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Hernando School Board says cuts in teacher pay, principal hours are bad ideas

BROOKSVILLE — Teacher pay cuts and reductions in principal hours are to be avoided in this budget-slashing year, the Hernando County School Board decided Monday.

"I'd like to see a pay cut across the board as a last resort," said member Pat Fagan, echoing his colleagues' sentiments. "I'd prefer as a board member to look at freezing salaries before we have a cut across the board."

Members struggled to set priorities during a workshop session aimed at considering up to $30 million in cuts proposed by superintendent Wayne Alexander. Even with help from a federal stimulus, the district might have to cut that much from its $159 million operating budget for next year, he said.

By the end of the meeting, board members had agreed in principle on about $16 million of things they'd cut first, depending on the size of state funding cuts. All would need to be ratified by a board vote, with about $5 million more within reach if union negotiators agree.

Nearly half of those first cuts would come in a reduction of 129 teachers that officials hope to realize through retirements and other forms of attrition. Average class sizes would rise by two or three students at every grade level.

Other reductions and reduced hours for some central office staff, math and reading coaches, custodians and assessment teachers would eliminate about 80 additional staff positions.

The district would also move to renegotiate its contracts with vendors, reduce substitute teacher budgets and extra pay for coaching and other duties, and stop offering health insurance for newly hired half-time workers.

But board members drew the line at a $5.1 million proposal to cut pay across the board by 5 percent, or eliminate more than $300,000 by reducing principals' hours.

Nor did board members accept the idea of cutting $300,000 from the middle school sports program, reducing employees' health insurance contributions, or outsourcing maintenance and lawn contracts.

Board member Sandra Nicholson dismissed the idea that such cuts amount to "scare tactics," given the magnitude of the state's financial crisis.

"I see it as a reality check," she said, adding that it was difficult just the same. "We're not overstaffed the way lots of districts are."

And the board struggled with a few of Alexander's proposals, such as closing district facilities in July, eliminating all transportation to magnet schools and cutting bus rides for students who live within 2 miles of their schools.

Member James Yant said the board should survey parents on their transportation needs.

"I can assure you if we ask them whether they want (bus) transportation, they'll say they want it," said chairwoman Dianne Bonfield.

"Whether or not they use it," added Nicholson.

The board agreed to postpone discussion of that contentious item, and to talk with providers of summer programs about the potential impact of closing facilities during the summer.

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

By the numbers

$30m Cuts proposed by superintendent Wayne Alexander.

129 The number of teachers the district hopes to lose through attrition.

80 The number of other positions that may be cut.

$5.1M The amount that could be saved by reducing pay by 5 percent across the board — an idea that has been rejected for now.

Hernando School Board says cuts in teacher pay, principal hours are bad ideas 02/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 8:33pm]
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