Pasco schools will 'limp through' on less money

School Board Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she is pleased the district is not laying off employees.

School Board Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said she is pleased the district is not laying off employees.

LAND O'LAKES — Florida's budget picture is so bleak that school board members around the state are calling one another asking how they're dealing with layoffs in their counties.

Pasco School Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey has gotten such calls, and she told her colleagues Tuesday that she's pleased to tell the others that Pasco isn't letting employees go.

That's not in the business plan, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. As the county's largest employer, Fiorentino said, the district wants to keep the economy going by keeping people working and spending.

"We believe that we're going to be able to limp through" the current budget year, she said, noting the district took a hit of $7.65-million this week.

The state cut the district another $7-million in October. Moves such as a hiring freeze have helped keep spending in line.

Fiorentino had more worries about the coming fiscal year. She said it looks like the district will gain 1,200 more students, but get funding closer to the amount it received in 2006-07.

"We think we're going to have to deal with more students with less money," she said, adding that she is already asking employees for ideas on how to save money.

One thing the administration already has done is ask the employees' association to agree not to take their annual salary increases based on years of service until after contract negotiations are complete.

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said she didn't think it likely that her members would approve such a deal when they meet next week. She told the board that teachers and other personnel are worried about the financial picture.

One concern is that the district is growing, she said, and yet salaries are poised to become less competitive than those in surrounding districts.

That could hurt recruiting, Webb suggested.

If the district can't pay well, she said, "we can build it but they won't come."

Things don't look good in Tallahassee.

House Schools and Learning Council chairman Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, had this to say: "However bad you believe it will be, it will be worse than that. We will be decreasing the budget. I don't foresee there being any additional entities held harmless going into next year."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler contributed to this story. 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.

Pasco schools will 'limp through' on less money 03/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 10:10pm]

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