BROOKSVILLE — Faced with slashing $4.5-million from next year's budget, Hernando school superintendent Wayne Alexander has offered a long list of deep spending cuts. On Tuesday, the School Board largely backed his tough choices.
But there was a bit of friction at the outset.
Before any budgetary discussion began, two board members accused the first-year superintendent of sidestepping the board in making his budgetary decisions.
At issue were two St. Petersburg Times articles that ran during the past two weeks that announced proposed cuts.
"That's budget by newspaper," board member Jim Malcolm said, "and I don't like that."
Board member Pat Fagan agreed with Malcolm.
Alexander apologized if there was a misunderstanding, saying whatever changes are made are subject to board approval.
"Just because it's put in the press does not mean it's reality," he said.
Among the proposed cuts are 54 teaching positions, 28 instructional aids, a new district planner job and a coordinator position at Explorer K-8's gifted center.
At Tuesday's workshop, Malcolm said he believed the coordinator position should not be cut. Finance director Deborah Bruggink said one of the school's assistant principals would assume those positions next year, and Alexander said the position may be filled in the future.
Malcolm and other board members also expressed concern about a proposed cut that would eliminate transportation to and from the YMCA for swimming lessons for elementary school students. The YMCA would still offer the program, but the district would no longer bus them — a cut that would save about $50,000.
The board asked Alexander to re-examine that cut. If he did, Alexander said, something else would have to suffer.
"Every time you put something back, we have to find some money and then some," Alexander said.
The board members asked to receive more information about the program.
The district has been anticipating a roughly $2-million shortfall, but the even deeper cuts are being proposed in response to Gov. Charlie Crist's directive last week that all state agencies trim their budgets by 4 percent to match a shortfall in tax revenues.
That could translate into another $2.4-million loss in state funding. The board will vote on the budget at a later meeting.
The board also discussed potential problems the district could face if the Hernando County Sheriff's Office eliminated its funding of school crossing guard and school resource officer programs.
Sheriff Richard Nugent told the district in March that if he received a reduction in his budget to the extent where he would have to remove deputies on the road, he would recommend eliminating the crossing guard program and his part of the school resource officer program.
Board members differed in how they would address such a problem. Dianne Bonfield was adamant that no school should lose a crossing guard or a school resource officer.
"Funding this program is absolutely vital to our schools," she said.
Bonfield disagreed with the suggestion that high schools share resource officers, saying that would threaten the safety of students.
Board chairwoman Sandra Nicholson said she believed some schools could afford the loss of a crossing guard, especially in less busy areas.
Board member John Sweeney said he would withhold his opinion until the sheriff made his decision, adding that he didn't want to "show his hand" until Nugent showed his.
The board put off a final decision on the crossing guards until questions about the sheriff's budget are answered.
Until then, Alexander said he's "living, breathing and eating ideas on how we can raise funds."
Michael Sanserino can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1430.