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School Board plan to offer early retirement buyouts stalls

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board had hoped to offer early retirement buyouts to hundreds of employees by now.

Board members expected the potential savings — intially pegged at $4-million — to fill a significant hole in a projected $28-million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1.

But one month after teachers and most other workers began their summer break, the district has yet to come up with a plan that's acceptable to its review committee.

"We're working on it," said board member Frank Parker, who sits on the committee. "The first sets of numbers we looked at were not very good."

The committee is scheduled to meet again next week with a new set of figures attached to the various options. The key remains the bottom line savings that the district might realize if it moves ahead.

"If we don't have anything that is promising this time, I don't know what we'll do," Parker said.

The uncertainty and the delay has far-reaching ramifications for the budget and for employees. If the savings aren't there, the board will have to find as much as $4-million in spending to cut elsewhere in its general operations.

Until the pieces fall into place for the new budget year, negotiators for the employees can't know how much money is available for salaries, benefits and other key aspects of their contracts. Questions such as whether furloughs are required can't be answered without this information.

"We need to be able to know exactly how much money is out there," said Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco. "This is extremely frustrating."

At the same time, close to 400 possibly eligible employees don't know whether they will be retiring or heading back to work in a month. They would still be able to take advantage of the program if it becomes available during the school year, but a mid-year departure could affect students.

District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli acknowledged the difficulties that a late plan rollout has caused. She noted that the district would be making a 20-year investment if it offers a new early retirement option, one that could cost anywhere from $3-million to $29-million depending on the scope of the offer.

"It's important to have accurate information," Romagnoli said.

Until that time, though, the board cannot act. That makes it more than likely that its first budget public hearing on July 27 will be based on a set of facts that will change before the final public hearing in September, vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley said.

"There's always something that comes up," Hurley said. "You just need to be prepared."

She said she already has asked the district's finance team to make sure that all the board's other proposed cuts still are projected to meet or exceed the expected savings amount. She also stressed the importance of making sure the public understands the full ramifications of implementing the class size amendment, which is up for consideration on the November ballot.

If unchanged, the amendment would require the district to spend about $13-million to have enough teachers.

At the same time, Hurley said, even some of the cutting ideas that haven't won board support have to come back to the table.

"We're back to looking at everything," she said. "We'll have to look at every single one of these proposals and say, 'Can we get a little bit more?' "

The board is scheduled to have a budget workshop at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday before its regularly scheduled meeting, where it is set to decide whether to increase the local property tax rate by 0.25 mills to support general operations.

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

School Board plan to offer early retirement buyouts stalls 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 8:52pm]
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