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Fast facts | Pasco schools and budget

Schools losing ground in next year's budget

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School District stands to receive about $2.7-million more in its general operating budget for next year, thanks largely to Pasco County taxpayers.

But district officials say that amount won't be enough to offset rising costs and increasing enrollment.

In setting its education spending plan for 2008-09, Florida lawmakers have proposed decreasing the state's base funding for Pasco schools by more than $5-million. The district would lose $107.22, or 1.51 percent, per student. The cut would be worse if not for the county's projected enrollment increase of 1,368 students.

Pasco is one of a handful of districts expected to grow next year.

When you throw in funding for other items, such as transportation and instructional materials, the state's support for Pasco schools dips even further — despite a $5.2-million hike in money for class-size reduction. The state's total contribution to the district this year was $318.8-million. Its budgeted amount for next year is $306.6-million.

Meanwhile, the Legislature says Pasco property taxpayers would have to pony up $141.5-million, up from $135.02-million. That translates into a tax rate of $4.872 per $1,000 of taxable value, up from $4.781.

The total depends upon a tax roll of $30.6-billion, up from $29.7-billion. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino has questioned whether that new figure reflects reality.

Property Appraiser Mike Wells said he isn't ready to talk about the county's taxable value yet, as his staff is still reviewing property values.

Whatever the bottom line, Fiorentino said, the district is going to have to do "a lot more with less."

The district is opening two new schools next year, and the initial overhead cost to do that alone is about $3-million per school. That doesn't account for the recurring cost of hiring new teachers.

Fiorentino has her finance team reviewing the potential for savings in a variety of budget moves, ranging from reduced employee benefits to elimination of some sports and other extracurricular activities. Every expense is under scrutiny.

Surrounding districts, where the losses are worse because they do not have increasing enrollment, already have announced some of their planned cuts. Hillsborough leaders have discussed cutting district-level jobs, turning up thermostats by 2 degrees and privatizing some services.

Pinellas superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Tuesday he expected to cut employee salaries by 2 percent, eliminate 147 jobs and freeze travel.

Fiorentino has not made specific recommendations yet. She has asked teachers to delay their annual raises based on years of service, but they have refused.

"We're not going to lose focus of our mission," Fiorentino said, stressing the importance of spending in the classroom. She would not elaborate.

School Board members have said they prefer not to eliminate jobs if possible.

The board is scheduled to meet May 20 to set budget priorities.

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.

One of just a few districts expected to grow next year. >> $107.22
Funding loss per student.
>> 1,368 students Projected enrollment increase.
>> $5-million
Proposed decrease in state's base funding.
>> $306.6-million
The state's budgeted amount for next year, compared to $318.8-million this year.
>> $141.5-million
What property taxpayers would have to pay, up from $135.02-million this year.

Schools losing ground in next year's budget 04/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 2:28pm]

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