LARGO — Six of seven Pinellas School Board members on Tuesday said they are willing to rely on superintendent Julie Janssen's discretion when rehiring employees who want to return to the district after retiring under the Deferred Retirement Option Program.
But only under two conditions: Employees may not return to the schools they came from, and they likely would face a pay cut.
"I would like to offer it to those who want to come back, but perhaps say, 'Here is where we need you to go and this is the salary we can pay,' " said chairwoman Peggy O'Shea.
Board member Carol Cook agreed, noting that in many cases, it would cost more to train a new employee than to keep an experienced teacher or administrator at a reduced salary.
Board member Mary Brown said she would like to offer rehired teachers and administrators spots in struggling schools, while board member Linda Lerner said she would agree to rehiring employees if Janssen could justify bringing them back.
But board member Janet Clark said she was opposed to bringing employees back who retired under the program, which is known as DROP.
"Everyone in this district who wants to move up is being held back by people with extended DROP," Clark said. "We're losing good people to other districts because there's no room for them to move up."
The issue surfaced at a budget workshop in which board members continued to discuss ways to make up for a budget shortfall that district officials fear could exceed $100 million.
The board recently reviewed a proposal from the district's finance team that would recapture about $48 million through cuts that include reducing up to 200 bus routes, closing six elementary schools and freezing or eliminating hiring.
Janssen announced Tuesday that she had found nearly $5 million more savings by re-aligning some positions in the administration building and consolidating some jobs. She plans to begin talks with middle and high school principals to see if similar savings can be found there.
She said salary cuts will be used only as a last resort, but Doug Forth, an assistant superintendent in charge of budgeting, said cuts remain on the table.
"That's the only way we can see to balance the budget unless we get more savings," Forth said.