LAND O'LAKES — Parents of more than 5,200 Pasco children who attend the school district's before- and after-school care program will need to scrape up some extra cash to keep their kids enrolled.
Late Tuesday evening, the School Board increased the Place program's weekly fee by $3, to $40, beginning in the summer. The decision comes shortly after the board set two cafeteria meal price hikes.
"As things go, I hate to increase anything," board chairman Frank Parker said. "It's a shame that we have to do it, but we have to do it."
The Place program has consistently run deficits over the past several years, relying upon its reserves to make up the difference, district financial services manager John Simon told the School Board. The reserves have dwindled close to $2 million, a portion of which the board plans to use to cover general expenses next year.
A $3 weekly fee increase "will help us break even and add to (the reserves) to help with those unforeseen events," Simon said.
Place has charged $37 per child per week since 2004. This would be just the second time the board has raised the price in 11 years.
Board member Kathryn Starkey said the need for additional money seemed clear.
The timing, however, bothered her and others.
The school district has seen the numbers of families applying for free- and reduced-price meals rise along with the county's unemployment rate.
Some of the parents who have used Place in the past have removed their children already, prompting the district to examine consolidating some of the 39 locations where the program meets, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
Board member Joanne Hurley asked Fiorentino to report back to the board whether the price increase further depresses enrollment in the program.
"I just hope it doesn't negatively affect our parents," Hurley said.
In a related move, the board delayed action on Fiorentino's recommendation to expand the Place program into San Antonio Elementary School, where some parents have protested that adding Place would force out the Coaches' Camp that has operated successfully there this year.
Fiorentino offered the board a plethora of reasons why the camp, run by two of the school's physical education instructors, should give way to Place.
But board members did not warm to the rationale, suggesting that even if the district made a mistake in approving the Coaches' Camp, it should not punish the teachers and families who use it.
Board vice chairman Allen Altman called upon the administration to seek a compromise that might satisfy the district, the coaches, the parents and their children.
The board agreed, assigning Hurley to represent the board in the talks.
The board rescheduled its discussion on the fate of the Place program at San Antonio Elementary for May 5.
In other action, the School Board:
• Approved new job descriptions for its secondary-level literacy coaches. The change will require several teachers to reapply for their jobs. Fiorentino said the new descriptions will help the district qualify for federal funding for the positions, which otherwise might be eliminated. The United School Employees of Pasco has raised concerns about the process and has agreed to bargaining on Monday.
• Learned the Athenian Academy charter school is several months behind in seeking a contract renewal with the school district.
• Heard the district is looking into changing some school start and end times by 10 minutes to save about $600,000.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.