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Pasco schools reduce literacy coaches amid budget cuts

LAND O'LAKES — A dozen of the positions the Pasco school district created three years ago to enhance student reading instruction won't exist this coming fall.

School Board members, long resistant to cutting literacy coaches from the schools, gave in late Tuesday amid continued efforts to cut spending by $24.7 million. It wasn't their first choice.

"Literacy coaches are going to play a central role in helping teachers work through the process to understand the common core standards and implement them in the classroom. And literacy coaches help with student achievement," board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. "So that always was an area I had hoped we could leave alone."

But the district faces the reality of needing to hire more basic classroom teachers in order to meet state class-size requirements, while also having lost the federal stimulus funding that paid for the literacy coaches' salaries. High schools will be reducing elective offerings to move some teachers into core courses, assistant superintendent Tina Tiede said.

That alone would not generate enough savings, though. So the next step became dropping 12 secondary-level literacy coach jobs, and then sharing the positions that remain among schools.

The move, announced to middle and high school principals late Tuesday, would save about $700,000. After other planned actions, including furloughs, the board still seeks another $2.4 million in cuts.

"We had to make a compromise," board member Alison Crumbley said. "Financially, there was no other way to make it."

Nancy Bodnar has been a literacy coach at Fivay High School for two years. She was a reading teacher before that for six years.

Bodnar explained her job as working with teachers to help them improve their students' reading skills, offering different strategies that can work in a variety of circumstances. She took the news of the reductions as well as possible.

"I think that will make our jobs more challenging," Bodnar said. "But it will make what we do even more important."

Hurley had concerns that splitting literacy coaches among schools could have major negative effects on schools if not handled properly. She noted that elementary schools faced difficulties in maintaining services this past school year after they had their media and instructional technology specialist jobs cut in half, also for budget savings.

"It is less than ideal," Hurley said. "I hope that they've learned from the media specialists and tech specialists sharing jobs to work with the schools to come up with acceptable schedules and expectations."

Even with the reductions, the district expected that no current contracted employees would lose their jobs, spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said. The employee relations office worked throughout Wednesday to find open teaching spots for anyone displaced by the board's decision, she said.

Every contracted employee got a letter renewing their position for the coming year on Wednesday, the last work day of 2011-12, Romagnoli added.

But the letters carried a caveat, as in recent past years, that everything is dependent on adequate funding.

And board members made clear that job reductions are not over.

"There's going to be more," Crumbley said, stressing that district-level jobs also are on the line. The administration "made some suggestions preliminarily," she said. Based on her reading of fellow board members, though, "what they presented is not enough."

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.

Pasco schools reduce literacy coaches amid budget cuts 06/06/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 9:28pm]
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