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Budget cuts raise school temperatures

TAMPA — Facing millions in state budget cuts, Hillsborough school officials are looking to bump up thermostats and slash administrative expenses to make ends meet.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia outlined a plan Thursday that would cut $15-million through measures large and small. Just raising indoor temperatures to 76 degrees — an increase of two degrees — would save almost a half-million dollars.

A pilot project in north Hillsborough to privatize lawn mowing could save thousands more.

And administrative expenses are a major target. Elia proposed to eliminate more than $8-million in district-level expenses by paring staffing and reducing budgets by 20 percent.

Hillsborough is bracing for cuts of $204 per student over the last year, which adds up in a system with almost 200,000 students. The losses would set the district back two to three years in funding levels, officials said.

"This year is going to be tough," School Board member Susan Valdes said. "Next year, it will be worse."

School officials are focused on protecting the classroom as they trim an operating budget of more than $1.5-billion.

Elia expects to cut more than $5-million in district-level staffing. She offered few details, wanting to talk to employees first. But the jobs include unfilled vacancies, retirees and reassignments. They range from the director-level to secretaries. Some people may be sent to work in schools.

But they'll have jobs. Elia pledged no layoffs this year, even though other school districts are talking about firing employees. Displaced staffers in Hillsborough would have the option to move to another job.

"This is round one," Elia said. "Each division is continuing to look at ways to reorganize, ways we can rethink what we are doing, ways we can share staff."

Board members generally supported the plan. Some wanted to push thermostats even higher, complaining about needing jackets on campuses even on hot days.

Other cost savings sounded downright convenient.

School officials are deferring a $3.6-million upgrade to the software used to manage district finances. Elia said the change would have stressed school employees who already have enough work on their hands.

She also delayed for two years the purchase of Global Positioning Systems for school buses, realizing a savings of $1.7-million.

Other cost savings come from surprising places. School officials listed almost $50,000 in "fuel savings." That's because the district is locked into $2.66 per gallon for diesel fuel until November.

Needless to say, it hopes to keep that pricing longer.

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.

>>Fast facts

Proposed Hillsborough school budget cuts

District-level positions: $5-million

Bumping thermostats to 76 degrees: $400,000

Pilot project to privatize lawn mowing in north Hillsborough: $100,000

Defer purchase of GPS devices for buses: $1.7-million

Cut division budgets by 20 percent: $3-million

Budget cuts raise school temperatures 04/24/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 6:00pm]
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