LAND O'LAKES — When she talks about the Pasco school district budget, superintendent Heather Fiorentino likes to note that she runs a lean ship.
The district administration accounts for just 3 percent of operating costs, Fiorentino observes, much more efficient than most other Florida school systems. State records show that Pasco spent $472.91 per student on administration in 2006-07, less than all but nine other districts.
Fiorentino has said that job freezes have lowered the county's figure this year. She totals the savings from vacant district-level positions at about $720,000.
"May I add that that has done a lot to the staff here at the district office, because they have worn two, three, four hats trying to get everything done," she told the School Board recently.
That's all well and good, some board members are saying. But in tough times, they add, the already tight administration might need to be even tighter.
"It seems to me that if you're going to take hits, you should take them at the district level," board member Marge Whaley says.
Board member Allen Altman agrees. He has begun poring over budget documents to find ways to streamline.
"It should be our task to lower administrative costs," Altman says.
The Pasco school district includes 339 people on its administrator list, including school-level leaders, with salaries totaling just over $25-million of the $562-million general budget.
That group includes six assistant superintendents, 20 department directors, 17 special education specialists and supervisors, 12 grant resource specialists and 10 curriculum supervisors.
"And a lot of these people make a lot of money," says Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco. "We are asking the district to look again at people and the duties they have."
One idea has emerged from several fronts, involving Fiorentino's leadership team. Sandra Ramos, assistant superintendent for curriculum, is retiring at the end of June, and Ruth Reilly, who has been assistant superintendent for elementary schools, will slide into Ramos' seat.
Reilly's position becomes vacant, and several people including Whaley and Altman have said it should stay that way.
One possible scenario has elementary schools executive director David Scanga, who makes nearly $25,000 less than Reilly, keeping that role and reporting to middle schools assistant superintendent Tina Tiede.
Such a move would essentially erase Ramos' $120,941 salary.
That's just one of a growing number of ideas to trim costs.
Whaley also has recommended reducing the district's 80 high schools and middle schools assistant principal jobs as people in those positions move on. She has asked Fiorentino to explore savings associated with reducing the contracted days of elementary principals and eliminating three district-level jobs.
The USEP has suggested realigning duties in the superintendent's office to reduce the supervisory staff. Like Whaley, it has advocated cutting administrator contract days, not just for elementary principals but rather for all principals, assistant principals and district supervisors. And it has called for reductions to the staff development department to correspond to state funding cuts for training.
"If you were to eliminate one of these supervisors or directors at the district level, I don't imagine there would be much of a ripple effect at the school level," Webb says
Such considerations are taking place all over Florida.
Marion County, for instance, has reassigned some administrators to vacant principal jobs and eliminated their district-level positions. Lee County has dismissed several administrators amid dozens of layoffs. Escambia County has proposed eliminating positions as high as assistant superintendent in plans that also include letting teachers go.
Fiorentino has stressed her desire to keep everyone employed as she crafts her proposal to slash spending by $16-million. That's a critical piece in maintaining morale as best as possible during an economic downturn, School Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey says.
The district also must continue to operate efficiently, Starkey adds.
"There are certain core, key positions that need to be filled," she says. "Someone has to be in charge of all the schools. The superintendent has to have some assistant superintendents."
That said, though, Starkey joins those who want to at least look at administrative costs.
It's not likely that the district will find enough to cover employee raises, which are projected to cost $5-million to $6-million. Still, Altman asserts, if the board can trim administration, it should, if for no other reason than to prepare for more bad budget news.
Bids for the district's employee health insurance are coming in higher than expected. And folks up in Tallahassee already have warned revenue projections don't look good.
"When we start getting formal numbers," Altman says, "I think we will be forced to make more cuts."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached
or (813) 909-4614.
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