LAND O'LAKES — With her re-election bid successfully behind her, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino spoke with the Times about her plans and priorities for the coming four years.
What are your top priorities now that you have won re-election?
Since we have such a comprehensive strategic plan, we're going to follow in using that. … There's two main categories when you're looking at this. One is the academic. … Our mission statement (is) having all children reach their highest potential. So we want to make sure we have a challenging learning environment for every child. The other thing is making sure that we expand on our career academies and making sure that what we're teaching kids is going to be relevant to the market place today. And then, making sure we have best practices in every classroom for the students.
The other end of working is managing the business. … Overcrowding has been an issue since I've been here, and we'll continue to look at facilities, some new schools, but making sure that we have a good, safe, sound learning environment for children. The other thing that is major is … bringing our computer systems from the late '60s, early '70s into the 21st century.
Let me ask you about the plans for the business side, because I know one of the big issues is finance.
That was No. 3. I was getting there. The other big thing is the budget. … We need to be looking at, right now from everything we've been told, it's between an $8-million and $12-million budget cut. … So we still have challenging financial times ahead. And we're going to work together to make sure that we have consensus and there's good communication with all stakeholders so we can have a good plan in place and make recommendations to the board as we meet those challenges.
So you have $8-million to $12-million you need to cut this year. What is it that you're looking at to cut?
Well, what we had originally planned when we just thought we were going to have a $4-million cut. We do know we had some savings with the insurance, so we're going to use that. We're looking at the (enrollment). … And to be honest, this is one of those times where we've talked about, we are going to have to dip into reserves to keep this year nice and calm.
At this point, I don't know. We are looking to see how much money we are saving in energy. The gas prices are starting to come down, so that will help us. We've been doing a lot of savings that we're hoping will exceed what we anticipated for savings. And if that case comes up, that may reduce it a bit more. Then whatever we need, we'll have to take from reserves. Or at least make that recommendation to the board. …
If you take that out of the reserves, then how will that affect the bond ratings?
It is going to affect them. That's part of the concern, too. That's why what we're trying to do is not cut as much. We're trying to look at other things like the gas, looking at areas that we've had additional savings in. And to do other things that may cause additional savings.
Like cutting programs?
We're trying very hard not to impact classrooms. Remember, our main goal is to educate children.
Of course. So then, if you're looking outside the classroom, would you be looking at field trips? Sporting events? Extracurricular activities?
All that stuff. That's not off the table. Yeah. We are trying not to impact the schools. And this year I think we'll be fine. It's next year where we're going to have the problems.
The biggest thing that we saw over the election was this feud between the administration and the teachers and employee association. … Who has to fix it and how is it going to be fixed?
You know, the election is over. And now it's time we kind of bond as a team and move forward. We did some of that last time. And I'm hoping we will be able to do a better job this time.
How do you bond as a team? Do you invite them out to lunch? Do you say, "Let me hear your ideas. You have four hours of my time"?
Those are things I need to talk with the groups about, and not via the newspaper. That's just stuff we need to hash out together, how we're going to do this. …
What do you see being the direction for the school district for the next even 100 days?
I think the idea is to keep a very calm and steady course. We have had many successes, and again it's due to all the employees and their hard work. So there's not going to be a paradigm shift here. It's going to be continuing on the steady course and working together so we can continue to make our school district one of the best in Florida for our students.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.