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Hernando County is least top-heavy school district in Florida

BROOKSVILLE — As the Hernando County School District considers cuts during an expected brutal budget season, administration probably won't be the place officials look to find fat.

The district is the least top-heavy in Florida and by far the least top-heavy of the four in the Tampa Bay area, according to the latest Department of Education figures.

To tally administrative costs, the state looks at expenses at the school and district levels combined. By that calculation, Hernando spent $402 per student out of its general fund in 2008-09, compared to $480 for Pasco, $497 for Hillsborough and $503 in Pinellas.

Hernando's administrative costs accounted for only $9 million of the nearly $170 million general fund.

The statistics help show in dollars the effort made in recent years to save money for the classroom, said Heather Martin, executive director for business services.

"It comes down to the budget," Martin said. "We put every little bit into the schools that we can."

That, of course, is how it should be, school officials say. But there is a point where lean and mean becomes too lean, Martin said.

"Eventually, you get to the point where the services are not at the level you want them to be because you're so stretched, and you burn people out very quickly," Martin said.

"There are some projects that only administrative staff members can work on and can do. Every day it's about putting out fires and you don't get to those long-term things that can make a difference."

New school superintendent Bryan Blavatt agreed.

"The whole reason the central office exists is to support the schools," Blavatt said. "When you cut back at the central office, you reach a point where you can't provide those services to schools, and that's a problem."

Former superintendent Wayne Alexander reorganized the central office staff in 2008 and again before his departure last year, resulting in the loss of positions across departments.

There is another reason for Hernando's low administrative costs, however. Salaries are lower on average than in some comparably sized districts such as Santa Rosa and Charlotte, where per-student administrative costs are $478 and $525, respectively.

Blavatt, who started April 1, said he is reviewing the staffing chart. In some cases, doing things more efficiently may help, he said, though the district's ranking for administrative expenditures is a sign that efficient has become the default way of doing business.

Blavatt did not rule out seeking permission from the School Board to hire more people.

"I foresee modifications and changes," he said. "There is a good possibility that I will ask the board for additional positions, but I have to take a look at it."

Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

By the numbers

$402 Amount Hernando County spent per student out of its general fund for 2008-09

$480 Amount spent by Pasco

$497 Amount spent by Hillsborough

$503 Amount spent by Pinellas

Source: Florida Department of Education

Hernando County is least top-heavy school district in Florida 04/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 7:46pm]
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