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Hernando school district must cut budget by $11 million

BROOKSVILLE — The School Board now has a target to shoot for as the members prepare to wield the budget knife to cut the general fund: almost $11 million.

School budgeting involves a lot of moving parts, but that's a pretty solid estimate as the time draws near to make tough decisions on how to balance the budget, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar told the board at a workshop Tuesday.

So far, the goal is still to avoid significant layoffs and the prospects are looking good for that, staffers said.

"We're going to do what we have to do, and we're going to be the most cost-effective district in the state," superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.

Henegar laid out the fairly simple math: The district's general fund is expected to be about $22 million short of last year's $174 million.

That includes a loss of almost $10 million in stimulus funds and $11.6 million in per-student state money.

The district is also facing increased costs, such as the expense to run the elementary portion of the new Winding Waters K-8 ($2.3 million), a projected 15 percent hike in insurance costs ($1.9 million), and automatic step raises built into the contracts of teachers and noninstructional employees ($2.2 million).

On the plus side, the district will have an estimated $8 million in reserve funds to work with and will save $5.8 million in retirement costs after the Legislature passed a measure to have employees contribute 3 percent to their pensions. (The savings to the district is about 5 percent.)

Blavatt had directed principals and department heads to cut 10 percent from their respective budgets. For many principals, that means eliminating noninstructional positions or positions that do not teach a core subject. The estimated savings is nearly $5 million.

As positions are cut, the goal is to move teachers on professional contracts — commonly referred to as tenure — into other positions, said Heather Martin, executive director of business services. They may not be in a similar position, but they'll have a job, she said.

Some annual contract teachers who don't get reappointed can reapply to open positions over the summer, Martin said.

"We are not looking at a reduction in force or straight-across-the-board nonreappointment of annual contract teachers" as other districts have done this year, Martin said.

All that adds up to the need to cut $10.7 million. Blavatt said he will present the board at its next workshop on June 7 a "menu list" of options to help close the gap.

At that point, two board members said they felt like Blavatt has not kept them as informed in the process as they should be.

"I feel like I'm kind of in the dark here," board member Dianne Bonfield said. She worried that the board will only have two workshops to make tough decisions. Chairman James Yant agreed.

Blavatt, in his first full budget season here, acknowledged he is accustomed as superintendent to putting the budget together and presenting it to the board for tweaks. He noted that some of the potential savings require negotiations with the union. And he said putting out recommendations too early in the process is problematic.

"If you whisper it, it becomes reality in the minds of the general public," he said. "Every time something is mentioned as a possibility, I'm barraged, as I'm sure many of you are, and you have to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to people that we're only looking at this as a possibility."

The board doesn't need a line-by-line review, Bonfield replied.

"Because of the extreme times we're in … it would be helpful to be presented with the philosophy and have time to digest it," she said.

Blavatt said the menu will include strategies that have already been mentioned before, such as cutting electives at the high school level, eliminating bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school, and charging for athletics and other extracurricular activities.

One strategy that had not been mentioned publicly before Tuesday is reducing the number of paid days for teachers — planning days, for example, besides teaching time — which would mean a pay cut. That also would require negotiation with the union.

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

Hernando school district must cut budget by $11 million 05/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 9:30pm]

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