Think the school budget crisis is tough now? Just wait until next year. Imagine the school district firing all 1,103 teachers in its middle schools. Or imagine each class having nine more students and, as a result, 1,065 teachers losing their jobs. Or imagine the school year being cut by almost four weeks.
The school system isn't saying it is going to do any of those things.
But unless there is a major upswing in the economy or a realignment of financing from the state, the district would need to raise the amount any one of those options would generate _ almost $42-million _ to keep schools running the way they are now. That's according to Pinellas Superintendent Howard Hinesley at a meeting Thursday of nearly 400 legislators, parents, teachers and administrators.
"We're living on our savings accounts this year. We have no savings account" for next year, Hinesley said.
The district coped with more than $27-million in cuts the past year by hiring long-term substitutes instead of permanent teachers, by cutting administration, by delaying book and equipment purchases and using its savings.
The projected $41.6-million shortfall for next year comes because of a projected increase in students, because of increased costs for retirement and Social Security, because school savings _ now used to keep some programs from being axed _ will be gone, and because some former state revenue sources have been eliminated.
Schools are going to have to make some hard decisions about what they can afford to provide, Hinesley said.
"Forty-one million dollars is a lot of money. You can't pass along the entire burden by cutting administration and raising teacher-pupil ratios," he said. "This community is going to have to decide what is the definition of essential education."
The School Board had planned to decide in November whether to eliminate one class period from the high school schedule and whether to make some cuts in the middle school curriculum. Because of the projection of a $41.6-million shortfall, the decision has been delayed until January to give more time for public comment.
"We're going to have to look very hard at whether we can continue to provide the things we consider extras," he said.
In making its budget projections, the school district assumed:
The state will give the district no more money per student then it did this year.
The district will have 2,500 new students. The district has more than 2,700 new students this year.
Lottery revenue will be equal to this year's.
Inflation will fall within the state projection.
The money the state cut this year will not be restored.
No employee will get a salary increase.
Hinesley made his remarks Thursday before a record crowd at the annual Pinellas Legislative Delegation Breakfast at Osceola Middle School.
Hinesley, his staff and PTA representatives told the delegation that the Legislature can help in ways that go beyond giving the schools more money directly.
Under state law, the district must contract with cities for garbage pick-up, for example, even though the district thinks it could save $750,000 by negotiating its own garbage pick-up.
The district wants to be exempt from stormwater runoff impact fees imposed on new construction. That would save about $1-million a year.
The district also needs flexibility with the money it does get, Hinesley said. For example, the district received about $1-million to buy some vocational equipment it didn't need. It asked the state whether it could use the money to help offset the budget cuts instead. Initially, the answer was no.
After board members appealed the decision to Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay last week, the state Department of Education changed its mind. That money now has been put in savings.
"We're looking for more flexibility," Hinesley said. If school officials had more flexibility to spend state money, they might have avoided laying off 122 long-term substitutes.
Ilona Siegel of the Pinellas County Council of PTAs called on the Legislature to find "permanent and unwavering sources of funding for education." One way, she said, would be to do away with the exemptions from the sales tax.
"You've told us you are behind us 100 percent," she said. "We look forward to seeing you not behind us, but in front of us. We're looking for you to lead us to better days in Florida."
School cuts: The next wave
Pinellas schools could enter next year with a $41.6-million deficit, school officials say. Some theoretical ways to cut, according to Supt. Howard Hinesley:
Increase all classes by nine students: $41-million.
Eliminate all central administration, all principals and assistant principals: $28.7-million.
Eliminate all extra-curricular activities: $300,000.
Eliminate all sports: $1.5-million.
Shorten school year by 18 days: $41-million.
Cut every district employee's pay by 10 percent: $40-million.
Eliminate all teachers in grades 1 through 3: $36.8-million.
Eliminate all middle school teachers (except those in special education): $42.6-million.
Eliminate all student transportation: $13.4-million.
Eliminate one class period in middle and high schools: $11.5-million.