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Pinellas School Board considers employee furloughs to save on salaries

Pinellas school officials said Thursday they have discussed the possibility of furloughs for all district employees to save money on the district's biggest expense: salaries.

They also described it as a "last resort" option as they seek to cut at least $48-million from the 2009-10 budget.

Under one budget scenario released at a School Board workshop, employees would work four fewer days next school year, saving $12.8-million.

Also Thursday, the board reached consensus on a plan that would close five elementary schools, merge four middle schools into two and require thousands of "grandfathered" students to move to different schools next year.

The last item would affect about 17,000 students who last year elected not to enroll in their new zoned schools, instead choosing to be "grandfathered" into the schools they got into under the old choice plan.

Most or all of those students would be forced to move to their zoned school for the 2009-10 academic year. The savings: about $7-million in busing costs. Thousands more students also would be forced to change schools because of a related move to redraw the zone map for elementary schools.

A board majority of Mary Brown, Janet Clark, Nina Hayden and Peggy O'Shea indicated they would revoke grandfathering when the board takes a final vote on the issue Jan. 13.

The board also will use that meeting to take a final vote on closing Gulf Beaches, Kings Highway, North Ward, Palm Harbor and Rio Vista elementary schools.

In addition, board members appear ready to close Southside and Coachman fundamental middle schools and "consolidate" their programs at other schools.

Coachman would move to nearby Kennedy Middle. Southside students could move to Madeira Beach Middle or Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle. The board rejected a proposal by the St. Petersburg NAACP to move Southside to Thurgood Marshall.

The measures are part of a plan to address a worsening state budget crisis that has Pinellas officials bracing for a shortfall they say could climb well past $48-million.

The plan also is the district's answer to declining enrollment. Officials say Pinellas has lost 10,000 students since 2003 and could lose 10,000 more by 2013.

"I'll just put the elephant in the room," assistant superintendent Jim Madden told board members. "At some point you may have to have a conversation about (closing a) high school."

Superintendent Julie Janssen said state officials told districts in an emergency conference call Thursday to "cut as deep as you can, be prepared."

She said she viewed the furlough proposal as a "last, last, last" resort, having told principals to come back soon with suggestions for cuts at their schools.

"This is just the start," she said. "I think there are more places we're going to find money."

Should furloughs become reality, however, Janssen and union leaders said employees could lose some paid holidays or work fewer non-school days, such as the week teachers work before the start of school each year.

The furloughs would apply to all employees, including administrators.

Pinellas School Board considers employee furloughs to save on salaries 12/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 5:24pm]
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