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Principals take closer look to find savings in their schools

LAND O'LAKES — The primary objective in Pasco County's school budget cutting efforts is to hold students and classrooms harmless.

"We are trying very hard to make sure that it doesn't affect them and they don't feel the crunches," said Hope Schooler, principal of Gulf Trace Elementary in Holiday. "We're going to find ways, whether we have the money or not, to make sure they get the best education."

Pasco principals have been instructed to cut 10 percent from their general operating budgets as part of the district's overall attempt to reduce spending by at least $16-million. It's the second year they have gone through such an exercise, as state revenue continues to fall, and it may not be the last.

But that 10 percent reduction, combined with a halving of the amount schools get from state lottery funds, can't help but impact students in some way, the school leaders acknowledged.

"It's going to be a tough year for everybody," said Chris Christoff, principal of Crews Lake Middle, which opens in Shady Hills in August.

Christoff noted that lottery funds, which are decreasing from $10 per student to $5, supported teacher research projects while he led Seven Springs Middle in Trinity. It also paid for materials that classrooms otherwise went without.

At Land O'Lakes High, the lottery funded Odyssey of the Mind, some extra classroom books, band expenses and more, principal Monica Ilse added.

"Teachers are great at cutting corners," Ilse said. But when they don't have the supplies they need, it can be tough to get creative, she suggested.

And those supplies are likely to be less plentiful in the coming year.

Photocopies and paper generally are on the cutting block for many schools, for instance. That means fewer handouts and less color printouts, more overheads and electronic documents, Sand Pine Elementary principal Ginny Yanson said.

"It really adds up to be a lot of money," said Yanson, adding that her Wesley Chapel-area school will stop sending printed newsletters home to parents unless they specifically ask for a paper version. "We're looking at a lot of things like that."

The school also is taking a closer than usual look at all the supplies it has in stock, to make sure it doesn't order anything it has enough of already.

Chris Dunning, principal of Paul R. Smith Middle in Holiday, said he's reviewing every detail, from how much wax gets used on the floors to whether the school can get by with fewer trash bags. Cutting classroom supplies will come as a last resort, he said, though he quickly added, "Parents need to realize this is affecting everybody."

Field trips aren't likely to get hit as hard as you might think, Rushe Middle principal Dave Estabrook said, as parents already pay fees to cover those. But other small items you might expect schools to cover could fall victim to the cuts.

For instance, Land O'Lakes High won't be paying for athletes' uniforms this year, Ilse said, and it is asking seniors to purchase their honors cords at graduation.

"We're going to be making more requests to parents for supplies, because the bottom line is the departments are not going to have as much money," Ilse said. The school also will be "looking at a school fundraiser to hopefully bring in funds to help with general supplies for the teachers."

That's because principals are hesitant to ask teachers, who face a pay freeze, to chip in more of their own money to buy things the schools don't provide. Gulf Trace principal Schooler said she had begun working with teachers to find ways to conduct different educational activities without spending extra money.

That could mean more collaborative teaching, so educators can share supplies and lesson plans, and bringing in outside experts such as speakers from the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa rather than hiring buses to take kids there.

"It's just thinking of things a little differently," Schooler said. "It requires more time, but it's not too frustrating."

The principals also are keeping in mind that parents are suffering the same economy as the schools and teachers. So they're trying to keep their supply lists mindful.

"We've got to really be sensitive to the parent population," Estabrook said. "Many of them are going through hard times too. So we are trying to be careful with the basic supply lists."

If some parents choose to provide more, they can. At Sand Pine, for instance, many parents pay a voluntary $12 supply fee to help the school keep up with needed items, including those for the children whose families can't afford more.

At the same time, Yanson said, the school's PTA will buy the recommended basic supplies in bulk, package them and sell them to parents at a lower price during open house.

Each school has special circumstances.

Some have well-off families that can afford the extra costs. Others have high concentrations of poor families that can't. Still others are growing, so their total budgets rise even as per-student funding shrinks.

One thing remains constant, though.

"We all have to scale back on what we're spending," Christoff said. "We have to be very cognizant that there are things we have to be frugal about."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Principals take closer look to find savings in their schools 07/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 10:28pm]
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