LAND O'LAKES — With budgets getting tighter, the Pasco School Board has scaled back its summer school programs in the past few years to a bare minimum.
On Tuesday, board member Steve Luikart proposed altering the programs even more to save money.
"Is it set in stone what the services are going to be and the cost?" Luikart asked. "I would like to look at possibly charging students for summer school."
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino issued a quick "no way" to that idea.
"The law won't allow us to do that," she said. "That's part of their schooling."
The board has asked about that possibility before, board member Allen Altman said. That's how they know the district can't go down that path.
Undeterred, Luikart then inquired about killing some or all of the offerings.
"Is it something we have to offer?" asked Luikart, a retired assistant principal who ran on a platform of doing what is best for students.
He suggested that students could learn, and get remedial help during the regular school year. The summer program offers a limited scope anyway, serving primarily seniors who face a fifth year of high school, eighth-graders who might be held back and third-graders looking at retention for failing to pass the FCAT reading exam.
Fiorentino said she agreed in theory with Luikart. The administration has looked into not offering some of the few summer courses it has provided in the past.
But eliminating programs would pose a different set of problems, Fiorentino said.
The courses for seniors, for instance, offer those students a way to complete their credits for an on-time graduation, she said. If seniors do not graduate in four years, that counts against their school and the district in the state's school grading system.
If the graduation rate falls too much, a school would have to restructure, leading to major oversight and wide-ranging changes in staff and instruction. So the cancellation of the 10-day program could have dire unintended consequences, Fiorentino said.
The district's 21-day reading camp for third-graders who did not pass the FCAT reading section, she added, is required by law to help those children improve their skills. When lawmakers made the third grade FCAT a retention exam, they also provided alternatives — including the summer program for students to demonstrate reading mastery to progress to the fourth grade.
A bigger concern for the district, assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said, is a proposal in the Legislature that would end funding for high school students who seek to earn makeup credits in adult education programs while still enrolled in high school.
That type of remedial work "is the primary source our students are using to grade replace," Reilly said, suggesting more attention should be focused on that area rather than summer school expenses.
Hearing these explanations, Luikart made a motion to approve the district's summer course offerings. It passed unanimously.
A couple of weeks ago, Luikart suggested looking into four-day school weeks for 2011-12, an idea that the administration and parents have generally not accepted. Board members continue to seek ideas to cut spending as they approach budget season, scheduling five town hall meetings for the remainder of the month.
Board member Cynthia Armstrong will hold the first one at 6:30 p.m. today at Seven Springs Middle School. Luikart will conduct his on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Fivay High School.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.