LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County School District officials revealed their plans for a $1.5 million budget cut on Wednesday, almost 24 hours after the School Board preliminarily approved the spending plan with the reduction listed as "Item 2."
The proposal calls for the district to end a monthly payment it had given to employees who retired early but did not meet state requirements for full retirement benefits. Any employee not in the program by Oct. 1 would not be permitted to enter.
Officials estimate the district would save about $1.5 million in the current fiscal year.
"In these times when we're trying to do everything we can for our employees, we have to do what's feasible and, frankly, where we get the biggest bang for our buck," interim employee relations director Tom Neesham said when introducing the proposal during contract negotiations with noninstructional staff. "Looking at this annuity, it's time to put that to bed."
Ed Ronda, lead negotiator for the United School Employees of Pasco, said the item did not come as a total surprise. But it did raise concerns.
"We have employees that have worked 20, 25 years and have come to this point in their life, and they are planning to retire with this benefit," Ronda said. "I know individuals right now that have submitted for retirement under this," but not until November.
He asked why the board was pushing for the Oct. 1 implementation date.
No matter what date the board chose, Neesham said, someone would be affected. But without the cut, he said, the budget won't be balanced unless other reductions are found.
Board members said they knew about this proposal, as they discussed it as one of many options during closed-door sessions with staff.
Superintendent Kurt Browning pointedly refused to reveal it during the board's budget hearing on Tuesday, though, saying it would need to come out through negotiations.
Board member Joanne Hurley said that made for an "awkward" public hearing, because of transparency concerns. She said she was glad the recommendation, which she supported, had come out publicly before the final budget hearing in September.
An "Item 1," with a price tag of $1 million, remains in the offing for a future bargaining session.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. Visit the Gradebook for more education news, tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.