Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hundreds of parents, students urge Pasco schools not to cut prized programs

TRINITY — Nearly 500 parents, students and employees packed the Seven Springs Middle School cafeteria Wednesday night to offer budget-cutting ideas without slashing prized programs.

The turnout was five to 10 times greater than district officials saw at last year's budget town hall meetings, underscoring the painful cuts expected to address Pasco schools' $60 million shortfall.

Mitchell High School senior Destinee Gardiner spoke for the many arts-education supporters who came to urge the board not to gut art, music, drama and related programs.

"It's a mistake to even think about cutting the arts," Gardiner said, reeling off statistics about how well students in the arts perform academically, while audience members waved "We (Heart) Arts" signs. "I look around at these people wearing band shirts and I see family. Without band I would not have met them. … I'm 17. I'm talking to a bunch of adults who probably think they know better than I do. I probably couldn't have done this without drama."

Mitchell parent Jeff Fontaine said the public understands the need to cut. People are doing so with their own family budgets, as well.

"On the flip side, what can we do?" he asked. "What does the district have to sell? … What do we have to rent? Maybe we should contract some cell phone tower companies. … I don't like it, but maybe advertising on school buses."

Every little effort to raise revenue could help offset losses, Fontaine suggested.

For close to two hours, people came to the microphone to ask questions of district staffers and board member Cynthia Armstrong, while superintendent Heather Fiorentino stood off to the side, scribbling on pink note cards.

The officials often had to answer that state law currently doesn't permit them to do some of the things the audience members proposed, such as school bus advertising or required fees for program participation.

They also tried to assure the crowd that some of their biggest fears, such as the total elimination of arts programs, were unlikely to come to pass.

But they did not try to sugarcoat the rough times ahead.

"The school district has worked hard to keep past budget cuts from affecting the classroom," Armstrong told the group. "That continues to be our goal. But I can tell you that's not going to happen next year."

The district faces a budget shortfall of as much as $60 million for 2011-12, she and other leaders explained. With more than 80 percent of the general operating revenue going into salaries and benefits, she said, that leaves little room for cutting around the edges.

People and programs are likely to feel the pinch.

Before making cuts, she said, the board wants to hear the priorities from the public: "We want to make the best decisions in the coming months. We want to make them with your help."

Many people recommended charging more fees to students, an idea that runs against the requirement that districts provide a free and appropriate public education. Several wanted to see schools take more advantage of recycling programs to generate money.

Others proposed moving away from print textbooks to digital content, a move that Florida lawmakers are contemplating for implementation over five years. And still others pushed for privatizing some services if efficiencies can be realized.

Some teachers came forth with detailed operational ideas, such as streamlining the minutes of art, music and P.E. offered at elementary schools and reducing the number of days that assistant principals work in the summer.

Lisa O'Keefe, a Gulfside Elementary teacher, said perhaps schools could do with fewer planning days during the first week of the school year.

"I don't need five," O'Keefe said, adding that she'd rather have two unpaid non-working days "than cut programs and cut jobs."

The district has estimated that one furlough day could save $2.1 million.

Parent Lisa Whitehead, who has four children in the district, raised her voice in frustration at the series of bad choices that seem to be available to school boards.

"How much do we have to cut until we cut quality?" she said. "Our teachers work so hard without a raise for so many years. How many of them are we going to lose because of these cuts and cuts and cuts?"

Armstrong encouraged the audience to contact state lawmakers, who are still hashing out budget details, and pressure them to put more money into education rather than cutting funding by 7 percent. She also pressed the crowd to swamp the Pasco County Commission with opposition to a plan to cut school impact fees, which could indirectly eat away at the operating budget if the district does not have enough money to pay its bond debts from past construction.

As the event wound down, people said they appreciated having detailed information about the budget, as well as the opportunity to participate in the process.

"This forum does a number of things," Fontaine said. "It brings more ideas to the table for the decisionmakers. And too, much like voting, those of us who are stakeholders have a chance to say our piece."

Added Mitchell High senior Michelle Procida, who sat listening to the end, "It's nice to hear what everybody has to say, and to see them standing up for everything."

The district is scheduled to have three more town hall meetings in the coming weeks.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

>>fast facts

Coming up

The Pasco School Board is conducting five budget town hall meetings this month. The first took place Wednesday evening, and the second happened Thursday night at Fivay High School. The others are set for 6:30 p.m. as follows:

• April 14 at Rushe Middle School, Room 102

• April 18 at the Cox Elementary School cafeteria

• April 20 at River Ridge High School Center for the Arts

>>decisions loom

What to cut?

The Pasco School Board says everything is on the table as it looks for ways to address a $60 million shortfall next budget year. No decisions have been reached yet. Here are the potential savings if officials made wholesale cuts:

• Eliminate administrators: $25.7 million

• Eliminate middle school sports: $346,416

• Eliminate high school sports: $1.32 million

• Eliminate all music programs: $5.8 million

• Eliminate band supplements and uniforms: $148,083

• Eliminate all art programs: $4.7 million

• Four-day school week: $3.2 million

• Abandon total compliance with class size amendment: $9 million

• Eliminate media specialists: $4.2 million

• Eliminate technology specialists: $3.4 million

• Eliminate guidance counselors: $7.5 million

• Eliminate literacy coaches: $2.5 million

• Eliminate student achievement coaches: $1.7 million

• Eliminate school nurses: $1.7 million

• Eliminate school psychiatrists: $2.2 million

• Eliminate school social workers: $1.6 million

• Eliminate driver education: $430,000

• Eliminate school behavior specialists: $2.9 million

Source: Pasco School Board

Hundreds of parents, students urge Pasco schools not to cut prized programs 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 6:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Flesh-eating bacteria nearly kills Florida man who thought he just had blisters from a hike


    Wayne Atkins thought little of the blisters he had gotten while hiking. He was trekking up and down the 4,500-foot-high Mount Garfield in New Hampshire - a 10-mile round trip - and blisters were no surprise.

    Wayne Atkins thought his blisters were from hiking, but the flesh eating bacteria nearly killed him. [YouTube]
  2. Yes, again: Rays blow late two-run lead, get swept by Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As weekends go, this was a bad one for the Rays. In a word: brutal.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger, foreground, reacts after giving up a home run to Texas Rangers' Carlos Gomez during the eighth inning of a baseball game Sunday, July 23, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) FLMC116
  3. White House offers muddled message on Russia sanctions legislation


    WASHINGTON - White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the Trump administration supports new legislation to punish Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its aggression toward Ukraine.

    President Donald Trump at the commissioning ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford  at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, July 22, 2017. [New York Times]
  4. 'Stranger Things' is coming back; here's the first trailer


    The nostalgia-heavy, small-screen blockbuster Stranger Things returns to Netflix with a new season on Oct. 27 - just in time for a pre-Halloween weekend binge session.

    A scene from the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer.
  5. Photos: Snooty the manatee remained lovable over the years


    Snooty, the world's oldest living manatee in captivity, and arguably the world's most famous, has died, the South Florida Museum announced on Sunday. 

    Carol Audette, manatee aquarium curator, touches noses with Snooty the manatee in 2001.