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Budget cuts deep at Hernando County schools

Brooksville Elementary School's math and science lab was designed to give students the kind of hands-on experience they wouldn't get anywhere else at school.

With motorized robots, racetracks and basic programming language, their brains would learn to navigate the world of creative problem solving.

But now that program is gone, a victim of the latest round of budget cuts hitting the Hernando County school district.

"It's a huge impact," said Brooksville Elementary principal Mary LeDoux. "It's the creative side of children that also helps with student performance. But when you get to a bottom-line number, you can only do so much.

"At some point, you have to start making the difficult choices."

All across the district, schools are making tough choices as the start of the 2012-13 academic year draws near.

Schools have been forced to cut more than $4.1 million, the second consecutive year principals have been ordered to reduce their budgets by 10 percent. District-level departments haven't been immune, cutting about $1.4 million.

Many schools say they've cut to the bone. Maybe deeper.

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Nature Coast Technical High School slashed its marching band, while Springstead High eliminated a nutrition and wellness class, a Principles of Food class and two security employees.

Deltona Elementary no longer will offer health or art special classes during the school day. Parrott Middle School no longer will have a writing coach and has eliminated an assistant media specialist.

"You cannot cut this much money out of a school district budget and not have it impact everyone and everything," said Springstead principal Susan Duval.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said he feels the district has reached the point where there is little left that can be cut.

"I think we're lean," he said. "Our body mass is down here. We're down to the point where I think any further reductions would be tragic for kids."

Blavatt said he doesn't think the cuts have reached the point where the community has noticed a huge difference in what the schools are doing.

He said he has been contacted by several principals who believe the cuts have gone too far.

"A lot of whining," Blavatt said.

• • •

Duval said there has been an impact every year cuts have been made.

Some areas at her school will be noticeably different come August.

The two campus security employees that were cut also acted as crossing guards to help students cross busy Mariner Boulevard between classes, she said.

Since the school has classes on either side of the road, student safety is a concern.

"I always appreciated that extra layer of safety and supervision," Duval said. "I doubt seriously we can provide the intense level of safety and supervision that we would like to provide. We will do the best we can."

That's a theme at many schools.

"We're going to try our best to get it done," said LeDoux, "but it's going to be with less resources."

Duval echoed that sentiment and said the task now is to try and maintain, to the greatest extent possible, the level of service for students, their parents and the community.

In the past, she said, she's seen places where the school could make cuts, if necessary. She doesn't see those any longer.

"I'm not sure how we could make any more cuts with what we have," she said. "Right now, it's become very problematic as to how we could make more cuts and still maintain the level of effectiveness with our programs that we've achieved."

Some schools, while they have made cuts, said students and parents likely will not notice.

Challenger K-8's cuts have been primarily to personnel, and principal Sue Stoops believes the impact will largely be limited to teachers

They will have fewer supplies, she said.

The school district allots $24 for supplies for each student, down substantially from $37 several years ago, before statewide budget slashing, said the district's chief financial officer, Desiree Henegar.

"We do rely on parents a lot to send things in," Stoops said.

One problem she foresees: As equipment begins to wear out, the school might not have money to replace it.

Teachers, who often spend their own money to help make up for a shortage of classroom supplies, might also have to cut back on copying, Stoops said. They will have to rely more on document cameras, having students copy those, and use fewer handouts.

"It won't be comfortable," she said, "but if there's a finite amount of money, we have to do it."

Chocachatti Elementary principal Maria Rybka said this year's cuts will have minimal impact on her school.

"We haven't had a feeling that it's had an impact on us," she said. "If we don't cut anymore, we'll continue to provide a great program."

The biggest hit came two years ago when cuts included an assistant principal's position and a physical education teacher, Rybka said.

Adding back an assistant principal would be a help, she said, and another physical education teacher would benefit students.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

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Public hearing

The Hernando County School Board will have its first public hearing on the district's 2012-13 budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday at district headquarters, 919 N Broad St. in Brooksville. The proposed property tax rate is 7.454 mills, a reduction of .054 mills from last year. The final public hearing will be on Sept. 18, at which time the School Board will approve the tax rate and budget.

Budget cuts deep at Hernando County schools 07/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 28, 2012 1:41pm]

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