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Pinellas school superintendent expects more budget cuts

Despite cutting tens of millions of dollars in recent years, the budget picture for Pinellas schools isn't getting any rosier.

Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen raised financial concerns this week in separate comments about projected budget cuts and the class-size amendment.

During a weekly interview with Bay News 9 anchor Al Ruechel, Janssen said the district had planned to cut $15 million from the current budget, but "now it's going to be greater than that."

Janssen said she did not know yet how much greater. But when asked if layoffs could happen next year, she said, "Absolutely."

Janssen also offered a glimpse into how big a hit Pinellas might take to fully comply with the class-size amendment. In a speech Thursday to the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, she said the district would need to hire another 200 teachers.

"There is no money to do that," she said.

How gloomy it gets in Pinellas — and districts all over Florida — depends in large part on the Legislature.

Even with another big shot of federal stimulus money, lawmakers have been told to plan for an $800 million hole in next year's K-12 budget. And even if the state can keep per-pupil funding stable, districts still must plan for "the cliff" they face when the stimulus runs out next year.

Pinellas is expecting its cliff to be a $53 million drop.

In response to Ruechel's question about potential layoffs next year, Janssen said teachers would not be affected because of the class-size amendment. But when asked about support workers, Janssen said, "Yes, definitely."

"She answered that question honestly," said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of both the teachers union and the union for support workers. "That doesn't alarm me, (but) it will alarm my members. I will do my utmost to reassure them that I will fight to make sure their jobs are there."

District spokeswoman Andrea Zahn said there is no reason for alarm. Next year's budget is a moving target, and budget talks have barely begun. As it did last year, Zahn said, the district would look at all options before cutting workers, including attrition and furloughs.

"Does that mean somebody's going to lose their job?" she said. ''That's not what Dr. Janssen intended (to say)."

The class-size amendment is another cloud.

This fall, districts must meet the amendment's requirements in every classroom, as opposed to the schoolwide average that must be met now.

Critics say the state has already spent $15.8 billion on the effort and that the final step will cost billions more for little benefit. Some lawmakers are gunning to put another amendment before voters in the fall that essentially freezes the caps at the school level.

Zahn said it's not clear how many teachers Pinellas might have to hire, but it could go as high as 500. A single new teacher costs Pinellas $50,300 in salary and benefits. So 200 new teachers would cost $10.6 million; 500 new teachers, $25.2 million.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

Pinellas school superintendent expects more budget cuts 02/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2010 10:22pm]
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