LAND O'LAKES — To cut spending for the new fiscal year, the Pasco School Board directed superintendent Heather Fiorentino to eliminate the equivalent of at least one job per school.
The goal: Save $4.3 million, out of an anticipated $28 million shortfall.
With the board's first public budget hearing just days away, the district administration announced that it had met the mark. So far, the district has eliminated 167 teaching positions and 123 non-instructional spots, with all but 22 employees getting placed in other vacancies.
But the effort isn't done.
Expecting revenue to continue to shrink, Fiorentino has frozen all hiring while she and her team look to dump another 30 jobs and put any laid off workers into other openings they're qualified for. District leaders are taking another look at staff allocations, to see where the departments and schools can do without people.
It's an activity that Fiorentino expected to continue into the school year and beyond, as local and state tax income declines.
In recent years, the superintendent and School Board made it a priority to avoid layoffs while also maintaining employee benefits, even as spending shrunk. As the county's biggest employer, board members said, the district needed to keep its role as an economic driver in mind.
Rising costs of insurance, utilities and other essentials, combined with dropping property values among other things, have made it impossible to meet those priorities any longer, they said. The district is opening three schools this year, for instance, and must meet the state class size amendment requirements.
"It's never easy to eliminate jobs, but that's the reality of our budget," board member Kathryn Starkey said.
These job cuts, along with other spending reductions in areas such as insurance premiums and student transportation, come amid the board's attempt to take a longer-term look at the budget, vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. She noted that the district will lose millions when the federal stimulus funding runs out in a year, and that the state looks likely to make mid-year budget cuts to districts, as well.
"It doesn't look like we're going to be able to save every job," Hurley said. "Do I want to look there? No. But I also realize the bulk of our money goes to salaries."
The United School Employees of Pasco has joined Fiorentino in urging the board to back a property tax increase of 25 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to help offset some of the anticipated revenue losses. The tax would cost $25 for the owner of a $125,000 home with a homestead exemption, and generate an estimated $5.6 million.
Board members have not yet committed to imposing the tax, which comes up for a vote on Tuesday. To win approval, four of five members would have to support the tax.
To continue it past this year, the board would need to win voter approval in November. The board also will discuss whether to put the issue on the ballot when it meets Tuesday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.