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Ideas pour forth to deal with Pinellas school budget crisis

For eight days in February, the ideas streamed in.

Many Pinellas school employees said the district should take a long, hard look at the number of administrators it employs to offset a budget shortfall that could exceed $100 million.

Some said the district should eliminate sports and other extracurricular activities. Others suggested doing away with "boutique" programs such as IB and the new Centers of Excellence designed for students interested in career technical education.

Not all of the ideas are doable, and some — eliminating bus transportation completely and requiring parents to get their children to school, for example — would never pass legal muster.

But district officials, including superintendent Julie Janssen, who solicited the suggestions through an online survey, say they plan to read every one of the 16,996 ideas.

Here is a synopsis of the responses, arranged under the headings of nine topics the district chose to coincide with themes already under discussion. Some teachers merely said "yes" or "no" to the suggestions in the survey, while some gave lengthier answers.

• Reduce personnel at district level and schools (1,993 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "no" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Any personnel cuts should start with administration, specifically at the assistant and associate superintendent level and among regional superintendents.

• Staff developers and teachers on special assignment should be returned to the classroom, where they could work directly with students.

• Employees in the state's retirement program and "double dippers" — those who return to their jobs after retirement — should be eliminated.

• Employees on 12-month contracts, especially principals, campus police and food service workers, should work a regular academic year.

Change employee health insurance coverage (1,471 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "no" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Put health coverage out to bid to provide companies besides Aetna, the current provider, the opportunity to offer services.

• Cut family benefits and provide benefits to employees only.

• Make all new employees wait 90 days before receiving insurance and benefits.

Reduce number of paid workdays for employees (1,650 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "no" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Go to a four-day workweek throughout the year, saving transportation and energy costs.

• Reduce the number of days teachers must be at school before and after the academic year and cut back on training days.

• Petition the state to reduce the number of days students must be in school.

Reduce number of paid holidays (1,352 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "no" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Paid holidays are a key contributor to employee morale.

• This should be considered as a last resort in lieu of cuts to salary and health insurance.

Reduce transportation costs (1,696 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "yes" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Combine routes for middle and high school students.

• Increase the distance to school after which bus service is offered from 2 miles.

• Offer parents some form of financial incentive to provide transportation for their children.

• Require high school students to use public transportation, possibly through a partnership with PSTA.

Decrease purchase of textbooks (1,875 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "yes" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Lengthen the time between new textbook adoptions or institute a freeze on new textbook spending until economic conditions improve.

• Use online technology and CDs.

• Levy more stringent penalties on students for not returning textbooks or returning damaged textbooks.

Delay implementation of new curriculum/initiatives (1,577 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "yes" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• Emphasize basics rather than new curricula and stop "jumping on the bandwagon" with new initiatives.

• Stop spending money on outside professionals who are brought into the district to provide trainings.

• Review programs such as Read 180 to determine if they're actually effective.

Reduce employee salaries (1,897 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were more likely to say "no" to this suggestion.

Some specific comments:

• If cuts are necessary, institute them for employees on the higher end of the salary scale.

• Refrain from cuts to those within five years of retirement to prevent negative impact on retirement benefits.

Reduce or eliminate extracurricular activities (1,607 comments)

Employees providing "yes" or "no" answers were evenly divided on this suggestion.

Many of the responses referred to sports programs. Some specific comments:

• Cut middle school sports before touching high school programs.

• Eliminate school-based sports programs that are available in the community.

• Replace paid coaches with volunteers.

• Charge a fee to students who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.

• Eliminate all extracurricular activities except at three high schools: one in north county, one central and one in south county.

Survey respondents



Source: Pinellas County Schools

gradebook

Public's thoughts

As Pinellas school officials were polling employees, the Times was conducting its own poll to see what the public thinks could be cut from the district's budget. Go to the Gradebook, the Times' education blog, to see the responses:
blogs.tampabay.com/schools.
Number
in district

Number responding Percent
of group
Instructional 8,463 1,862 22
Support staff 6,752 682 10
Administrative 457 155 34
Total 15,672 2,699 17

Ideas pour forth to deal with Pinellas school budget crisis 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 10:03pm]
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