Friday, January 19, 2018
Education

Browning announces new plan to cut 175 Pasco schools jobs

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning is taking another stab at cutting close to $5 million from next year's budget by changing the staffing in school libraries.

Browning told media specialists and information technology specialists late Thursday he would recommend eliminating their jobs, along with literacy coaches — 175 positions in all.

They could transfer into classroom teaching spots or apply for one of about 80 new school-based super-specialist jobs that would merge the media, literacy and technology roles into one.

The plan also calls for full-time media assistants in each school, and a squad of roving technicians charged with maintaining technology equipment.

It replaces a proposal to replace school-based media specialists and literacy coaches with 30 of the new super-specialists assigned to regions. The School Board on Tuesday asked Browning for a different idea amid heavy criticism.

"The board didn't like it because schools did not have a full-time person to provide support," assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said. "This new way gives each school a full-time person."

If approved, Browning's idea would take the district closer to its goal of slashing $19.5 million without dipping into reserves. After years of borrowing from itself to cover deficits, the board agreed with Browning that the time had come to stop "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

He would still need to find another $5 million to balance the budget. Already, the board approved Browning's proposals to reduce almost 100 teaching positions, even if it means failing to meet class size rules, as well as his plan to cut back some administrative positions in adult education and at the district office.

The board also aims to find savings in the temporary closures of Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools, and in closer scrutiny of worker compensation claims.

Board member Steve Luikart said he supported an energy conservation program that Browning presented Tuesday. The program is projected to save $2 million in its first year.

A retired assistant principal, he didn't like Browning's suggestion that schools might reduce their assistant principal ranks.

Board member Allen Altman noted that, with so much money tied up in pay and benefits, it was "obvious" that some employee reductions will happen.

"I don't think anybody would disagree with the employees that their jobs are important," Altman said. "At the point we are at, there are going to be reductions that will upset staff and students. I don't see any way around that."

He said he would back savings in areas such as transportation, energy and insurance. He was not optimistic about raises at the same time jobs are being cut.

"There are lots of things both the superintendent and board want to do and wish that we could do, that mandates will force us to pass on and not be able to do," Altman said.

Larson added she would never recommend having teachers instruct all six periods in a school day without any downtime.

"That would be the worst thing for kids and teachers," she said.

Most everything else is up for consideration.

That includes the latest proposal for the media centers, which Larson acknowledged wouldn't be popular on all fronts. It would, however, resolve a budget concern while improving instruction, she contended.

School Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said the redefined specialist jobs met her concerns with the original plan.

"You're still going to have the qualified skill sets in the schools," she said. "It only makes sense to look at it now."

Browning plans to bring his budget plan to the board May 7.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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