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Summer cuts costly for teachers

Although Pasco County school officials don't yet know how this year's summer school cuts will impact student achievement, some teachers say the reductions will hit them hard in their wallets.

Many teachers and other district employees rely on summer school for a much-needed paycheck during the months-long vacation.

Mark DeAugustino teaches at Pasco Middle School and has taught summer school for nine years. The $3,000 that the extra work brings in doesn't pay for vacations or other frills. It helps cover his mortgage and feed his family, he said.

"I don't want to whine and complain, but I don't know how we'll survive without it," said DeAugustino, 41. "I'm the breadwinner and there's no way I can get a (summer job) and make that much money."

After 10 years of teaching in Pasco, DeAugustino supports his wife and three children on a salary that barely cracks $28,000. DeAugustino said he and his wife live frugally _ they haven't had a credit card in eight years _ yet they still live paycheck to paycheck. Teaching summer school makes ends meet, he said.

"We've put down roots, we're part of the community," said DeAugustino, who also earns about $1,700 coaching Pasco High's wrestling team. "But now I'm trying to decide how I'm going to take care of my family."

Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, said she has heard plenty from district employees who are scrambling to find a summer job. One bus driver told Webb that the summer school cuts were forcing her to quit the district in favor of more secure year-round employment.

"Some people seem to think that summer school provides (spending) money'," Webb said. "(But) they're working to put food on the table."

Last year, the district hired 853 teachers and 600 support personnel to run a 19-day summer school. District administrators don't yet know how many employees they'll hire this year, but it undoubtedly will be significantly fewer, said Susan Rine, the district administrator in charge of elementary schools.

This year, only two groups of students will be offered help once school ends May 24: those who flunk the state's FCAT test, and those with learning disabilities. The district is proposing a mere 3{-hour school day to run for 10 days in late June.

"You're only talking about a handful of kids at each school," Rine said.

The cuts are necessary as the state copes with a budget shortfall. The Legislature in December met in a special session that resulted in a $500-million cut to the state's education budget. Pasco's share totaled $6.4-million. The district made up for much of that loss by eliminating most summer programs.

Rine said she's not sure how many teachers will be seriously stung by the loss of a summer paycheck, adding that last year several principals had trouble finding teachers who wanted to teach during the summer vacation.

"In some cases, they couldn't find anyone to do it and had to hire substitute" teachers, Rine said.

But for others, it's a big hit financially.

Zephyrhills High math teacher Diane Nelson says she has taught almost every summer since she started teaching in Florida 24 years ago, making about $7,000 last summer.

Losing that income will hurt this year in particular because Nelson's husband recently had open-heart surgery and the medical bills have piled up.

There's another loss, too. Teacher pensions are based on the salaries they earn during their last five years of teaching. Educators who can boost their earnings at the end of the careers see bigger pension checks later. Some use summer school to do that.

"If I had known this when I turned 62, I would have entered the DROP (early retirement) program then," said Nelson, 65. "Summer school is something that I've come to depend on. It probably shouldn't have been, but it was always one of those things that looked pretty safe."

_ Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischersptimes.com.

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