Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Hernando schools consider 5 percent cuts to make up for budget deficit

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools have been slammed by budget cuts.

Faced with consecutive rounds of 10 percent reductions over the past two years, they've had to slash valuable programs and positions. They've been forced to eliminate electives.

There is less money available for busing and student supplies.

And despite an increase in funding from the state, the cutting might not be over yet, said superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

"Sometimes, we're misled by simplistic kind of things like, 'We're going to put more money in the budget for schools.' "

The School District is forecasting a budget shortfall of about $4 million, Blavatt said, and he has asked each of the schools to look at making 5 percent cuts for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The district office is doing the same.

Although these amounts are not yet definite, any cuts will be challenging for principals who have already slashed their budgets 20 percent.

"We're down to bare bones," said Springstead principal Susan Duval. "It is most difficult. It's extremely difficult."

Why are the cuts necessary?

Blavatt cited a number of factors, including the money needed for the automatic annual raise built into union contracts, an increased contribution to the Florida Retirement System and the need to pay off past bonds. The salary increase and increased contribution amount will cost an additional $5 million alone.

Blavatt said that some of the programs earmarked for cutting might be reinstated once the budget is finalized, but for now it's prudent to plan for reductions.

By all accounts, it won't be easy.

More and more, Blavatt said the district will need to take a critical look at staffing.

"People enjoy the fact that there are a number of course offerings," he said. "At some point, we're going to have to look at what we offer."

It might go further than that.

"You've got to look at some of the sacrosanct things," he said, including interscholastic sports.

How the 5 percent cuts are made will be decided at the school level.

Many principals have not nailed down details of how they will make the reductions.

Parrott Middle School principal Brent Gaustad said he's looking at making cuts to two elective programs. Although they will no longer be offered at the school, students will still be able to take them through the district's virtual school.

"It's just not going to be one class, one teacher," he said.

Gaustad said he struggled with the decision.

"It's a tough thing," he said.

Although it would still leave a good alternative for students, this cut would impact teachers, he said, and schools must put the kids first.

Nature Coast Technical High School principal Toni-Ann Noyes agreed.

"As administrators, part of our job is to cut corners but not cut the educational process," she said. "At times, it's very challenging."

While she hadn't fully examined how she'll make the 5 percent cuts, she'll start by looking at the savings brought about when veteran teachers retire and are replaced by younger teachers, she said.

Duval said the cuts can not be made quickly or easily.

After making the second round of 10 percent cuts last year, she said she didn't know how she'd be able to do more.

"It's become very problematic as to how we could make more cuts and still maintain the level of effectiveness with our programs that we've achieved," she said in July.

Still, she said they'd try.

"It's just a very difficult time in education right now," she said.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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