

The School Board used $21.4 million in nonrecurring revenue sources to cover a piece of its spending last year, money that is not available again for the coming year.

"Add all the numbers, we start the year with a negative $14 million," Swinson said.

The district also must consider rising costs of doing business.

The percentage of employees' salaries that the district must pay toward retirement funds is rising from 4.91 percent to 5.28 percent, an increase of about $1.2 million. Money flowing through the district to charter schools and private schools accepting McKay scholarships is expected to go up to about $1.7 million because of projected rising enrollment in those areas, while the district also must spend close to $6.5 million to hire teachers for class size compliance.

Factor in rising fuel, utility and property insurance charges, "I'm looking at a $25.6 million shortfall," Swinson said. "That's what we have to find between now and June" when the new budget is essentially set.

That's where the district's four-day week task force report might come in handy.

In addition to detailing where savings might arise because of the altered schedule, the task force also offered several ideas for cost savings that could occur completely independent of changing the calendar.

These include:

• Powering down vending machines ($140,658 per year)

• Using motion detectors to turn off lights ($603,428 per year)

• Cutting idling time for school buses ($122,376 per year)

• Reducing energy expenses at the schools that exceed the district average

• Using more teleconferencing and developing electronic training materials

"To me the value of what came out of this is at the end, the cost savings ideas," board member Alison Crumbley said during Tuesday's workshop on the four-day week.

"It is very interesting to look at where the savings would be and weigh them against the pros and cons," added board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong. "We need to look at how we could integrate savings into our current calendar."

The board asked staff members who participated on the task force to examine some of these concepts and report back as to how they might fit in with the coming year's budget. Swinson said she hoped to have information ready for budget workshops later in the spring.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Budget challenges remain for Pasco School Board 03/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 8:58pm]
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