It's a sign of the times that this could be good news: School employees in Pinellas County might not get pay cuts, after all.
A slim majority of the Pinellas County School Board moved Thursday toward embracing $28.3-million in proposed budget cuts that would stave off pay cuts and layoffs but reassign more than 500 staffers and hit employees with higher health insurance costs.
Three weeks ago, the district had proposed 2 percent cuts for 14,000 employees and scaling back work days for 2,000 more.
"It's huge at this point to go to no cuts," board member Jane Galluci said after a three-hour workshop.
Many details, though, remain unresolved, including the fate of 27 middle and high school assistant principals who some board members did not want to see reassigned. Meanwhile, the teachers union continues to push for deeper cuts in other areas so teachers can still get their annual step increases in pay.
"They can do it," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. "The question is, how much more pain do they want to inflict?"
"I'm just tickled that they got to zero," Moore also said.
The board will continue budget talks at another workshop Thursday.
Pinellas schools face the shortfall because of declining enrollment and a deteriorating economy that led this spring to the first statewide budget cuts to education in decades.
The proposed cuts offered Thursday included savings from a realignment of staff in the district's regional offices and a redesign of alternative programs for troubled students. The latter changes involve closing North Pinellas Secondary and Norwood Secondary and canceling the district's contract with the company that runs Oak Park school.
Several board members questioned the cuts, saying they needed more details and more time. Board member Linda Lerner also questioned the process, saying there wasn't enough communication with some department heads.
"I just want these people to be talked to," she said.
More tough choices lie ahead.
Among the items Moore would like to see on the table: a moratorium on teacher training; the postponement of some textbook adoptions; and shifting some of the voter-approved referendum money away from the purchase of new library books.
The board is also expected to discuss a seven-period day for high schools, something outgoing Superintendent Clayton Wilcox had recommended waiting on until the 2009-10 school year.
Said Galluci: "I don't think we have the luxury of having any sacred cows."