LAND O'LAKES — When it comes to trimming the Pasco County school district operations budget, superintendent Heather Fiorentino finally has a target: $16-million.
That's her staff's best estimate of how much money the School Board will need to reduce spending for next year to keep its budget balanced. The projection fluctuated during the legislative session, and it might change again if state tax revenue keeps on dropping or if the local property tax value doesn't meet the estimated $30-billion on which lawmakers predicated the district's finances.
But it's the working figure as Fiorentino and her team work on recommendations for the School Board.
"We're going to be sitting down on Friday and hashing things out," Fiorentino said Wednesday, adding that she hoped to provide a proposal to the board next week.
District employees have provided a laundry list of ideas for the chopping block, including eliminating all extracurriculars, canceling the district's lawn service contract and changing the high school calendar. While insisting that all ideas remain in the realm of the possible, Fiorentino said those that would negatively affect learning or hurt employees are less likely to happen.
That means she's not seriously considering asking teachers to pay more for their benefits, for instance, and that she doesn't plan to suggest an across-the-board pay cut like the one being discussed in neighboring Pinellas County schools.
Neither does she intend to propose a referendum to increase the local property tax rate, as Pinellas and Sarasota have done and Collier is considering.
"You can't keep hitting the same people," Fiorentino said, noting that the economy is tight for everyone — not just the school district — and local voters already have agreed to a higher sales tax to support school construction.
Keeping the cuts away from classroom instruction and from employees could prove challenging, chief financial officer Olga Swinson said, as 85 percent of the operational budget goes toward people.
During the current year, a 10 percent spending cut in all schools and departments pinched schools in myriad small ways, said David Scanga, executive director for elementary schools. Teachers had to do with fewer supplies and supplemental instructional materials, he said, and some reduced field trips.
At the high schools, principals found they had to turn to booster clubs and parents to foot the bill for athletics travel, assistant superintendent Sandy Ramos said.
Fiorentino said she hoped to have the most severe cutbacks in place before the next school year begins, so everyone knows the limits early on and can plan accordingly. She has scheduled a budget workshop for the School Board for May 20.
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.