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Hernando school district may cut about 110 teachers

BROOKSVILLE — It was one of the first calls Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt made Thursday morning.

Briefed the previous afternoon on how bargaining talks had gone with the teachers union that day, Blavatt dialed the head of the union about 7 a.m.

His message: Your group's stance on contract changes could cost more than 100 teachers their jobs.

"When those people have a question as to why it's coming to this point, it's because the association hasn't been willing to budge," Blavatt told the St. Petersburg Times later Thursday morning.

The district will give non-reappointment notices to roughly 110 first-year teachers next week because there is not enough money in the budget to pay them, Blavatt said. The same goes for at least 44 bus drivers.

Up to now, the district has avoided widespread staff cuts as school officials labor to balance the budget in the face of declining revenue.

Hernando Classroom Teachers Association and the Hernando United School Workers, the union for non-instructional employees, would not agree after two days of talks this week to two key strategies to plug a $7 million budget hole: Suspend the automatic salary increase built into their contracts and give up five paid holidays.

Both moves would save a total of about $5.3 million, officials said.

A printed sheet given to union officials by the district during talks had a reference note: The savings for forgoing the raise would pay for 33 teaching jobs and 20 non-instructional jobs; giving up the holidays would save an additional 39 teaching jobs and 24 non-instructional positions.

The number of actual non-reappointments expected to go out next week is higher than the figures cited during contract talks because the district has to factor in the cost of some substitute teachers and drivers who would be brought in at a lower rate, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services.

First-year teachers are still on contracts that don't provide what is commonly called tenure, which is why districts across the state have targeted them first when making staffing cuts.

Why bus drivers? Because custodial, maintenance and clerical positions are already going unfilled and there is little, if any, room for more cuts, Martin said. The district can spare bus drivers because of plans to eliminate bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school and because of more efficient routes that will be created with new software, she said.

The district is required to notify employees by June 30 about their employment status. The School Board had already scheduled a special meeting on that day to approve the reappointment list. State law requires that the material for the meeting be provided to board members seven days in advance. That's why notices have to go out next week, Martin said.

"What did you think we were going to do, wait around and hope the unions come around?" Blavatt said. "We can't do that."

Another round of bargaining talks is slated for Thursday.

It's unfair to try paint the union as selfish, said Joe Vitalo, president of the HCTA.

"We're all stuck in this mess and now is not the time to be pointing fingers," he said. "Now is the time to find a solution."

Vitalo is still not convinced that the district's budget figures are correct and that there may be more money to work with. He's expected to meet soon with chief financial officer Desiree Henegar to go over the numbers. The School Board will meet for its second budget workshop on Tuesday.

"What has been presented to the board has not been a clear picture," Vitalo said. "We're not done talking. We're trying to get a better understanding of what do we really have here."

The district could reappoint all the employees targeted for cuts and then do layoffs later if necessary, he said.

That won't work, Martin said.

"We're not going to reappoint more people than we can carry on the payroll," she said.

The hope is to be able to hire at least some of the workers back if the unions make some real concessions, Blavatt said.

He said he's happy to have Henegar go through the budget line-by-line with Vitalo to try to find the money, but it's not there.

"Eighty-seven percent of the budget is people," he said. "We've cut everything. We're looking at tremendous inconvenience to parents with transportation (cuts) and activity and sports fees. We haven't been able to spare anyone in this thing."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando school district may cut about 110 teachers 06/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2011 9:09pm]

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