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Pinellas School Board changes bell times, considers tough cuts for 2010-11

LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board Tuesday reluctantly approved new school start times while the superintendent proposed furloughs and higher employee health insurance costs — all efforts to save money and close a pressing budget gap.

In her most expansive list of proposed budget cuts yet, Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen laid out a plan to cut at least $25.7 million in 2010-11, getting exceptionally close to the $26 million chop the district needs.

"We're giving you everything," Janssen told board members during an afternoon workshop, where board members were not allowed to vote.

Earlier in the day, however, the board did give 6-1 approval for a new school bell schedule, which is expected to save $2.25 million by eliminating 50 bus routes.

Board members at first groused over the plan, which puts middle school kids in class 10 minutes earlier, while delaying start times for some 28 elementary schools until 9:20 a.m.

High schools will continue to open at 7:05 a.m., an early hour that has been a bone of contention for plenty of parents and educators.

When it came time to cast a vote, board Chairwoman Janet Clark offered the lone dissent.

Her chief concern besides parental inconvenience, she said, were that the district's youngest students would be in school later in the day: "We're putting them in a high-stress environment and I don't know that they're going to be at their best at that time in the afternoon."

The discussion was just one in a marathon day of hard topics, most of which revolved around finding a way to address an economic shortfall that threatens to only get worse in 2011-12.

All of the suggestions are still under discussion and most have yet to be negotiated with the unions. Among them:

Furloughs: All of the district's 11,538 employees could be placed on mandatory unpaid leave for anywhere from one day to eight days, depending on their jobs.

Principals and administrators who work 12 months could be asked to stay away from work for eight days out of the year.

Assistant principals could be out for three or four days, depending on where they work.

Teachers who work 10 months of the year could get two furlough days. And support personnel who work 10 months to 11.5 months per year could lose one day. Savings: $5.4 million.

Staff reductions: Shorten employee contracts for new hires and consider offering "provisional" contracts, good for only a short period of time at a lower-than-usual pay rate. Also, freeze or delay hiring for vacated positions. Savings: $5 million.

Health insurance: Require employees to contribute about 20 percent of their premiums and up co-pays by $5. Currently, the district pays about 82 percent and the employee pays 18 percent. Savings: $2.3 million.

Overtime: Limit overtime and additional duty for guidance counselors and other employees. Savings: $500,000.

BlackBerrys: No more district-paid BlackBerrys. Employees would have to pay for their own. Savings: $200,000.

In addition to those and other cuts, Janssen also shared another $7.5 million to $15 million in possible slashes on top of that as food for thought.

One, which board members seemed to like, was an early retirement option targeted to 600 eligible employees who have more than 25 years experience and are at least age 60. These are people who are too young to take advantage of the state's early retirement plan, which kicks in at 62.

Potential savings, should 100 people participate: $1.9 million to $2.3 million.

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, said the union will work its hardest to keep pay and benefits intact.

While Janssen is standing by a small pay raise promised the district's teachers last year, Ogletree said he worries furloughs may eat away at that increase for some employees.

"We never want to give up something we fought long and hard to gain," he said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Pinellas School Board changes bell times, considers tough cuts for 2010-11 06/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 9:44am]

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