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Pasco school Superintendent Heather Fiorentino considers day-off idea

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County schools' daily payroll costs $1.9 million.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino would like to save some of that money, but without laying anyone off or cutting salaries.

So she's floated the idea of reducing employees' work schedule by one planning day next year as one of several ways to slash spending by as much as $37 million. Under her plan, the district would ask lawmakers for a one-year, one-day waiver to the law that defines full-time teacher employment as 196 days.

"You don't have to come in, I don't have to pay you," Fiorentino explained Thursday to the district's new budget advisory committee, which was meeting for the first time.

It's a better alternative than negotiating a pay cut, which could become permanent, she said.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb did not endorse the concept outright. She did, however, deem the idea as better than asking employees to do more work for less pay.

"I think that over time has a really corrosive effect on morale and performance and student learning. They already pour their heart and soul into what they're doing," Webb said. "Telling people they're going to have the opportunity to stay home, they're not going to get pay, is a little different."

Committee members, who had been talking about ways to cut back the school year, had a mixed reaction to the idea.

"It works for me. I'll take two," Pasco High teacher Grant Young said.

Richey Elementary teacher Sharon Pelchat worried, though, that extra work would still come even as pay is reduced.

"Yes, we have another day at home, but it's $180. It's a really hard issue," she said. "If there's no better way, I guess it's a solution I could swallow."

Several committee members mentioned the idea of moving to a four-day class week as a way to save money.

Fiorentino was hesitant about that for several reasons, not the least of which was that state law currently does not permit it. More than that, though, she noted that it would result in a pay cut for many employees who can least afford one, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

Then there's the public reaction. She predicted that parents and the Sheriff's Office would "go ballistic" if kids were out of school one more day each week.

But the committee pressed for more information.

"We still need a (savings) number to talk about," Wesley Chapel Elementary teacher Jennifer Yerke said. "What's the number?"

Added Wiregrass Ranch High teacher Lesley Wade, "If we're looking at a $37 million cut next year, it's something we have to look at."

The subject of cutting sports also came up. Administrators observed that the cost of running athletic programs is relatively small at around $1.8 million, and that the bulk of funding comes from gate receipts, booster club donations and other revenue sources.

Besides that, chief finance officer Olga Swinson said, "It keeps kids out of trouble."

Many on the committee, however, contended that without touching things that affect students directly — whether inside the classroom or out — parents might not get the picture of how dire the financial situation really is.

"Sometimes if you don't shake the parents up or get the parents' attention, you're not going to get the support," Cypress Elementary media assistant Helena Fletcher said.

After meeting for more than three hours, the committee decided to review pages of possible cuts that had been submitted and then come back in mid-April for another conversation. Webb, who helped coordinate the session, said she was pleased with the outcome as it gave the members a sense of the details and showed the administration's willingness to seek answers beyond its own offices.

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

Pasco school Superintendent Heather Fiorentino considers day-off idea 02/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 12:02pm]
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