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Budget gaps get attention

School budget officials kept their knives sheathed while presenting budget proposals Wednesday for the 1993-94 fiscal year. For the first time since 1989, they weren't cutting the budget.

Knives weren't needed, but shovels were as officials tried to fill holes created by previous cuts caused by state funding shortfalls, federal mandates and growth.

Officials will not know how much the budget will be until next month, but they believe it should be more than the $755-million of the current year. They warned that any gains will have to be perceived in the light of the recent cutbacks.

"We had $57-million cut out over the past three fiscal years," said Lansing Johansen, deputy superintendent, in charge of administration and government relations.

The School Board will learn the exact budget next month and if any local tax increase is needed to support it. The board will vote on the budget Aug. 25, after the second of two public hearings.

Officials gave the School Board several budget figures to study during a workshop Wednesday.

The expenses include $311-million to staff the schools, including about $277-million for teachers. The first figure includes adding assistant principals at 11 large elementary schools. The positions had been eliminated in previous cuts.

The school staffing budget amounts to an increase of about $12-million.

"We don't have nearly enough to get caught up to where we should be," budget director Jerry Runkle said. "We're trying to catch up with mandates."

Some of the federal mandates, programs required but not funded by the federal government, are increasing in cost.

Providing occupational and physical therapists for disabled pupils will cost $1.5-million next year, a cost increase of 123 percent over this year's $672,000 price tag. The therapists are required by federal law.

Federal law also requires schooling, transportation and child care for teen parents and their children. More than 500 parents are in the program, and it will cost nearly $1-million next year, an increase of $158,000.

With the county and its programs growing, transportation costs are soaring. Not only is Pinellas scheduled to spend $3-million more on new buses and equipment, it also will spend $900,000 more on personnel.

School officials said the capital outlay portion of the budget, including construction, is still being determined. Last year's capital costs totaled more than $196-million.

Meetings

The School Board will receive more exact numbers at its July 14 meeting. It will have public hearings on the budget and local taxes at 7 p.m. July 28 and Aug. 25 at the administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo.

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