LAND O'LAKES — Knowing that state funding for education is going to decrease, Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino asked district employees for ideas of where they might cut spending.
She took comments for weeks. On Wednesday, she released the list of possibilities. They include:
• Eliminating or reducing field trips.
• Scaling back employee benefits.
• Getting rid of junior varsity athletics.
• Reducing jobs.
• Streamlining student transportation.
"Right now, what we're doing is putting numbers to it," Fiorentino said. "These are things that we are looking at. But it doesn't mean those are the answers we are selecting."
During a meeting Tuesday, Fiorentino told the School Board that she expected the district to see its state funding for general operations cut by at least $20-million from the $527-million it got this year. That was before lawmakers announced their intention to reduce per-student funding by $146, rather than the $116 that had been bandied about late last week.
"That will really hurt us," Fiorentino said of the latest figure.
She reiterated her position that the first priority must be protecting the classroom, and second must be saving jobs.
However, Fiorentino noted, some of the ideas for cuts are not easily accomplished. For instance, she said, the notion of postponing new textbook adoption would make little difference as the state pays for books out of a different pot of money than where salaries come from.
Everyone needs to work together and understand the budget situation, she said.
"I got an e-mail today from a teacher who said, 'Don't take away my step increase. I can't afford it. I'm a single mother,' " she said. "At some point, we may all be happy we have jobs."
School Board member Allen Altman, who has called upon the board to set spending priorities, said he looked forward to a comprehensive review of the possibilities. He wanted to get to the discussion quickly, as peoples' livelihoods are potentially at stake.
Last year, the board avoided many hard choices by agreeing to a 10 percent budget set-aside early in the year, and by freezing many vacant nonteaching positions. This year, the level of cuts appears to be forcing the board to make more drastic decisions.
"We need to do the least amount of harm," Altman said. "I want time to contemplate the cuts to be made. I don't want people to be caught short."
The board has not yet scheduled any budget workshops. Lawmakers are expected to have a printed state budget available over the weekend.
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.