Sunday, May 27, 2018
Education

Pasco schools union leader suggests reassigning teachers

LAND O'LAKES — The leader of the school employees' union offered a big idea Thursday to help the district with its budget woes:

Put more teachers back in the classroom.

The Pasco County School District has about 300 certified teachers who are not assigned to instruct students in classrooms. They provide staff training or handle administrative duties, some of which are required by state and federal laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

But Lynne Webb, the president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said the district should fully evaluate each job to determine whether some of those teachers are better used in the classroom.

"A great many of those could be converted," Webb told the district's staff budget committee, which she co-chairs along with superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

The Pasco school district is grappling with ways to address its projected $25.6 million shortfall for the upcoming year. One big-ticket item is a $4 million fine for failing to comply with class-size requirements. The district can reduce the fine to $1 million, but only if it meets the class-size mandate in October.

That means more teachers.

The School Board's plan calls for hiring 126 new classroom teachers, at a cost of about $6.4 million.

"We believe the class-size reduction could be handled almost entirely internally through transfers and reallocations of positions," Webb told the staff budget committee on Thursday.

Fiorentino said she would have her staff look at the positions to see what the district can legally do.

Continuing along the same path, Webb then recommended that the district's secondary school principals begin surveying their teachers to see who might be willing to voluntarily teach a sixth period each day. Doing so would eliminate their planning period, but pay a stipend equal to one-fifth of their salary.

School Board members in the past have talked about trying to negotiate a contract to have middle and high school teachers instruct six periods a day, as a way to save an estimated $12 million.

Webb has rejected the idea in the past, and continued to turn up her nose at the thought until every other potential cost saving is either put in place or eliminated as not viable. But getting teachers who are willing to volunteer their time should be a priority as schools plan, she said, so that principals might not have to hire additional people.

Wiregrass Ranch High principal Ray Bonti, who sits on the budget committee, said he already surveys his teachers at the end of each school year to see who might want a sixth period. He said he has about 25 on the list now.

Fiorentino said she would make sure all principals check with their staffs as early as practical, to make sure the district is not hiring unnecessarily.

Other ideas the committee discussed included energy savings by putting motion sensors on school lighting systems and transportation savings by further consolidating bus routes. Committee members also looked at possible revenue generating ideas, such as selling ads on the district website and on school display signs, and fundraising with concerts and district memorabilia.

Gary Allen, a River Ridge High teacher, cautioned against creating initiatives that either challenge schools in their fundraising efforts or make residents feel like they're being squeezed.

"We still have to serve the community and not have them think we're just trying to get in their pockets," Allen said. "There's a fine line between what's appropriate and what's not."

Fiorentino added that many of the revenue enhancement ideas would generate small amounts that would not make much of a dent in the district's multimillion-dollar anticipated deficit.

Still, she said, "There's no idea that is wrong. If you take a bunch of nickels and dimes, they add up."

She said staff would vet these and other ideas to see if they're legal and possible, and report back when the committee reconvenes.

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

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