Hillsborough schools plan to stem budget gap without layoffs

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school district officials see a potential $20-million shortfall in next year's $1.3-billion operating budget.

But unlike other districts, they say they're planning to close that gap without teacher layoffs, furloughs or deep program cuts.

"Our goal is to get rid of that $20 million," superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the School Board at a Monday workshop.

Over the last three years, the district has trimmed around $100 million to keep pace with declining enrollment and plunging revenues. But the budget hole persists, even after cutting back on cell phones, leasing photocopiers and changing the middle school schedule to save money and comply with the state class-size amendment next fall.

Enrollment next year is predicted to increase by 711 state-funded students, said finance director Gretchen Saunders.

But health care costs may rise by 20 percent beginning in January, potentially adding $12 million in costs. The district also expects higher bills for electricity, utilities and its contribution to the state retirement system, she said.

That's still easy to bear compared with Broward County, which has laid off 461 non-teaching staff and may issue pink slips to around 1,000 teachers. Officials in Pinellas and Pasco counties are talking about furloughs.

But Hillsborough board members said the health care increases are worrisome, since they are largely driven by an increase in employee claims.

"Can we get an overall summary of the types of claims we're seeing?" asked member April Griffin.

People tend to use their health insurance more in hard times, Elia said, and aren't always making the most economical choices.

"You can go for $60 to a walk-in clinic, or you can go for $400 to the emergency room," she added. "We have a lot of people going to the emergency room."

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

Hillsborough schools plan to stem budget gap without layoffs 05/18/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:43am]

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