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FRIDAYS MAY GET SUMMER OFF

Closing school buildings one day a week would save thousands, officials say.

Fridays may be dark, quiet and a little warm in the Hernando County schools this summer.

"We're making every attempt to close down as many programs as we possibly can on those Fridays and work four-day weeks, in an effort to save electricity and air-conditioning," superintendent Wayne Alexander said Thursday.

If all district buildings were shuttered once a week in the 23,000-student district, it would save about $79,000, said finance director Deborah Bruggink.

"You can't sneeze at that," she said, describing efforts to compensate for a projected $2-million budget shortfall next year.

Some buildings must stay open to accommodate the summer prekindergarten program or other commitments, such as YMCA or county day camp programs, Alexander said, describing the conservation plan as a "work in progress."

But already some principals have been told to shift to a four-day schedule, forcing changes to summer schedules.

At Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, one day of planned basketball and volleyball camps has been canceled and other days are being extended to make up for the lost hours, said principal Sue Stoops.

Also potentially affected are Hernando County Sheriff's Office day camp sessions at that school and at Eastside Elementary.

At West Hernando Middle School, the YMCA camp will go on as scheduled, but unused buildings will go dark on Friday, said principal Joe Clifford.

Even before the latest changes, officials have been looking for ways to trim soaring utilities bills, he said. For example, the Department of Education mandates the amount of light in classrooms but says nothing about hallways.

"Every other light in the hall, we took the bulbs out to save some electricity," Clifford said.

School Board member Pat Fagan said he'd heard nothing about disruptions to the day camps he operates as director of the county Parks and Recreation Department.

"As far as I know, everything is go for using the schools for that purpose," he said. "If there's going to be a big change in how the schools are being operated, we as a board need to hear about it."

Officials said they would release the plan as soon as it's completed, and work to honor all commitments.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

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