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The Gradebook | Class size

The Gradebook | Class size

Budget cuts may keep Pasco classrooms packed

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County's efforts to fully implement the 2002 class-size reduction amendment would become the biggest victim in superintendent Heather Fiorentino's plan to cut $16-million from next year's budget.

Fiorentino has recommended not filling teaching positions aimed at getting every classroom to the limits set forth in the amendment, instead targeting school averages, as lawmakers allowed during the recent legislative session.

That move would save the district about $11-million, reducing the need for about 200 teachers, Fiorentino said Friday, shortly after releasing her proposal.

Her recommendations, which would require School Board approval, also include:

• Reducing all school budgets by 10 percent, $437,000

• Reducing district department budgets by 15 percent, $550,000

• Freezing several administrative positions, $719,566

• Scaling back training for the Learning Focused Strategies, $140,000

Some of the smaller cuts she suggested include elimination of courtesy bus rides to Lake Myrtle Elementary School students who live within two miles of the school, eliminating take-home vehicles for employees, charging School Board members for refreshments at meetings, and reducing substitute teacher expenses by having administrators work some of the hours.

She proposed cutting athletics, something board members had said they opposed, by only 5.5 percent.

"There was nothing off the table," Fiorentino said. "We looked at everything."

One item didn't appear on the superintendent's cuts list, but it likely will loom large over the discussions to come. She did not include any mention of pay raises.

But in an interview, Fiorentino said she intends to recommend that the board negotiate with the United School Employees of Pasco to have no annual raises based on years of service, a savings of more than $5-million, and no cost of living raises.

"To be able to preserve the jobs and the benefits, we will have to negotiate that," Fiorentino said. "We'd be able to maintain our people where we are today, which is better than most districts."

Several districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee, have either started to lay off employees or intend to do so. Others, such as Pinellas and Manatee, are looking at salary cuts or, at the very least, freezes.

In a separate letter issued Friday, USEP president Lynne Webb praised the administration's efforts to find savings in the general operating budget, which was about $527-million this year after a mid-year $10-million reduction.

But Webb questioned the $16-million cutting target, while also reminding Fiorentino that employees "have made it clear that they are expecting to be paid their step increases."

"Most are counting on that modest increase to help them deal with the increased cost of living, and our district needs to offer this increase to remain competitive with surrounding counties," Webb wrote.

She provided an alternate list of proposed cuts, some of which matched Fiorentino's, some of which didn't. Notably, the USEP also proposed freezing class-size reduction efforts.

Some of its other suggestions included delaying implementation of Learning Focused Strategies and "drastically reducing" the staff development department, reducing the administration, cutting administrators' contract hours and raising student fees.

Fiorentino has projected that the district must trim about $16-million in spending to keep its budget balanced despite an expected 1,386-student increase in enrollment.

Ordinarily, a population growth would lead to higher funding from the state. But the state Legislature, reacting to steep dips in tax revenue, has slashed the amount it will pay per student by $107 in its effort to reduce state education spending overall by $332-million.

School Board members have said they want to avoid cutting from the classroom as much as possible, and also to avoid layoffs. They will have their first public discussion on the superintendent's proposals during a workshop at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

>>FAST FACTS

Find out more

To see the superintendent's full list of budget recommendations, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools/pasco_county/index.html.



. FAST FACTS

Find out more

To see the superintendent's full list of budget recommendations, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools/pasco_county/index.html.

Budget cuts may keep Pasco classrooms packed 05/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 20, 2008 4:30pm]

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