Monday, May 21, 2018
Editorials

School board should help find budget cuts

The Pasco School Board doubled Kurt Browning's workload this week, telling the superintendent to balance the upcoming budget without tapping reserves, other one-time revenue accounts or eliminating the 90 jobs held by media specialists and literacy coaches.

In essence, the board turned a projected $4.5 million shortfall into a $9.3 million deficit by refusing to act on Browning's controversial staffing recommendation to send 33 reading coaches back to the classroom and morph media specialist positions into a new job combined with information technology.

By doing so, board members failed to demonstrate any semblance of leadership beyond the politically popular choice of protecting a highly vocal vested interest. Nobody publicly offered the superintendent any suggestions on alternative cuts.

Cutting $9.3 million, incidentally, is the equivalent of laying off more than 170 teachers. That idea isn't on the table, but, without an influx of state dollars, the board will be asked to consider a variation of the plan to combine media/information technology job descriptions. The board also may choose to revisit previously discarded alternatives of moving assistant principals from schools and other austerity measures. Over the past three years, the school board has examined but declined to act on cutting sports, music and art; requiring middle and high school educators to teach an extra class each day and moving to a four-day school week.

The school board is facing a $19.5 million gap in 2013-14 because it used one-time funds this year in a stop-gap measure to balance the budget, including money from reserves, capital construction and other accounts outside the general fund. Over the past six years, the district has confronted collective budget deficits of $161 million because of fluctuating state aid, falling property tax rolls and the expense of meeting class-size mandates in the Florida Constitution.

This year, the district plans to lose 171 jobs by consolidating staffs while two elementary schools are closed for remodeling; cutting personnel assigned to English as a Second Language (ESOL), adult and special education; and ignoring the class size amendment. That will bring a $213,000 state fine, but allow schools to reassign 74 teachers and forgo the $4 million cost of meeting the requirement this school year.

Combined, those and other measures total $10.2 million in reductions, leaving another $9.3 million for Browning to cut, apparently without any help from School Board members.

It's a glaring omission. The Pasco School Board frequently griped about its poor communication with Browning's predecessor. Now, board members must accept responsibility that communication works both ways and they must be willing to say more than "No.''

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