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Pinellas School Board cuts $28-million more from budget

The Pinellas School Board put an end to weeks of grim discussions Tuesday, voting unanimously on a plan to cut $28.1-million from its 2008-09 budget.

On top of $15.3-million in cuts earlier this year, the total comes to more than $43-million.

By delaying a firm decision on salaries until the fall, the plan offers faint hope of a raise for the district's 16,000 employees. That's when state revenue projections will become clearer.

But it's also when Pinellas expects to hear that it will have to cut an additional $20-million from its budget in 2009-10.

"At this time," the plan states, "there are no plans or funds for employees' raises."

The board averted an across-the-board pay cut by increasing what employees pay in health care premiums.

Also under the plan:

• More than 500 employees will be reassigned to vacant teaching positions or other jobs.

• Most middle and high schools will operate with one less assistant principal, leaving fewer administrators to counsel students and handle discipline.

• Middle schools will move from a six-period day to a seven-period day. The change allows the district to fit state-mandated courses, such as PE, into the day, and leaves room for more electives. But teachers argue that it requires them to teach an extra period with no additional pay.

The board wanted to change start times in 2008-09 for middle and high schools as part of the budget plan but discovered it would cost more than $3-million a year.

Board members agreed to push hard for a change in start times in 2009-10. The 7:05 a.m. start time for high schools would be later, and the 9:45 a.m. start for most middle schools would be earlier.

Scores of district employees and residents chipped in with budget-cutting suggestions in recent weeks. But many of them could not be implemented on short notice or were deemed unworkable.

Many teachers suggested delaying the scheduled purchase of new reading textbooks next year. But state law does not give districts flexibility to do that.

Others suggested eliminating teacher training, but officials said training contracts already were in place.

One program narrowly survived a last-minute budget cutting attempt.

The board voted 4-3 to approve a $91,000 contract with Community Tampa Bay Inc. The group trains students and staff in cultural awareness and helps mediate school conflicts that arise from prejudice.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8923.

Pinellas School Board cuts $28-million more from budget 06/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 3:44pm]

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