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Layoffs a real possibility for Pasco school district

LAND O'LAKES — When setting operating budget priorities this year, the Pasco School Board made clear its desire to avoid layoffs at all costs.

Budget realities are making that goal less likely.

"We're getting to the point where it's going to be jobs," chairman Frank Parker said Tuesday during a workshop. "We had uniformly come up with trying to minimize the effect on employees, the classroom and benefits. So far, so good. But obviously we're at the point of no return."

Chief financial officer Olga Swinson painted the dire financial situation for the board in stark terms. If all the expected revenue cuts come to pass before July, she told the board, Pasco schools could lose up to $20-million in expected funding.

Based on an average salary, she said, that would equate to as many as 440 jobs.

And if the United School Employees of Pasco win their annual step increases, worth $5.1-million, as many as 188 more jobs could be on the line.

As if to punctuate the point, Swinson included the contract language for layoffs at the back of her presentation.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the administration has taken a variety of steps to save money. Those include such things as freezing some job vacancies permanently and increasing class sizes in courses where the class-size amendment does not apply, such as physical education and social studies.

Other ideas are floating around, too, such as the cancellation of spring football.

But such moves can take the district only so far, Fiorentino observed, adding that the staff is working on other areas for reductions.

Vice chairman Allen Altman called for the administration and board to come up with specific plans as soon as possible.

"I just think it's prudent for us, and also for the benefit of those people who are living out there in uncertainty, to say … here's what we're going to do," Altman said. "If there are things we can't cut, then (the administration) needs to tell us what can't be cut."

Board member Joanne Hurley advised that the district should look ahead beyond a single year. Officials expect to see further cuts for the next fiscal year, as well.

"We have to project ahead, knowing what's coming. And it sounds to me we have some pretty austere years ahead," she said, citing as her top priority keeping programs that generate student funding.

The board scheduled its next budget workshop for Dec. 16.

In other business, the board reviewed a proposal for its 2009-10 school year. Because Labor Day comes on Sept. 7, classes would begin on Aug. 24.

State law says school may not start earlier than two weeks before Labor Day.

Board members said they were dissatisfied with the late start and the effect on vacations and days off. They planned to lobby lawmakers for relief. They plan to adopt the 2009-10 calendar on Dec. 16, so parents can plan their vacations for 2009.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Layoffs a real possibility for Pasco school district 12/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:46pm]

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