TAMPA — Teacher and staff furloughs will only begin to cover the budget gap the Hillsborough County schools are expecting this fall.
That was the opening message from finance director Gretchen Saunders, as contract talks resumed Monday with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association union.
State funding for the district will be down at least $72.5 million, she said. And new costs will push the district into a $21.6 million deficit, even after accounting for federal stimulus aid and an $11.3 million savings from furloughs.
Currently the district's operating budget stands at $1.5 billion.
Union officials immediately challenged the district's figures, and in their opening proposal asked that all teachers be granted their normal salary scale increase, a 2 percent raise.
They said some of the expenses the district listed — like a voluntary state merit pay program or school recognition awards — did not have to be paid if state funding dropped.
"To count that as an expense that we have to pay is, I think, a little bit misleading," said union president Jean Clements. "It doesn't necessarily correlate with what we're going to have to pay as a district."
Nor has the union accepted the district's call for two days' unpaid leave for teachers and other 10-month workers, as well as three days off for administrators and other 12-month employees.
Union officials said they planned to study the district's accounts carefully, including the reserve funds that superintendent MaryEllen Elia has said could help the district cope with a hurricane or prolonged economic slump.
"In my mind, a furlough is completely out of the question, due to the district's financial health," Clements said after the meeting. "Fortunately, some of the disasters they were planning for did not happen this past year. We're hoping we can put those into employee salaries."
But district officials warned against regarding the two-year, $66 million federal stimulus as anything but a temporary stopgap if revenue continues to drop.
"We start at $72 million in the hole," Saunders said. "And this (stimulus aid) is going to come to us for the next two years only."
Contract talks are scheduled to continue Wednesday.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.