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Formula will guide cuts in school staffs

Citrus County school principals will have to cut 40 to 45 positions by next year to meet a new formula for staff levels that the School Board will be asked to approve Tuesday.

Superintendent Pete Kelly said few, if any, employees will lose their jobs because of the cuts. He said the cuts should be absorbed through transfers and attrition.

Exact details of the shifts among teachers and other workers are not available because the district is still awaiting the staffing formula, which is being developed for the district by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Citrus administrators, however, are planning budgets for next year, and Kelly and his staff could not wait for the staffing formula to arrive before telling principals to plan on shifting positions.

Also, by law, school districts must notify teachers and administrators by April 1 each year if they are not going to be reappointed.

To figure how many positions to cut, district officials are using preliminary staffing formulas and are assuming that each school will operate on roughly the same budget as this year.

The School Board will consider this issue as well as a new management structure for the district's administration at a special board meeting Tuesday morning.

The district also has not received a final copy of the management plan, which is also being drafted by the school superintendents association. Kelly said preliminary work from the study indicates the district will likely maintain its current number of 65 administrators, which includes school-level administrators.

But some shifts will occur, and Kelly said the cost of administration should be reduced. He will notify administrators of where he wants them to fit in the structure next week.

As for the school staffing formula, which sets the numbers of every kind of employee in a school based on the number of students enrolled there, Kelly expects it will save the district more than $1-million next year.

Overall, he said, the system was overstaffed by roughly $3-million in personnel.

By involving every principal in the process, they were better able to understand the needs of all the schools, Kelly said. And he thinks they better understand how the formula promotes fairness among the schools.

Now, he said, staff decisions will be made according to the formula and "it was sort of a give and take."

"It wasn't like whoever hollered loudest got the most," he said.

Kelly described Wednesday's meeting of principals as similar to a gathering of major league baseball clubs trading players to avoid layoffs.

Kelly told principals earlier this year to see where they could cut staffs, and principals brought back proposals cutting $1.5-million. Kelly then gave dollars back to the schools, which was especially beneficial to the middle and high schools.

Kelly sought a staffing plan shortly after taking office as a way to make decisions about numbers and types of employees in each school.

"We want equity for everyone," he said.

Kelly noted that the high schools are feeling the most pain from the staffing formula because they offer some programs with smaller class sizes.

The staffing formula assumes a student-teacher ratio of 20-to-1 at elementary schools, 23-to-1 at middle schools and 24-to-1 at high schools.

Curriculum specialists, guidance counselors and others who don't have regular class loads are included in that figure, Kelly said.

The effect at each school will vary. Two schools, Hernando and Citrus Springs elementary schools, actually will add staff.

But high schools, which generate more money from the state for the district because they offer more expensive programs, lose in the formula. Kelly says he is still negotiating with high school principals.

For Steve Richardson, principal at Lecanto High School, the staffing formula may mean his school loses its innovative schedule known as the four-by-four plan. While he hopes to continue to offer those four longer class periods next year, he said it will be difficult.

Lecanto High also hopes to open an art and technology academy next year and to pilot a career exploration center, but those efforts are also more complicated with a smaller school staff.

"The staffing plan overall hurts the high schools" since it is based strictly on the number of students known as the "unweighted full time equivalent" student, Richardson said.

He said a fairer formula would be based on both the number of students and the programs those students attend.

But Richardson also said he and the other high school principals question the equity of giving high schools less money when they generate the most money for the district.

"We're going to try to do what we need to do. . . . I'm not going to give up easy," Richardson said. "We're all team players and we've all worked together on this."

Elementary school principals have had concerns about the staffing plan as well.

Pleasant Grove Elementary School principal Renna Jablonskis wrote Kelly a memo this month outlining her worries about lower staffing levels damaging everything from academic achievement to school safety.

Jablonskis said Thursday that she gave Kelly the memo because she wanted him to know the concerns of elementary school principals. But after meeting with other principals and discussing how to make changes at the schools, she believes her concerns have been addressed.

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