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Pasco School Board surveys bleak budget prospects

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County School Board member Kathryn Starkey read over the number-filled spreadsheet and sighed.

"Oh, you cannot cut middle school athletics," Starkey said, shaking her head. "These are all so difficult."

But neither Starkey nor any of her board colleagues questioned the need to consider major reductions to next year's school district spending plan. With district budgeting staff projecting revenue shortfalls of $50 million or more, cuts are a given.

No one even bothered to say "nothing is off the table" the way someone usually does. That, too, is taken for granted in this third consecutive year of budget slashing.

Instead, superintendent Heather Fiorentino simply stressed that "nothing is final" on the three-page list of possibilities that she distributed Tuesday afternoon. "It's just ideas."

They include:

• Cut middle school sports, $427,442.

• Give up one school-related employee per school, $1,713,211.

• Eliminate courtesy bus routes, $400,000.

• Eliminate art and music programs, $7,973,381.

• Eliminate instructional technology specialists, $4,306,464.

• Reduce salaries by 1 percent, $3,334,864.

Other items on the list that still need updated figures attached to them include eliminating Learning Focused Strategies planning, collapsing or merging schools, scaling back the adoption of instructional materials and having all middle and high school teachers provide instruction during all six periods a day instead of getting one off for planning.

Board chairman Allen Altman, long a stickler for setting spending priorities early, noted that the decisions won't be easy. In fact, he said, the choices probably will be made more difficult because the state's share of federal stimulus funding for education runs out after next year.

That's another $23 million hole the district will face.

"It could impact which of these that we do this year," Altman said, referring to the administration's list.

Vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley suggested that the board and staff create a two-year spending priority plan, taking into consideration chief financial officer Olga Swinson's reminder that cuts already in place from past years — such as eliminated positions — can't be made again.

"We need the worst case scenario for the next two years," Hurley said.

As if to help, district government affairs supervisor Summer Romagnoli detailed some of the items moving through the Florida Legislature that are likely to pass and affect school districts.

She informed the board of bills that would require local districts to develop exams to use for evaluating teacher performance, change the funding support for charter schools and reduce student funding levels for career education courses, among other things.

Those are the smaller items that could make the district's financial position even worse, Fiorentino said.

Fiorentino said some of the items on her three-page list of ideas are not ones she is likely to recommend. Four-day school weeks would disrupt learning, she said, while eliminating art and music programs would make it more difficult for the district to meet the 2002 class size reduction amendment.

Having secondary-level teachers instruct six periods a day instead of five would save money and help in meeting class size rules, she said, adding quickly that the concept — along with many others on the list — would require buy-in from the United School Employees of Pasco. That could be a tough sell.

She said a "speakers bureau" is preparing to go into the district to explain the current financial picture to employees, while a budget committee convened by Fiorentino and USEP president Lynne Webb will again meet in the coming month to hash through some of these issues.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

SCHOOL BOARD

In other business

The school board took the following action Tuesday:

• Approved charter school enrollment for 2010-11 of 1,902 students at five schools. In a workshop after the meeting, board members agreed to better plan and communicate with charter school operators.

• Instructed staff to create procedures backing a new policy that has all employee communications to the board go through the superintendent. "We need to make sure that if people send stuff to board members it gets to them. Promptly," chairman Allen Altman said.

• Approved new high school courses for Game and Simulation, Hospitality and Tourism, Nutrition and Dietetic Services, and Culinary Arts, to offer in district career academies.

• Approved 2010-11 work calendars for most non-teaching staff.

Pasco School Board surveys bleak budget prospects 03/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2010 9:18pm]
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