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on the chopping block

Pasco schools must cut, but what?

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco School Board went into information-gathering mode Tuesday in an effort to determine which areas of the budget can be cut for the coming year.

Much of the nearly two-hour workshop was spent reviewing a list of ideas that board member Marge Whaley presented last month, with a great deal of the discussion focusing on her proposals to scale back administration.

Chief finance officer Olga Swinson reported that the district could save $46,000 by cutting elementary assistant principal contracts by two weeks each, about $95,000 by replacing one assistant principal at each middle and high school with a discipline aide, and $647,264 by removing "extra" administrative positions given to crowded schools.

Several principals and assistant principals detailed their daily workloads, pointing out that their responsibilities have increased as they've moved from primarily management roles into those of instructional leaders.

A reduction in people, or the number of days those people are available, would only harm the schools' efforts to teach kids, they said.

"We arrive most days at 6:45 a.m., and on most days someone is here until 10 p.m. or 10:30 p.m.," said Wiregrass Ranch High principal Ray Bonti of his leadership team. "We don't have time to add 25 percent more work to our day."

He referred to a proposal to eliminate one assistant principal position at secondary schools and replace them with aides to handle discipline.

After a variety of similar presentations, board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey acknowledged the point.

"I get the message," Starkey said. "I am really getting the message."

Other board members called the presentation enlightening. United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb was not so impressed.

"What I heard were reasons and explanations about why we can't do things versus how we can," Webb said, adding that she remained optimistic that the board did not close the door on any potential cuts that could be justified.

During the workshop, Swinson provided several other numbers related to Whaley's list of ideas. Cutting all teacher supplemental pay for extra work such as coaching or sponsoring a club could save $917,000, for instance, and closing the district's three environmental centers could save about $250,000.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said after the meeting that she and her staff have worked to protect students, jobs and employee benefits. She stood by her recommendation to freeze salaries at their current levels, saying that finding the $6-million for step increases would likely mean a cut in benefits.

Fiorentino has asked employee relations director Terry Rhum to contact Webb to kick off negotiations.

"This is a team process," she said. "We have to work together with the union to do what is best for everyone that is involved and maintain the quality of education we have in Pasco County in a very bad budget year."

Things are likely to get worse, the district's lobbyists told the board earlier in the day. Brewser Brown and Eric Prutsmann warned the board that the state's revenue estimates continue to decline, and that the Legislature might call a special session before the end of 2008 to deal with additional cuts.

Board members continued to provide the administration with more ideas for possible cuts. Starkey handed out a list of what Brevard schools are doing, and Allen Altman turned over a list that he gathered from several districts around Florida.

"I don't think there's anything that should be taken off the table," Altman said. "I don't want to come back two or three months from now and find out that there are things we knew about but didn't talk about."

The board is scheduled to tentatively set its budget on July 29. The property tax rate is expected to be $7.110 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

That will be a decrease of 9 cents, primarily because the district has repaid a 25-year-old bond, eliminating 18.6 cents of voter-approved debt service.

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

$917,000 in extra pay for teachers who coach or sponsor a club.

$647,264 for extra administrators at crowded schools.

$250,000 to operate three environmental centers.

Source: Pasco County School District

Pasco schools must cut, but what? 06/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2008 4:48pm]
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