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Pasco County school district lays off nearly 500

DADE CITY — Mary Jordan's supervisor arrived at her Pasco Middle School office early Thursday morning.

Jordan, a first-year special education teacher, knew what was coming.

"She said, 'I've only ever dismissed people who weren't doing what they were supposed to be doing,' " said Jordan, 52, crying through her words. "I felt like it was as hard for her to say as it was for me to hear."

About 470 Pasco County school district employees heard similar messages throughout the day, as bosses delivered layoff notices as part of the district's budget cuts for 2011-12.

"This is very sad for our entire school family and these employees will be sorely missed," superintendent Heather Fiorentino wrote in an e-mail Thursday afternoon to all employees. "If by the end of the day today you have not been notified that you are being laid off, the District believes we have a position for you."

Earlier this week the School Board approved eliminating 513 positions to save about $29 million of a projected $55 million shortfall. The board is looking to furloughs and one-time revenue sources to cover the remainder.

Fiorentino had expected many jobs to be cut through resignations and retirements, but the majority came through dismissals based on seniority, certifications and related factors.

The layoffs included 249 employees on temporary service contracts, meaning they were hired to work this year with no promise of a job next year. Of those, 222 were teachers.

Another 66 instructors on regular contracts were dismissed, as were 55 district-level employees and six assistant principals. An additional 94 school-related employees — many of them instructional and media center assistants — lost their jobs, too.

Some teachers said they were filled with anxiety while awaiting the news. Others said their administrators began calling teachers to the office in twos shortly after the first bell.

Zephyrhills High School principal Steve Van Gorden said he had held conferences with more than half a dozen employees by 11 a.m. Some had newborns. Others were late career changers.

He had to look them in the eye and tell them they would be unemployed in the fall.

"It makes my stomach sick," Van Gorden said. "It's a horrible feeling."

The entire school will be affected by the moves, he added. Programs will have to change. Athletic coaches might be reassigned. New priorities will have to be set as the school does more with less.

And the changes aren't yet over, Van Gorden added, noting that the final budget — and therefore final employment figures — has yet to be set. He and other principals plan to meet today with their faculty and staff to talk over the situation.

The conversations will include a look at how schools will meet student needs while being short-handed, said Chris Dunning, principal at Paul R. Smith Middle School in Holiday. They'll also begin looking at what the schools might not be able to do at all.

"Obviously, we're not going to solve a lot of the issues," said Dunning, who didn't have many layoffs to report because his school had several teachers on temporary contracts already. "It will be a difficult meeting."

Jordan, who joined the district in August after her job at Saint Leo University was outsourced, expected the pink slip. She already had a second interview for a call center management position scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

"Even though I'm crying, I'm really excited," Jordan said, adding that she wasn't sure if she would be able to focus on her schoolwork for the rest of the day. "What I'm trying to do is stay focused on what I need to do for this interview with the other company."

Her boss offered a reference, saying Jordan had done a good job.

"But you feel like you didn't do a good job," Jordan said. "It's such a slap to be cut. That's how it feels even though that's not what is real."

Jordan said she worried for other employees losing their jobs who might not have plans in place, and also for the district and students who are losing important members of the educational team.

Her supervisor "said that she had more people to tell on my particular team" of staffing and compliance specialists, Jordan said. "That is shocking to me. We were stretched thin to begin with."

School Board member Alison Crumbley said the layoffs were nobody's preference. She attended an early morning SAC meeting at River Ridge High School, where she said the mood was "definitely solemn." Principal Maria Swanson left after 10 minutes to begin meeting with affected staff members.

"They were doing the layoffs today, and everybody knows that," Crumbley said. "It's not a happy time in the schools."

The atmosphere was so troubling, she said, that she had to leave the campus. Crumbley blamed lawmakers for putting the school system in a position where it has to cut $55 million in spending to make ends meet.

The Legislature approved an education budget that reduced per-student funding to its lowest level in six years.

"Was taking this much from our schools worth it?" she asked.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

Pasco County school district lays off nearly 500 05/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 8:55pm]
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