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Hillsborough schools aim to close budget gap without layoffs

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school district officials expect a budget shortfall of $97.7 million dollars next year, but believe they've found a way to cover all but $3.8 million of it.

"Other districts right now are laying (teachers) off, they're taking out programs that all of us are very committed to, music, art, athletics," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia during a School Board workshop Thursday. "We aren't there."

She said the district has spent years downsizing its $1.5 billion operating budget as the economy slumped, and preparing for the loss of federal stimulus dollars this summer.

But the real savior comes in the form of two chunks of money — $41.2 million in federal help from the Education Jobs Fund awarded in the fall, but not yet spent, and an expected $22.9 million decrease in the district's contribution to the benefits of its 25,515 employees.

All of those numbers remain in flux as the state Legislature grapples with its own budget for the 2011-12 school year. The district arrived at its figures by averaging the Senate and House funding proposals, said finance director Gretchen Saunders.

Other potential savings in Hillsborough include around $15 million in money that had been set aside for hurricanes, maintenance problems, and property insurance deductibles that weren't spent last year.

The district also plans to reduce all department budgets by 25 percent, cutting $3.5 million. And it expects to save around $4.5 million if the Legislature follows through on a plan to exclude elective classes from the 2002 class-size amendment, such as foreign languages and some science and social studies classes.

The first public hearing on the district's proposed budget is scheduled for July 26.

Elia said her staff was already hard at work on a plan to trim spending further, adding spending limits and preparing for an even smaller budget.

"So that next year we'll be in a position where we're able to shrink it," she said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Hillsborough schools aim to close budget gap without layoffs 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 11:15pm]
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