LAND O'LAKES — The biggest single item Pasco County school officials have under consideration to save money next year is potentially the most divisive on the list.
To save $12 million, the administration has proposed having all middle and high school teachers instruct six periods a day instead of five. To give the teachers adequate planning time, the district would incorporate some half days into the school year.
It's a move that would upset teachers and parents alike, board members acknowledged during a budget workshop Thursday.
Vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley advocated against the idea.
"I feel strongly that is not one of the things I want to do," Hurley said. "We should be doing everything we can to make our teachers successful."
Others on the board agreed in theory, but the threat of needing to cut as much as $54 million from the budget loomed large over their discussion.
"Where are you going to get $12 million?" board member Kathryn Starkey asked. "That's the biggest one on there."
The board has worked hard the past two years to keep the cuts out of the classroom, board member Frank Parker added. But with millions in spending already reduced during that time, he said, the district has few other places to look.
"I'm afraid our hand is being forced here," Parker said.
"Protecting classroom teachers is still the highest (priority) on my list," Hurley responded.
"Well, your homework from today is to go find $12 million," chairman Allen Altman told Hurley.
Board members spent about 90 minutes reviewing different ideas to cut spending in what's expected to be the third straight year of reduced revenue from the state.
They talked about furloughs, reductions in paid benefits, elimination of courtesy bus rides and a host of other possibilities.
When adding up all the potential savings, the numbers still fell a bit short of the goal.
And that was without taking into account some of the costs associated with new mandates moving through the Florida Legislature.
"It's just the perfect storm we're riding into," Starkey said, noting that class size requirements, performance pay rules, declining taxes and increasing costs are coming together to hurt districts' ability to cover the base.
"It's not pretty," Hurley said.
"You couldn't even put lipstick on this pig," superintendent Heather Fiorentino replied.
Starkey and Hurley pressed for a variety of answers. They asked about charging a fee for courtesy bus rides, for example, and cutting back noninstructional support services such as counselors and nurses.
Assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly noted that many of the support services are required by law, but added that it might be possible to eliminate some of the positions.
As the budgeting moves ahead, Fiorentino said, no ideas are set in stone. They're on paper in a pocket display, she said, and the cards can go in and come out as needed.
Altman called for public forums around the county so the public can give its views on its spending priorities. The goal would be getting suggestions on what to cut, and not what to save, he said.
Starkey agreed it's important to have that input.
"We should just throw everything on the wall and see what our community values the most," she said.
The board's next budget workshop is scheduled for April 16.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.