LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County school principals got the call late Tuesday: Some of them would be losing teachers and instructional assistants because their enrollment didn't meet projections.
By Wednesday, as the principals began meeting with their staff members, word began to leak out. But as in the children's game of "telephone," the message got garbled.
Before long, the rumor was spreading that 20 people were getting laid off, just days after the School Board approved a budget that didn't include raises specifically to ensure that everyone could keep their jobs.
Just one problem. The rumor wasn't true.
"We believe we have places for all teachers and all assistants," assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said Wednesday.
The district froze all vacant positions early in the school year as officials saw it becoming increasingly unlikely that the schools would have as many students as expected. As a result, it had 31 elementary level teaching openings as of Wednesday, six middle school slots and 16 high school jobs.
Low student counts at some schools made it necessary to transfer 15 elementary teachers, five middle school teachers and six high school teachers.
"We are doing everything we can to transfer these people" to existing jobs, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
The district has enough positions for the 15 instructional assistants that some schools also must shed, Reilly said. Officials are keeping their eyes on another 11 assistant slots that might need to be cut later, too.
Some might have to take jobs farther from home, or outside the classroom, but the district is working to avoid a "reduction in force."
"No one will be laid off at this point," Fiorentino said.
She added that she couldn't know how long the district can go without layoffs, though, as the state government continues to paint an increasingly bleak picture of the economy. Last week, superintendents got word that an expected 2 percent reduction in state funding — about $4-million in Pasco — could become a 3.5 percent reduction by December.
Combined with other expected shortfalls, the district could end facing an additional $12-million in cuts by early 2009.
Fiorentino and chief financial officer Olga Swinson said they're looking into ways to make the budget work if and when that revenue shortfall comes to pass, but they had no concrete recommendations at this time.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.