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No cut comes easy for Florida schools

Getting your household budget to balance these days is tough. Imagine the situation Florida schools are in. School boards are slashing budgets right and left to overcome multimillion-dollar shortfalls. They are making typical cuts — like salary caps and layoffs — but also getting creative with plans to use less air-conditioning and go to four-day school weeks.
Salary and job freezes

These are popular with school boards statewide. Locally, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties are talking about salary freezes. It's not so popular with teachers, though, who have staged protests. Many districts also aren't filling administrative positions, because they see that as a way to save money without harming classrooms. Pasco and Manatee counties are among that group.

Closing schools

Enrollment is declining, and districts can't always fill all the seats at some schools. To save the cost of busing, operations and salaries, many counties are shuttering schools (or considering it). They include Pinellas, Volusia, Escambia, Marion and Miami-Dade. In Pinellas, district officials estimate that closing three schools next year will save nearly $2-million.
Four-day school week

Hernando County schools are looking at this concept, as are Pasco County schools. It would be a way to save money in utilities and transportation costs. But officials like Pasco School Board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey have one simple question: What are parents supposed to do with their kids on Fridays?

Adjust the temperature

Many districts see thousands of dollars in potential savings by keeping schools a little warmer. Among them are Hillsborough, Pasco and Brevard. Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia has said just two degrees could generate about $500,000.

Changing start times

By reconfiguring bus routes and school start times, some districts expect to save millions. But the notion is controversial, drawing protests in Orange and Santa Rosa counties. Pinellas officials backed off the concept before the anger could fully erupt. Pinellas transportation officials said it actually would cost more and keep kids on buses longer.

And that's not all

There are other ideas that have gained some attention in a few districts, but they have yet to catch on statewide. Here's a glimpse at a few proposals and the counties considering them:

• Asking voters to increase school taxes: Alachua, Collier.

• Offering early retirement benefits: St. Lucie, Seminole.

• Eliminating reading coaches: Leon.

• Scaling back "specials" such as art and music: Lake.

No cut comes easy for Florida schools 06/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2008 3:57pm]

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