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Furloughs, fees, higher taxes proposed to ease Hillsborough schools' budget crunch

TAMPA — A Citizens Advisory Committee offered some creative budgeting ideas Tuesday for the cash-strapped Hillsborough school district.

Among them:

• Ask all employees — superintendent to bus driver — to take furloughs.

• Ask parents to pay a fee for sports and band programs.

• Increase employee share of health care costs.

And perhaps most controversial, ask taxpayers to increase property taxes, adding $50 for each $100,000 of taxable value.

Last week, the governor's budget office said it would hold back 15 percent of remaining money from all state agencies. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said that could mean a $14 million spending cut beyond the district's existing $150 million shortfall.

Faced with options like ending athletics or laying off people, the committee struggled to find viable options, said Patrick Manteiga, chairman of the citizen group. The committee decided to turn its focus to the community.

The idea of generating more money through taxes came from the district's chief business officer, Gretchen Saunders, who spoke to the group.

"We need ways to save $20- or $30-million at a clip," Manteiga said. "You just can't make little cuts and save big money."

The committee made about half a dozen recommendations last year, Manteiga said, including cost savings such as asking parents to head clubs. After being required to teach an extra class each day, high school teachers had not wanted to sponsor clubs.

The committee had exhausted quick hits such as limiting coffeepots in classrooms to save electricity and doubling up on nurses for more than one school.

The school district was making these cuts already.

This year's summer school, from June 15 through July 23, will be consolidated into 53 elementary schools and nine middle schools, with no class on Fridays. The district is also looking into offering fee-based programs.

Elia said she had received e-mails suggesting summer school be cut. But she said the need is great and funding comes from many avenues, including grants.

She said she was looking for savings that would least affect students and teachers, and was leaving later Tuesday for Tallahassee hoping to find solutions.

Furloughs, fees, higher taxes proposed to ease Hillsborough schools' budget crunch 03/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 11:08pm]
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