BROOKSVILLE — A divided Hernando County School Board slashed more than 200 jobs Monday night from the district's 3,145-person work force for next fall.
Faced with a widening budget gap, district officials said trimming those positions in its staffing plan was a safer move than any of the alternatives.
"If this is not approved," said business services director Heather Martin, "this board would reappoint people to positions we're not able to fund. We (would) have to do a reduction in force over the summer. And not just teachers, other employees as well."
Members John Sweeney and James Yant disagreed, saying they shouldn't vote to eliminate jobs until all other options had been exhausted.
"People will stop spending," Yant said, warning of the impact on the broader economy. "We're in an economic spiral, and it just gets worse and worse."
Among the proposed $16 million in reductions from the district's $159 million operating budget are 129 classroom teaching positions, plus about 70 teachers who work in supporting roles. Other positions include six from the central office staff, five in maintenance and four in the adult education program.
The district is projecting neutral enrollment growth in the coming year, so the loss of teachers would raise average class sizes by two or three students at every grade level.
All of those changes must be ratified by board votes during the budgeting process this spring, and can be reversed "if there's a miracle and we have extra money," Martin said. Officials hope the normal cycle of retirements and resignations can open up enough jobs to prevent layoffs.
Sweeney said the district needs to make sure seniority rules don't protect "underperforming" teachers at the expense of better ones.
"If we are going to be left with fewer teachers, we need to be left with the best," he said.
Other board members said the state funding shortfall is too immense to permit further delay.
"Even if we were able to cut the transportation budget, that's jobs, too," said Sandra Nicholson, who joined the three-member majority in approving the cuts. "The only other option is we run out of money and we just stop (functioning), and then nobody's helped."
Superintendent Wayne Alexander has warned that even $16 million might not be enough, and that a $25 million reduction is possible.
Further budget cuts — such as a proposed 5 percent across-the-board pay cut, worth $5.1 million — are subject to negotiations with teacher and staff unions.
Don't expect to find much fat in central administration, according to Alexander. He said he eliminated two administrative jobs when he arrived, reduced the human resources staff last year, and is trimming six or seven additional positions this spring.
"What I inherited is pretty thin," Alexander said, describing staffing levels. "Everyone is suffering the pain."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.
Switch to uniforms is again put on hold
A change to the Hernando school dress code has once again been postponed.
School Board members had been prepared Tuesday to consider a new policy that would have standardized dress codes in kindergarten through eighth grade next fall, with a pilot program for upper grades at Springstead High School.
The changes would have meant collared shirts, slacks and skirts for students at schools without existing uniform policies.
A similar plan was tabled last summer. On Tuesday, members agreed to postpone further changes to the district's existing dress code after some voiced concerns about putting an extra financial burden on parents during hard economic times.
"With so much going on right now, I would like to recommend to the board that we just kind of put this on hold," said superintendent Wayne Alexander.
Times staff writer