How would you cut the Pinellas school system budget to address a $43-million shortfall?
By the end of the week, suggestions were pouring into the School Board office from district employees and members of the public:
• Instead of cutting pay by 2 percent and more, as proposed last week by superintendent Clayton Wilcox, make employees pay higher health insurance premiums.
• Go to a four-day school week to save on fuel and energy costs.
• Hold off on buying textbooks and computers.
• Reduce the district's busing obligations to families not in a "close to home" school.
• Offer any employee a year off for any reason.
School Board members are listening and trying to come up with their own ideas as they brace for a budget debate that could last weeks.
The problem is that 85 percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits. If the district cut the power at every school and bought no new supplies for a year, it still wouldn't fill the hole in the 2008-09 budget.
"Everything we do has to touch people," Wilcox said, referring to the cutting process. "There's no way around that."
Because of turnover, the district thinks it can find jobs for many employees whose positions are being eliminated.
Officials also are thinking about the next two to four years, which look to be just as grim.
A worsening economy and the property tax reforms approved by voters in January have reduced tax collections and created a crisis in many Florida districts. But Pinellas is hurting more because it is also losing students.
In the past five years, declining enrollment has reduced Pinellas' annual state revenue by $40-million. Officials say the system must shrink itself to match conditions.
| Proposed strategies
Below is a detailed look at how, as of Friday, school officials proposed to cut the budget.
|Reduce pay for about 14,000 employees by 2 percent||$11-million|
|Return 104 "resource" and "special assignment" teachers to classrooms, reducing the need to fill teacher vacancies||$5,405,920|
|Assorted reassignments and job cuts in more than 40 departments affecting about 90 employees, including clerks, secretaries, supervisors||$4,361,747|
|Cancel contract with private company that operates Oak Park School in Pinellas Park||$4,263,257|
|Reduce work day from 8 hours to 7.5 hours for 1,982 employees, mostly maintenance workers, bus drivers and school police officers. Translates to a wage cut of between 3.1 and 6.25 percent||$4,111,833|
|Close three schools: Largo Central and South Ward elementaries and Riviera Middle||$2,968,536|
|Cancel planned expansion of school nurse program||$2,500,000|
|Reduce number of middle and high school assistant principals. Many will return to teaching. (Eliminates 27 jobs)||$1,892,920|
|Close Norwood and North Pinellas secondary schools. Move them to Oak Park School, consolidating "alternative" programs for kids with behavior and academic problems. (Eliminates 29 jobs)||$1,386,893|
|Middle and high schools no longer have assigned maintenance workers. District creates two "maintenance tech response teams" to respond regionally to problems. (Eliminates 30 jobs)||$1,369,381|
|Realign staff that handles disabled or "exceptional" students. (Assigns 28 staffers to other jobs; eliminates 18 jobs)||$931,000|
|Cancel contracts with social welfare agencies for "intervention" programs that provide counseling and academic support to reduce suspensions||$806,114|
|Eliminate "Kaplan Planner," an online aid to help teachers plan lessons||$800,000|
|District declines to rehire employees who in past years were allowed to keep working after retiring under a special state program||$620,676|
|Eliminate two Family Education and Information Centers, where families signed up for schools under the old choice plan. (Eliminates 10 jobs)||$430,932|
|Reduce staff in Research and Accountability office, responsible for tracking academic data and evaluating programs. (Eliminates five jobs)||$363,551|
|Reduce clerical staff in curriculum department. (Eliminates 10 jobs)||$330,000|
|Reduce staff in Office of Professional Standards, which investigates complaints against teachers and other employees. (Eliminates three jobs)||$275,573|
|Reduce staff at district television station. (Eliminates three jobs)||$114,687|