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Budget sinks idea for assistant to Hernando schools chief

BROOKSVILLE — A proposal to give Wayne Alexander an assistant superintendent to help run the Hernando County schools is headed to the School Board this week. It only lacks one thing.

A supporter.

Even though he said in April he could do without one, a majority of the five-member board seemed inclined to give Alexander some help, amid talk of the challenges one person faces in running the 23,000-student district.

But that was before the full reality of the district's budget picture set in. Even with a projected enrollment increase of more than 300 state-funded students, officials are expecting a shortfall of at least $2-million during the coming year.

By last week, none of the five board members said they could support the six-figure cost of an additional senior administrator.

"I think we need to use the money for wiser things," said member Pat Fagan. "Especially with the cuts coming down right now, we need to save every penny we can."

In their own words, each of his colleagues said the proposal planned for discussion at a Tuesday workshop is effectively dead on arrival — at least for this year.

"We can't afford it," said Jim Malcolm. "The organization as I see it works well."

That organizational structure has been in flux since March, when Alexander proposed a central office shakeup he said would save $400,000.

Many of those changes — like moving Barbara Kidder from director of labor relations and professional standards into the new role of professional development supervisor, and moving facilities director Ken Pritz into the principalship at Hernando High — are now final, Alexander said Friday.

But even with the savings he found in the reorganization, he said, the district might not be able to afford some of the new positions he suggested in March, like new math coaches or a director of special programs and operations.

That's particularly true if the board accepts any of more than $2-million in new programs Alexander has proposed for next fall, like a computer technology program for Eastside Elementary or a mass communications academy for Hernando High.

And the assistant superintendent?

"I would think it's probably not a good time to do that," Alexander said.

He said his top priority now is making sure everyone currently working for the district still has a job when the budget-cutting dust clears.

"That's my intention: to try and keep everyone employed," Alexander said. "How do you move a district forward, create new programs and a world-class staff in challenging economic times?"

But given the sharp drop in state funding and other sources of revenue, it's likely the number of employees in the district also will drop. The district will likely hire no additional teachers this summer and try to reassign excess employees to fill vacancies, until student enrollment numbers are clear this fall, he said.

"I think there will be fewer teachers around," Alexander added.

Several board members said they remain concerned about an organizational chart in which the superintendent functions without the support of a high-level lieutenant. Few other Florida districts lack such a position, said member John Sweeney.

"There's a danger of driving the train off the tracks if you're the only engineer," he said. "It was long overdue to have an assistant superintendent. But sometimes you wait too long and you're forced to wait some more."

So even Sweeney, one of the main boosters of such a change, now sees higher priorities.

He's troubled by the large number of portable classrooms at some schools, and hopes the district might be able to continue gaining on the majority of Florida districts that pay teachers higher salaries.

"I think this is the year we need to make progress on teacher salaries," Sweeney said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Budget sinks idea for assistant to Hernando schools chief 05/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 4:49pm]
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