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School cuts plan greeted by rage, quiet

As teachers, parents and administrators tried Friday to digest the massive staff cuts proposed for the Pinellas schools, the emotions ranged from outrage to apathy.

School administration offices reported few phone calls about the cuts, even though at least one legislator's office was swamped with calls.

School Superintendent Howard Hinesley this week announced a plan to cut 922 jobs to save $32-million.

School Board chairman Lee Benjamin said he visited schools Friday morning and found teachers and administrators "greatly frustrated and angered to be put in this position by the funding problem. I don't feel they hold the superintendent or the School Board responsible (but) I really find it painful to see so many people and lives affected by this."

"What I have heard and what I personally think is that it was carefully thought out and if people really study it they have to see .


. it was equitable as far as possible, not that that alleviates the pain."

Parents and teachers representatives seemed to think the cuts were equitable across the board.

Although some people were critical that more administrators should have been cut, others worried that administration cuts could harm children.

"I think that in the middle school, the loss of the assistant principal, even though it is very costly to have, is serious," said Pat Kiesylis, PTA president at Azalea Middle School in St. Petersburg. "That age bracket of students needs a lot of guidance and the assistant principal's role in all discipline matters and all types of guidance matters can make or break students."

The announcement of cuts has motivated some people to take action.

Two Dunedin woman, Roz Doherty and Iris Clabeaux, are organizing Mothers Against Cuts in Education in response.

Clabeaux said her daughter Holly didn't care about school until she got involved in volleyball. Clabeaux is worried, she said, that the cuts will take away elective courses that keep borderline students interested.

Doherty has six children in middle school and high school. She wants to rally in Tallahassee or whatever it takes to get more money for education. "I don't know why we can't fight for our children," she said.

Amanda Villmer, a freshman at Countryside High in Clearwater, said she is coordinating a campaign among her classmates to send petitions to Tallahassee. And she is encouraging her fellow students to wear black Tuesday to draw attention to the seriousness of the situation.

"It has to be presented that education should be top on the state's priority list, and it's plummeted to the bottom," she said. "How can we be the leaders of tomorrow if we don't have an education today?"

Laurie Ulbrich, president of the Pinellas County Council of PTAs, said she thinks Hinesley did a good job of spreading the cuts.

"He's cutting a lot of administrators, so I don't think people can criticize in saying he's cutting from the bottom. But it's not good. No one likes it."

She is concerned about teachers who might lose their jobs, about teacher morale and about good programs being undermined, she said.

Ilona Siegel, president of the PTA at Garrison-Jones Elementary in Dunedin, said she thinks parents still are trying to digest the recommendation to see what it will mean for their children.

"So many parents aren't really motivated unless it touches their own children," she said. "I'm worried this won't wake up enough parents and won't wake up enough legislators."

Siegel, Ulbrich and other PTA representatives spent several days in Tallahassee this week.

"Legislators are still saying they're getting the feeling people don't want new taxes," Ulbrich said. "We're saying we need tax reform now. We're trying to get the message to them that we're not going to support you if you don't support kids."

An aide to Rep. Douglas L. "Tim" Jamerson, D-St. Petersburg, said the only calls his office received Friday were from Pinellas County people who wanted to talk about the budget cuts.

Rep. R. Z. "Sandy" Safley, R-Clearwater, had received few calls about the budget cuts. "More of the calls I've had have been threatening us not to raise taxes," said Darlene Schueler, a Safley aide.