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Schools face $40-million more in budget cuts

Pinellas teachers, already coping with overcrowded classrooms and a lack of supplies and textbooks, got another gloomy financial forecast from School Superintendent Howard Hinesley.

At a meeting with about 100 teachers at Largo High School on Wednesday evening, Hinesley said he will announce next week his plans for cutting up to another $40-million from the 1992-1993 school district budget.

That's how much the school district will be short unless the state Legislature comes up with more money this spring.

Since becoming superintendent in October 1990, Hinesley said he already has had to cut $23.1-million, or about 5 percent, from his operating budget. In the meantime, "as you know, we've grown by 6,000 to 7,000 students," Hinesley said.

"Now, we have no choice but to make some very difficult decisions."

The teachers, from schools in the mid-county area, asked Hinesley to protect special programs such as elementary music, foreign language, art, string music and school-based volunteer coordinators.

Hinesley was making no promises.

He did say he would:

Do as much as possible to maintain the pupil/teacher ratio in each school.

Try not to lay off any teachers.

Make a decision that would have the least impact on the students.

"I'm committed to equality," Hinesley said. "The budget review has to include every program. All will be reviewed before a decision is made."

Here are some other questions and answers explored at the meeting.

Q. Is it wise to spend money to keep students with severe behavior problems in school, including students who have been expelled?

A. The state requires that students who have been expelled be offered an alternative type of education. The state spends a greater portion of school dollars to give these students a second chance to be successful.

Q. Why do we have to purchase new math textbooks?

A. It is a state requirement. It usually costs less to buy sets of new textbooks than to buy a few textbooks that are outdated. The cost on outdated textbooks goes up.

Q. Can we come up with some type of support system for teachers who may lose their jobs or who might be forced to take on new responsibilities for which they might not be properly trained?

A. That would come through a Wellness Program, which was cut from the budget two years ago because of lack of money.

Q. Will administrative positions be among the cutbacks when new proposals for budget reductions are made?

A. Yes.

Q. How about requiring students who take driver's education to pay for the class?

A. Traditionally, legislators and school officials think a public education should be free.

Hinesley told the teachers that School Board members would have the final say on budget cuts.

"But they're not the enemy, either," Hinesley said. "They have been struggling very hard" with all cost-saving recommendations.

He said the real problem "is occurring because of the present tax structure. At this point, no one is addressing that."

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