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Hernando County School Board weighs 2014-15 budget options

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with a tenuous financial outlook for 2014-15, the Hernando County School District on Tuesday considered a host of options to increase revenue and control expenses.

The 10 potential options, which were each briefly discussed before the first public hearing on the district's 2014-15 budget, varied in size and potential savings. In most cases, board members asked the staff to come back with more information without giving a nod one way or another.

One of the most-discussed items was creating a new district energy manager position, something that has been done with success in other districts.

"There is a lot of low-hanging fruit, I believe, out in our school system that we could save if we had somebody who is taking 100 percent of their time looking for it," said Sean Arnold, the district's director of facilities, maintenance and security.

Arnold said most of it is behavior management — turning off the lights, modifying how people use a room when not occupying it. The district estimated savings between $112,000 and $202,000.

Board members asked for more information, including a description for the position and a comparison to other similar districts.

The board also wanted to hear more about the possibility of getting solar arrays for buildings through grant programs. Arnold said the grant process is very competitive but the district is working on it.

Board members gave the thumbs-up to form a committee that will review staffing allocations at each school. However, they wanted to get more information on a proposal to implement a minimum class size of 15, except for Exceptional Student Education students.

The district estimates that creating a minimum size in order to offer a class would save between $1 million and $1.1 million in the high schools and $1.2 million to $1.3 million in the district's middle and K-8 schools.

They gave superintendent Lori Romano the go-ahead to review vacant positions to determine which ones are critical. Board member Matt Foreman said that is something within the superintendent's purview already.

Board members were generally not supportive of a plan for a one-day furlough for all employees. "It's just not right," board member Cynthia Moore said.

Romano said that while she doesn't like it, "I'd rather do a furlough day for all staff than to cut positions."

Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino said position cuts might be necessary if changes aren't made.

The board also wasn't keen on seeking a 1-mill increase on property tax bills for two years to maintain safe and energy-efficient operations. "I would never even think of going for that," Moore said.

The board considered reducing the number of work days in job descriptions, although such a move would likely be subject to collective bargaining. Board members also considered changing the definition of full-time employees from a minimum of 20 hours a week to 30 hours for new employees.

They wanted more information on how the district could reduce teacher absenteeism and the use of substitutes.

Chief financial officer George Gall, as he has often done in recent months, painted a grim financial picture. He said the district's total fund balance has dropped by $85 million since June 2008. Over the past four years, the district's general fund expenditures have outpaced revenues by $23 million.

In the next four years, he said, the district is projecting $200 million in needs for capital projects, technology requirements and debt service. He said there is limited funding to address most of those areas after covering debt service expenses.

"If we do not balance the budget, it will continue to be difficult to find the resources necessary to improve the learning environment for our students," according to his presentation.

The school district is projecting that it will end the coming year with about $6.8 million in unassigned reserves, representing 4.39 percent of estimated revenues.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes.

Hernando County School Board weighs 2014-15 budget options 07/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 8:52pm]

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