BROOKSVILLE — Faced with potential program cuts and a steep price tag to meet class size amendment requirements, the Hernando School Board has hoped that lawmakers would send the controversial law back to the voters in November.
They delayed a decision on a staffing plan for next year that would have eliminated 46 positions, shifting teachers in those slots to core classes such as reading, math and science.
Their patience may be rewarded. A Senate vote this week has given staff enough optimism that they have crafted a second plan that would preserve nearly all of the positions that would have been lost.
"It will essentially represent the staff we have now," said Heather Martin, executive director for business services. "The board has made it a priority to preserve jobs and I think we can do that under both options."
The alternative comes with its own potential pain, though. Even if lawmakers approve a ballot amendment, there is no guarantee that voters will go along with it in November.
That could mean shifting back to the first staffing plan in midyear.
For the most part, teachers would retain their jobs, Martin said. But approving the original staffing plan now would give teachers in specialized programs plenty of warning and time to earn alternate certifications to better their chances of placement in other positions if voters uphold the class size mandates, she said.
And there is always the chance that lower-than-expected enrollment numbers and cuts to education funds could force layoffs.
"I'm not saying we would have to fire a bunch of people, but I do have to warn the board it could lead to a reduction in force," Martin said. "They have a really tough decision to make."
Even with that risk, though, the second option is preferable for most principals who were worried about the deep cuts in the first plan, Martin said.
The reductions included 15 positions that support magnet and theme programs, 12 transitional teachers for K-5, and one elective position at each middle and high school. All told, the district class size requirements would add 78 core positions.
Even if the first staffing plan is approved and class size requirements stand, the district still would have to come up with an additional 32 core positions at a cost of $1.9 million.
The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association is staunchly opposed to the original staffing plan, president Joe Vitalo said. The union is reviewing the second option and may suggest some tweaks, but generally supports it as a better choice, Vitalo said.
"Option one cuts everything down to the bare bones," he said. "The second option offers flexibility."
Vitalo said he felt confident the district would be able to place teachers in new positions even if the staffing plan has to be switched midyear.
Board member Sandra Nicholson, who is opposed to cuts to magnet and theme programs, said she prefers the second plan as the lesser of two painful options.
"I'm still not comfortable with it," Nicholson said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.