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Hernando County School Board to discuss cutting employees' pay by 5 percent

BROOKSVILLE — Pay raises come, and pay raises go away.

That much is clear from a proposal by superintendent Wayne Alexander to eliminate up to $30 million from next year's budget for the Hernando County schools.

Employees at all levels — from Alexander himself down to the lowest-paid staffer in the 23,000-student district — could see a 5 percent pay cut in order to adjust to anticipated steep cutbacks in state funding.

That potential reduction and many others are due to be discussed Tuesday at a 2 p.m. School Board workshop. Board members are expected to set priorities, with a focus on protecting the classroom, Alexander said recently.

"The goal of what we're putting together is to maintain the sanctity of the classroom and to keep people employed," he added. "Keeping as many people as possible working is a priority, and the classroom to me is sacred."

Under the plan, the district could eliminate 129 teaching positions and 27 staff jobs in its first round of $18 million in cuts to the $164.4 million operating budget. But it's expected those reductions would be done by attrition rather than layoffs, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Those cuts would force the district to raise the number of students per teacher from 16 to 19 in kindergarten classrooms, from 17 to 19 in first through third grades, from 22 to 25 in middle school and from 25 to 28 in high school.

Vitalo said the 5 percent pay cut would have to be negotiated under the union's contract with the district. If approved, it would set teachers well behind the 2.4 percent raise they won in December, and would largely erase the 5.5 percent boost Alexander negotiated last spring.

That first round of cuts would also eliminate three district math coach positions, and see all district buildings closed in July as well as during the winter and spring breaks.

If the district is forced to cut more than $18 million, school bus service could be hit next under Alexander's plan.

At the top of his list for a second round of cuts is the entire $835,686 budget to transport students to three magnet schools: Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, Chocachatti Elementary and Nature Coast Technical High. Another $800,000 in extra spending that supports those schools and "theme" programs in other buildings could also be cut.

Driver's education could be eliminated, along with half the district's 20 reading coach positions.

And the time school administrators get to prepare for each school year could be significantly reduced. Principals could see their paid days reduced from 249 to 239, and assistant principals' time could be cut from 249 to 216 days.

If the cuts continued past $25 million, the district would have to return to the negotiating table under Alexander's plan, Vitalo said.

Among $5 million in additional cuts are a reduction in work days for noninstructional staff, from 249 to 239; a salary freeze for all employees that would override $3.2 million in negotiated salary scale increases; and a reduction in health insurance benefits.

Board members were still digesting the proposals Friday. But member Pat Fagan said he will go to Tuesday's meeting with some strong priorities of his own.

"It's very, very important that we not cut where it's going to hurt the child," he said.

"The whole transportation issue is questionable," Fagan added, referring to the possible cuts for magnet school buses. "The safety of our children is the most important thing."

And if there are hours to be cut on the administrative side, he said, they will be done equitably and with an eye toward their impact on children.

"Our principals are very important to us," Fagan said. "Our (central office) administrators' hours will be cut before principals' time is cut, I can tell you that right now."

Alexander said he did his best to solicit opinions from a wide range of staffers in developing the proposal. But the dire budget picture means sacrifices will be inevitable.

"These are catastrophic times," Alexander said.

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

fast facts

Falling figures

History of budget cutting in Hernando schools:

• 2007-08 operating fund, before cuts began: $177.5 million

• 2008-09 operating fund, after reductions so far: $164.4 million

Potential cuts in next year's budget: $16 million to $30 million

Hernando County School Board to discuss cutting employees' pay by 5 percent 02/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 14, 2009 12:01pm]

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