Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Education

Superintendent Stewart embraces Pinellas Education Foundation cost-cutting ideas

Pinellas County school superintendent John Stewart promised Wednesday to implement as many of the millions of dollars in cost-cutting ideas as possible from among those floated last week by a local group of business leaders.

"In my opinion," Stewart told a gathering of community leaders during an education symposium at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, "we would be foolish to gloss over this body of work that was so painstakingly prepared for us when every dollar saved could be potentially rerouted to benefit students and teachers in the district."

The symposium was sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation, a business-led nonprofit that last week released a 37-page report highlighting potential savings if the district made certain changes in transportation, energy, purchasing, construction, health insurance and maintenance.

Stewart said Wednesday that personal reasons forced him to miss the foundation's presentation last week to Pinellas School Board members.

The recommendations included moving to a self-funded medical insurance plan for employees, opening onsite medical clinics, subcontracting bus driving services to a private firm, raising building thermostat settings by three degrees, purchasing items in concert with other agencies and addressing facilities needs through renovations rather than new construction.

Stewart, whose term as schools chief ends in December, said he's asked the district's department heads to consider every idea.

"No recommendation will be dismissed simply because it may be difficult to implement," Stewart said. "In a time of dwindling educational resources, in spite of the Legislature's $1 billion funding boost, we need to seriously reflect on every opportunity to save the taxpayers dollars."

Pinellas schools have a $1.3 billion budget, 101,000 students and 17,000 employees. And while Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign a state budget that includes $1 billion more for public schools compared with last year, Stewart said the district is still poised to trim $5 million this year to offset deep cuts from years past.

Though the proposed 2002-13 budget would raise education funding by about $150 per pupil, Pinellas school funding last year was cut by $585 per student, Stewart said.

"We're still talking about having to reduce, not add," he said.

The Pinellas Education Foundation rounded up about 32 volunteer business leaders to pore over the district's finances. Though many of the suggestions have been talked about by the district staff in the past, Stewart said, it is valuable to have a third party weigh in.

The heads of four unions representing school district employees on Tuesday wrote a one-page letter to Stewart and board members explaining that they have long supported — and encouraged — many of the cost-savings measures the foundation leaders suggested in the areas of health benefits, including opening health clinics and moving to a self-insured plan.

Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Kim Black said she welcomes many of the foundation's recommendations, but felt that some of the same ideas met with resistance in the past.

"If that has happened," School Board chairwoman Robin Wikle said, "it's before my time. ... That, to me, is a positive because it's something I want to explore."

Craig Sher, chairman of the Pinellas Education Foundation, said he was heartened by Stewart's willingness to quickly move forward on the foundation's suggestions. He said he'd like to have a representative at every School Board meeting to ensure follow-through. He also encouraged other government agencies to similarly welcome the scrutiny of business leaders with expertise in cutting spending.

"There's lots of ways to advocate for children," Sher said, "and this is just one."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

Comments
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

University of Central Florida Greeks won’t hold social events, serve alcohol for 6 weeks this spring

ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won’t host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the pa...
Published: 12/08/17
Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Disturbed by stories about the rape of teens by supervisory staff, a pandemic of sometimes savage force, brutal beatdowns ordered by youth care workers and policies that permit the hiring of violent offenders, Miami-Dade’s state attorney wants to kno...
Published: 12/07/17
Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Henderson: Some basic facts about Hillsborough’s teacher pay imbroglio

Hillsborough County’s public school teachers are horn-honking, voice-raising, sign-waving, foot-stomping mad, and I can’t blame them. They are paying for a problem they didn’t create. About one-third of the workforce was expecting to receive a $4,000...
Published: 12/07/17
In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

In Watershed Ambassadors Program, Pasco students learn about natural Florida

SPRING HILL — On a small wooden dock at the Cross Bar Ranch, Cynthia Brinker gingerly pokes through the trappings in her fishing net, plucking out a tiny creature to examine close up. "What the heck is this?" the Weightman Middle School studen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

Crognale named 2018 Hernando Principal of the Year

BROOKSVILLE — For just a year and a half, Steve Crognale has been the principal at the Endeavor and Discovery Academies. But now, he’s been named the Hernando School District Principal of the Year for 2018. Endeavor serves students, most of them hig...
Published: 12/06/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey is skilled at calming first-day-of-school jitters. But this school year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every weekday with a knot in her stomach.It’s been there ever since th...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

Why do universities handle sexual assault cases, anyway?

News stories about campus sexual assault often get the question, "Why do schools handle these cases, anyway?"Readers often wonder how universities got tasked with handling these convoluted cases in the first place. Where, they ask, do the police come...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/11/17
Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

Hillsborough teachers keep the heat on after $92 bonus offer

TAMPA — The second Hillsborough County School Board meeting in less than a month took place Tuesday against a backdrop of honking car horns, cheering teachers and audience members moving through the room in shifts.Dressed in blue union-issued T-shirt...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17