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Schools to face severe cutbacks

Pasco County School Board members got their first detailed peek Tuesday at the budget cuts they can expect next school year. It wasn't a pretty sight.

The cutbacks proposed by Superintendent Tom Weightman are sure to inconvenience most of the district's teachers, administrators, employees, students and parents.

We have very serious problems this year," Weightman said, as he presented the budget information to the board. "It's probably the worst I have ever seen."

These are among the cuts Weightman has proposed to contend with the $8.3-million shortfall, which has been caused mostly by shortages in state funding:

All sports teams, except varsity football, would play fewer games or participate in fewer tournaments. For instance, varsity baseball teams would be allowed to play in one tournament next year rather than the two tournaments they are allowed this year. The hardest hit would be the ninth-grade basketball teams, which would be allowed to play 12 games rather than 16. Jim Davis, supervisor of athletics for Pasco schools, said that by saving on the costs of transportation and game officials, the district might save $15,000.

School lunch prices would increase for all grade levels for the first time in three years. Acting food service supervisor Rick Kurtz said the amount of the recommended increase hasn't been determined. It's been three years since the elementary and high school lunch prices have been increased.

Administrators would not get raises next year.

Four assistant principal positions would not be filled.

The contract with the lobbyist for the school district would not be renewed.

The hiring freeze would continue.

Just before Weightman made his budget presentation, Board Chairwoman Janet Tolar said she thought it might be a good idea to eliminate ninth-grade sports teams as one way of cutting back.

"That depends on who you are," Weightman said with a weary smile. The superintendent lamented that the biggest problem in making millions of dollars in budget cuts is that most of the cutbacks seem like good ideas _ except to the people most affected.

The School Board was not asked to vote on the superintendent's recommendations Tuesday. But school officials now are building the budget for next fiscal year with the cutbacks in mind.

The president of the union that represents Pasco school employees had some cutback proposals of his own that he shared with the School Board on Tuesday. Union president Steve Dubendorfer said he would like the board to consider the suggestions, but he acknowledged that not all of them would be possible or cost-effective.

Dubendorfer suggested that the board consider using administrators as substitute teachers, observe the two-mile limit for bus transportation, reduce administrators' and board members' salaries by 10 percent and charge out-of-state students an enrollment fee.

Assistant Superintendent Chuck Rushe explained to the School Board that even if the district adopts all the cuts recommended Tuesday, the school system still would be about $3.5-million in the hole if the district planned to operate at the same level as last year and paid the increased costs of benefits.

The remaining cuts would have to come out of the largest portion of the budget _ employee salaries and benefits. Any such cuts would have to be agreed upon in negotiations.

After the meeting Tuesday, the School Board went into an executive session _ a private meeting to discuss strategy for the negotiations with the employees' union.

In referring earlier in the day to the session, Weightman said: "It's going to be a step backward as far as what we've been able to do in the past. There are some employees that will be hurt."