Sunday, May 20, 2018
Education

Pasco media specialists gear up for job showdown Tuesday

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school media specialists and their supporters plan to pack the district's School Board meeting on Tuesday in hopes of stopping a proposal to eliminate all their jobs.

They thought they had more time to prepare their arguments. But after learning that the board could decide their fate next week, they're stepping into high gear.

Their desire: to get the deletion of their jobs stripped from the staff allocation formula coming to the board.

"That's our goal, so we can continue to educate them about the importance of our roles in the schools," Deer Park Elementary media specialist Kristi Theurer said. "We feel the board is taking this seriously."

Staffing allocation formulas are pages of details about how many employees are assigned to schools based on numbers of students and related factors. As matters of public business, they usually generate little attention. The Pasco district administration put the item on the board's consent agenda, where noncontroversial items go.

Voting on the allocations "is a formality," district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. And she noted the staffing decisions could still change at a later point.

When it comes to planning a school district's operations, though, the allocations drive the budget. Once a school board approves them, the superintendent and staff use the formulas to set class schedules and to make employment decisions.

As Cobbe put it, "We have to do allocations so the schools can plan for the people who are being displaced."

That's the media specialists' fear: The formulas have their job titles crossed off, eliminating about 50 to 60 positions.

They had expected a decision later in the year.

"This issue will only go to the School Board in the form of a budget recommendation that I will make later in the summer," superintendent Kurt Browning told one employee via email in March.

He did not refer to the allocations. But the timelines prepared by his office around the same time indicated that allocations would be finalized the week of April 15 so that involuntary transfers could begin soon after.

Board members said the superintendent should not expect a rubber stamp from them, regardless of time frames.

"Our responsibility is to pull that out of the consent agenda" for discussion, said board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley, who added that she lacked information to make a decision. "You can't just go, 'Oh. Okay.' "

Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said Browning should present details during a budget workshop before Tuesday's meeting. If the board is uncomfortable with the plan, she said, it need not act.

"Even though it's on the agenda it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be decided," Armstrong said.

Board member Steve Luikart said he aims to find an alternative way to save $5 million.

"These people play a very valuable role," Luikart said. "I am looking at ways to save those roles. … I'm not in favor of taking instructional people out of the schools."

Browning has proposed creating 30 enhanced media specialist roles to serve regions of schools, focusing on teacher training.

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

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