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Cost saving policy raises hackles

The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved an ambitious personnel restructuring plan designed to save more than $776,000 and which included some high-profile promotions and a controversial move toward privatization.

The 73-page proposal was approved unanimously after nearly two hours of discussion. The vote came despite objections regarding the timing of the promotions and the plan to hire private workers to do jobs being done by school employees.

"Contracting out is not going to work," said Connie Ramsey, president of the Hillsborough School Employees Federation, which represents non-instructional employees.

Under the plan, Superintendent Walter Sickles would hire private companies to do painting jobs that have been done by the district's painting crew. Sickles plans to retrain and reassign those painters, and he expects to save more than $218,000 in the move.

But the union, which has long opposed any moves toward privatization, contends that the district actually will lose money and will not be able to screen the private workers sent to work at school sites.

The leader of the teachers' union objected to the timing of plans to promote some administrators.

"In the past year we've had some real problems," said Terry Wilson, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. He said the district effectively said to employees, "bear with us through this terrible year" and we'll take care of you next year.

Wilson said the board was sending the wrong message by taking care of administrators before giving other employees raises. He stressed that he took issue not with the proposed promotions, but with the timing, and proposed the board delay approval of the plan until after salary negotiations are completed.

Board member Marion Rodgers sought to delay the restructuring plan until after salary negotiations are completed _ so long as they are completed by Aug. 1. Rodgers' motion failed after Sickles said a delay would result in less savings.

Among the changes approved Tuesday, the board agreed to promote assistant superintendent Pete Davidsen to deputy superintendent _ second in command to Superintendent Sickles. Davidsen would get a raise of about $8,332, including fringe benefits.

In other action Tuesday, the board gave board attorney Crosby Few the authority to negotiate a contract to buy riverfront property from the City of Tampa on which the board plans to build a downtown high school. The proposed price is $696,263.

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