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Teachers urge Pasco School Board to shelve furloughs, consider raises

LAND O'LAKES — About two dozen Pasco County teachers, representing hundreds more, urged the School Board on Tuesday to reconsider its 2012-13 budget to include raises and eliminate furlough days.

"Teachers are losing their homes. SRP's are making hardly any money at all," Pasco High teacher Christina Page told the board, referring to school-related personnel. "We're working harder and harder. We do it because we love it. Please, if you can, you have to find a way not to give us furlough days. We need some way for our morale to go up again. It's so, so low."

She and others noted that employees have not received raises for five years.

It's not that they don't comprehend that the district is dealing with tighter budgets, Land O'Lakes High teacher Pat Connolly said. School employees have been dealing with that reality for years.

"What we don't understand is why the budget is always being balanced on our backs, especially when we see waste … and we see our cost-saving proposals being ignored," Connolly said.

Board members said they would try to improve the budget as the economy allows. The budget is, after all, a work in progress, vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said.

"As we can do better, we will," she said.

But only board member Steve Luikart voted against the spending plan Tuesday evening. He said he wasn't convinced that the administration did all it could to reduce spending in areas that don't affect students and the classroom.

He referred to reports from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the district's four-day school week task force, and said they each recommended areas for finding efficiencies.

"I do not feel the district has taken these recommendations seriously," Luikart said. "I do not feel this budget is in the best interest of the students."

In balancing its budget, the board spent months reviewing how it would trim $24.7 million from its general spending plan to cope with expected revenue shortfalls.

The district expected lower tax receipts in part because of decreasing property values, while it also expected higher personnel costs as it aimed to meet class-size rules to avoid the bulk of a $4 million fine.

Some of the moves the board took included imposing employee furloughs; eliminating some jobs and reducing the hours of others; and moving some nonrecurring funds into the general budget, with the caveat that the money will not be available again next year.

Overall, the board approved a $1 billion spending plan, down 2 1/2 percent from last year.

The owner of a $125,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $734.10 in school taxes, under the proposed new tax rate of $7.341 per $1,000 of taxable value. That's down $30.30 from a year earlier.

Only one person spoke at the board's first public hearing in August.

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

Teachers urge Pasco School Board to shelve furloughs, consider raises 09/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 8:04pm]
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