Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Education

More job cuts, furloughs on table for Pasco schools

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco School District chief finance officer Olga Swinson had plenty of bad news for the School Board at its Friday budget workshop.

Property values dropped more than expected, Swinson started, meaning operating revenue would decline $500,000 more than projected. The administrative team had found ways to eliminate 42 school-based jobs, she continued, but the $1.2 million savings would not be enough.

The schools need to find 40 more positions to dump, she said, and the district office another five. The upshot could be fewer, larger electives in the middle and high schools, and reduced special services to elementary school children who do not qualify for an individualized education plan.

Layoffs aren't likely in the teaching ranks, employee relations director Kevin Shibley said, because the district is adding classroom positions to meet class-size requirements. A person whose job is eliminated may find a fit in one of those new positions. But if non-instructional spots are cut, some people might lose their jobs.

Swinson continued.

She recommended three furlough days for all employees, one of which likely would have been a paid holiday. She said the district could use $12.8 million from its capital funds and other remaining funds to cover some operating costs. Raises never even came up.

Even all that wasn't enough.

"We are still in a deficit," Swinson said, handing out a list of possible other cuts for board members to ponder to cover an additional $3.1 million.

A couple of the ideas bubbled to the surface.

Board member Alison Crumbley suggested she would be open to charging employees a monthly fee of $10 to $20 toward their health insurance benefits, provided that the amount is tiered based on salary.

"It is not a popular one, not an option I would like," Crumbley said. "This would obviously require contract negotiations. I am just throwing it out there."

Her colleagues agreed to investigate the idea.

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said she would prefer, though, to look into reducing employee pay across the board by a set percentage. That would be on top of the temporary pay reduction through furloughs.

"I think it's more equitable," Hurley said. "Plus, it doesn't start us down the road to where employees are sharing benefit costs."

Vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong proposed cutting employee supplemental pay for extra work performed. She and others also urged the staff to look into ways to save money in transportation costs, and to examine ways for residents to make contributions to the district's general fund.

Members added that they would consider additional items that carry big potential savings, but could not be worked out for the coming year. They noted that the district will need to replace the $12.8 million in nonrecurring funds by 2013-14, so such ideas as closing and consolidating some elementary schools, and requiring secondary teachers to instruct an additional class period each day could become viable after a year of research and negotiations.

They removed some possible cuts from consideration altogether.

"I would not want to see us close the alternative centers," Armstrong said. "That would go on a big 'no' list for me. I think they provide a valuable service."

Board member Steve Luikart said he would not support removing resource officers from schools. Crumbley rejected the concept of cutting back school guidance counselors. All said they preferred not to cut athletics, music and arts from the schools, even as they acknowledged that new "schools of innovation" magnet programs such as arts centers are not getting funding for the new year.

The only light moment arose when board attorney Dennis Alfonso jokingly suggested charging bus riders a carry-on fee, prompting a wave of laughter and other non-serious chatter about other ways to generate savings from school busing.

But the mood was overall somber as the district leaders discussed cutting back spending for the fifth consecutive year.

"I hate to do this," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said after the workshop ended. "It is affecting our morale. They work hard every day, and have a passion for what they do. … These are difficult cuts."

The board is scheduled to review its staffing plan, the largest single piece of its operating budget, at its June 5 meeting.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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