BROOKSVILLE — What was already expected to be one of the toughest School Board workshops since superintendent Bryan Blavatt came aboard last year got off to an ominous start Tuesday.
When it was clear that three of four board members were shooting down Blavatt's second attempt at reorganizing the district office's administrative structure — the first item on a lengthy agenda — the clearly frustrated chief executive asked them to do some soul-searching about why they hired him.
"Because what I heard from the board … was you wanted an experienced superintendent that would move forward with the district and take it by the reins," Blavatt said.
"When I make an effort to propose changes that I think as the person you hired would move things forward and you say to me 'no,' then maybe there is some incompatibility between the superintendent and the board. I want the board to consider that maybe this is not a good marriage."
With that hanging in the air, the board moved on to ways to cut the budget and raise revenues to bridge an estimated $11.4 million shortfall.
They gave initial approval to nearly all of the suggestions Blavatt brought forward:
• Charge a $15 general activities fee for all K-12 students taking part in academic activities; another fee schedule for athletics would have middle school students pay $35 for their first sport and $20 for the second, with a cap of $55 for students who play additional sports. High school students would pay $45 for the first sport and $25 for the second, with a cap of $70. The possible revenue from both is estimated at $420,000.
• Eliminate so-called courtesy busing for students who live within 2 miles of school, saving about $810,000.
• Cut five paid holidays for 250 professional and technical employees (for a savings of $320,000) and ask teachers and other non-instructional workers in upcoming contract negotiations to make the same sacrifice, saving about $2.9 million.
• Ask the unions for the teachers and non-instructional employees to forego the automatic "step" raises built into their contracts. Savings if the unions agree: about $2.4 million
• Ask the unions to absorb the estimated increase in health insurance premiums. School officials had expected 15 percent hike, which would mean nearly $1.5 million, but now say the actual increase may be a third of that.
• Consider as a last resort dipping into the general fund reserves. Reducing the fund to 2 percent of general revenue would give the district about $1.4 million to work with, but it would also put Hernando on a state watch list.
The district has already made a roughly $2.2 million dent in the shortfall by using grant money to pay for positions that had been paid for with stimulus funds, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar told the board.
The district provides bus transportation to more than 2,400 students. Board members in the last couple years have balked at cutting the service, citing safety concerns.
Transportation director Linda Smith said the district could hire 16 additional crossing guards for the county's busiest roads, reducing the savings to about $700,000. Smith also noted that, while the number of students walking to school would increase, many more parents would make arrangements to drive their children.
The board also agreed that charging fees is preferable to cutting activities and middle school and junior varsity sports.
The board applauded principals' efforts to cut 10 percent of their staffing budgets, saving about $5 million, but they voiced concerns about some ideas such as cutting assistant principals and eliminating the driver's education program at the high school level.
Every school needs at least one assistant principal to lead the school when the principal's away, board member Dianne Bonfield said. As for driver's ed, she said: "We're going to meet these kids on the road. It's almost a community service."
Blavatt's reorganization of the district office would have resulted in relatively modest savings of about $30,000 this year and roughly $58,000 annually after that. The plan would have eliminated the assistant superintendent and director of student services positions and created a chief academic officer who would oversee a new division of teaching and learning.
Only board member John Sweeney supported it.
"This is what we hired him to do, to run the ship day to day," Sweeney said. "It's hard for me to argue with him."
Blavatt's said he would try once again, but he clearly wasn't happy about it. "It should be the superintendent's reorganization, not the board's, right? Or shouldn't it be?" he said.
After the meeting, Bonfield downplayed Blavatt's comments about incompatibility. She said Blavatt is still getting used to his new bosses and that she appreciated his candor but indicated that she doesn't plan on switching to a hands-off approach as a board member.
"I think there are always issues that everybody has to work through. We're working now," she said. "I firmly believe he has not worked with a board as proactive as our board has been. We want to remain active."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.