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District spending spree nets new jobs

The School District is using nearly $1-million in local and federal funds to hire new teachers, administrators and more.

There will be more teachers, more people to mow lawns, more mechanics to fix buses and more techies to keep computers humming.

All in all, the School District will spend roughly $1-million this year for positions that have been added _ or enhanced _ since the previous school year that ended in June.

Twenty new teaching positions _ half financed with a federal grant, half from new money in the district's budget _ will be added to reduce class sizes and adjust for a growing student population. The cost: About $792,000.

At the district level, eight new positions are being added _ an office clerk, two computer network specialists, two turf maintenance staffers, a transportation mechanic, an expert educator to coach struggling teachers and a student services coordinator. The cost: About $248,000.

Meanwhile, the district's Title 1 program _ which pumps federal money into schools with high numbers of children from low-income families _ will eliminate more than 40 teachers aide positions and redirect the money to jobs that require higher training.

The money will buy an additional 12 teachers for Title 1 schools, which include Brooksville, Eastside, Moton, Spring Hill, Westside and Pine Grove elementaries.

It will be used to hire seven technology lab managers for those six schools who can train teachers on computers and use their skills to handle technology problems.

And the money will also pay for an expansion of the parent educator program, which provides parents at Title 1 schools with learning materials and training they can use to help their children become better students. The expansion will enable the parent educator at each Title 1 school to go from part-time to full-time, with better pay.

This year, Hernando County is expected to see a 1 to 2 percent growth in the student population _ roughly 200 to 300 students.

In typical years, the addition of 32 teachers might cause a space crunch in the county's schools. For each teacher, after all, there must be a classroom. But the debut of the new Chocachatti Elementary has given other elementary schools more breathing room _ enough to accommodate the new teachers.

But it's unclear whether 10 of the new teaching positions _ those funded by a federal grant that is part of President Clinton's pledge to add 100,000 teachers to American classrooms _ will survive beyond the 1999-2000 school year.

The $392,000 grant covers only this year and there are no guarantees it will be renewed. Teachers hired with federal money have been warned that their jobs may be gone next year, though they stand a good chance of staying on when other positions become vacant.

"I suspect that's going to be a one-time thing, and that's what's scary," Superintendent John Sanders said. Still, he says, the money is a shot in the arm.

Once the new teachers are hired, they should help the district put a dent in class sizes. The idea is that small classes give teachers more time to attend to each student's needs.

At Eastside Elementary, for instance, two extra teaching positions will enable the average size of third-grade classes to be cut from 24 to 20 students. For the first few weeks of school _ until the last of the late-arriving pupils show up _ some classes may have as few as 17 students.

"I think it will make a difference," Eastside principal John Finney said.

While the new teaching jobs have gone unquestioned, the addition of the eight administrative positions spurred some discussion at a School Board meeting last week.

School Board member Jim Malcolm challenged the need _ and the $50,000 a year expense _ for a new student services coordinator. By far the most expensive of the new jobs, the position is needed, Sanders said, because of the growing demands in that department.

Student services director Jim Knight is the only supervisor of a department with more than 20 employees, including school psychologists, social workers and behavioral analysts. It is a department in which responsibilities have grown in recent years. Among the more serious matters it handles are expulsion cases and testing for behavioral problems.

Malcolm said the job description seems to focus mainly on clerical duties that he considers unworthy of such a big salary. He also said that Knight has had his pay boosted in recent years to reflect the department's growing demands.

Malcolm's arguments were lost on other board members, who approved all the new district level jobs on Tuesday with a 4-1 vote.

The superintendent said he understands Malcolm's desire to limit administrative growth.

"Our board is reluctant, as I am, to put money in a service that isn't impacting the classroom directly," Sanders said.