1. Archive


The superintendent says he's running out of ideas for dealing with a possible $4.5-million shortfall.

There's talk of shortening the school week, getting rid of auxiliary teachers and parking school buses miles from their base to save gas. Field trips are endangered, and so are sports programs. Entire schools are endangered.

As the magnitude of state budget cuts began to sink in last week, Hernando County's superintendent of schools seemed prepared to throw everything but the kitchen sink onto the list of possible budget cuts. And still, Wayne Alexander acknowledged, he may come up short.

"I'm running out of creative strategies," he said.

What was described all spring as a $2-million budget shortfall for next year could mushroom into a $4.5-million deficit if the latest bad news from the state comes to pass, finance director Deborah Bruggink said.

On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist told all state agencies to cut their spending plans by 4 percent in response to plunging tax revenues. If previous cuts are any guide, that will translate into a cut of 2 percent, or $2.4-million, in state funding for Hernando, Bruggink said.

That means the list of proposed budget cuts the School Board sees when it discusses next year's budget Tuesday will be outdated from the moment the 1 p.m. workshop starts.

Among those tentative cuts are 54 teaching positions and 28 instructional aides across the 23,000-student district.

That includes 14 unfilled teaching slots that would have been necessary if the state hadn't postponed new class-size rules, said business services director Heather Martin. Other teaching positions were eliminated through attrition or previous nonrenewals, and 13 teachers transferred to other district schools, she said.

Officials said they planned to hire none of the teachers that would be needed if a projected 380 new students actually show up this fall.

The district's budget proposal shows fewer employees in every category next year - teachers, administrators, aides and administrators - than there were in the school year that just ended.

As for new positions and programs, they're all in jeopardy now.

A much-discussed coordinator position at Explorer K-8's gifted center would not be filled next year, with those duties being assumed by one of the school's three assistant principals, Bruggink said.

Other positions cut from the proposed budget include the director of the district's education foundation, a proposed executive director for special programs, a new math coach and two technology coordinators.

A new $74,287 district planner job could be cut, Alexander said. The $267,000 middle school sports program is still in the budget - for now.

"Can we offer a cheaper, more cost-effective alternative?" he asked, raising the possibility of intramural sports at that level. "In middle school it's about how many kids you can get involved, and intramurals is all about doing that."

If those cuts aren't sufficient to stem the flow of red ink this summer, proposed high school career academies or technology programs for schools on the county's east side are next in line for postponement, Alexander said.

And those are just the starter cuts. If state tax revenues continue to plummet, Alexander has prepared another list of possible cuts for 2009-10 and beyond. A four-day school week is on that list as a $650,000 annual savings, along with school assessment teachers, driver's education and the entire $1.2-million STAR alternative school.

"I think it meets a vital service to our kids," he said of the latter program, but indicated he was open to exploring other ways of serving students who have faced disciplinary or other problems in school.

Alexander said he'd also consider parking school buses in satellite lots to save gas, putting administrators on a 10-month schedule or scrutinizing support teaching positions for reading, writing or technology. "We're going to have to start chipping away at those areas," he said. "I pray not this year, but in future years."

As for the four-day school week, Alexander called it a hypothetical idea that stands no chance of happening - either this year or in the future.

"I said it's just an idea; it won't happen," he said, referring to media reports that it was a serious proposal. "I don't see it as a possibility."

Teacher salaries also occupy sacred ground on Alexander's list.

"I'm still strongly committed to getting a salary increase for people," he said. "That still remains a high priority."

But the numbers don't lie.

Just giving teachers a step increase, for experience, in the district's salary scale costs about $2.4-million, including benefits. That's exactly how much the latest state budget cut might amount to, Bruggink said.

"We just might not be able to do it," she added.

Tom Marshall can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.

Tentative cuts:

54 Teaching positions, including 14 unfilled teaching slots

28 Instructional aides across the district

1 District planner, a new $74,287 position

Other possible cuts:

- Director of the district's education foundation- Proposed executive director for special programs- New math coach- Two technology coordinators

Source: Hernando School District