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Mandatory education cuts will yield less learning

They should change the decorations in a third-floor conference room at the Pasco school headquarters in Land O'Lakes. Three separate wall hangings depict images of U.S. currency.

If only cash could be plucked from the walls. Instead, these are the expectations for the public school district: Provide the same services to more kids with fewer dollars.

Make those unrealistic expectations.

Thirty-two million dollars in federal stimulus money is evaporating. That's 620 jobs about to lose their funding.

Amid the tea party anger in November, voters turned down a quarter-mil (25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value) That's $5.5 million gone.

With state permission, the district balanced its budget this year with one-time revenue — capital money paid the $4 million insurance premiums and the School Board passed on some textbook purchases and used the money elsewhere. It's a strategy that can't be repeated because that pot of money is no longer there to tap.

The district also won't be getting as much aid as the Legislature said because Tallahassee calculated a growth rate of 684 new students. Nope. Actual enrollment is off 195 from a year ago to just fewer than 66,000 students.

Still, that is 400 more than four years ago when the per-pupil funding from Tallahassee started to tank. The district now receives $540 less per student, $11 million total, than it did at the start of the 2007 school year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal also could take $12 million from the Pasco district.

Let's get to work? Maybe for the people processing unemployment insurance claims.

Trimming the fat isn't likely in a budget that has been dieting for years. It's easy to say cut the administration, but Department of Eduction statistics for the 2008-09 school year rank Pasco first in the state in the percentage of general revenue spent at schools (almost 97.6 percent). District administration/overhead accounted for just 2.44 percent, the smallest percentage of any of the 67 public school districts in Florida.

Tapping the reserve accounts isn't going to happen either. The district's past bond issues require it to keep a 5 percent fund balance and it also must have two weeks' payroll on hand ($16 million) in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster.

What's it all mean? Come this summer, the district, in round figures, could be trying to cut $60 million in expenses from a budget that spends 86 percent of its money on personnel. In other words, massive layoffs. The district could be letting go as many as 800 employees or roughly 8 percent of its 9,900-person staff.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino won't talk specifics other than to say everything is on the table when it comes to considering cuts. She and her staff make the recommendations. The final decision rests with the School Board. Here are a few possibilities:

Three hundred teaching slots could be eliminated if the district and union agree that middle and high school faculty will teach six periods each day, instead of five. The School Board declined this option a year ago, but may not have a choice this time around.

Elementary school music and art teachers could be gone with the workload shifted to the regular classroom teachers.

Ditto reading coaches.

Some coaching supplements could be eliminated because some sports could go by the wayside.

Under one scenario, the middle and high school schedules could be rewritten to squeeze seven periods, up from six, into the school day. That provides a planning period for teachers but means time in each classroom for the students.

As for the faculty, well, Florida being ranked 47th in the nation in teacher pay hasn't gone unnoticed. Expect more proposals for salary cuts, givebacks or furloughs. Meanwhile, Scott wants school employees to absorb a mandatory 5 percent contribution toward their own retirement without a raise in wages. Being ranked dead last of the 50 states shouldn't be an aspiration.

There also is the lingering fallout from meeting class-size requirements. It translated to fewer choices on school attendance and bouncing some kids from popular and highly desirable advanced placement and honors classes. So much for challenging the best and the brightest.

In case you lost track, the recap shows fewer jobs. Smaller wages to circulate within the Pasco economy. More work for teachers. Shorter class time for children. Fewer extra curricular activities. Reduced opportunities for enrichment.

And, sadly, an inescapable expectation no matter what the School Board decides: Less learning.

Mandatory education cuts will yield less learning 02/26/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 6:29pm]

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