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Nine Pasco County schools may face new starting times

Shifting the starting times at nine schools and adjusting bus routes could save the district more than $800,000, according its chief finance officer.
Shifting the starting times at nine schools and adjusting bus routes could save the district more than $800,000, according its chief finance officer.
Published Jul. 2, 2013

LAND O'LAKES — Students attending nine Pasco County schools could have new start times for the new year.

District officials recognized the proposal could generate some ill will, as it would alter families' morning rituals.

"Once you give something to people, it's hard to take it away," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said. "People don't like change."

But the budget is driving the recommendation. Chief finance officer Olga Swinson said new bell times would allow the district to reorganize bus routes, saving $803,500 or more.

School Board members continue to seek spending cuts, to cover a projected $26.2 million shortfall in the fiscal year that began Monday. They already have approved several moves, such as the elimination of media, literacy and technology specialists, to whittle down the gap.

Superintendent Kurt Browning put forth the bus changes, and two other ideas, to narrow the deficit further, to $379,321.

He proposed cutting school supply funding by $200,000, saying a state contract with Office Depot would give schools more buying power. And he said the district planned to end its private lawn maintenance contracts, instead assigning the work to district staff.

Swinson said the district would save close to $350,000 in the first year of this switch. The district also would allocate more custodian hours to the campuses that have used private services.

The schools could use the extra workers "as they need to use them, as long as they cut the grass," maintenance director Mark Fox said.

Board members were quick to acknowledge that changing school start times could cause them the most headaches.

"Just don't tell us we have any elementary schools going to the first tier," Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said.

She referred to the earliest school bell time of 7:30 a.m., which has traditionally been reserved for middle and high schools. The second tier is the 8:30-8:45 a.m. bell, and the third tier is the 9:40 a.m. bell.

"We know better than to have young kids standing out in the dark," Gadd responded.

Three elementary schools — New River, Deer Park and West Zephyrhills — would move to the later starting time of 9:40 a.m.

Only Bayonet Point Middle was being recommended to begin at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8:40 a.m. Other schools with pending changes are Ridgewood High, Fivay High, and the Schwettman, Irvin and Moore-Mickens education centers.

The plans led United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb to ask whether anyone was being laid off to generate the savings. Gadd answered that the district already has 29 bus driver vacancies, and additional attrition is likely, so no job losses are expected.

More savings could be found in transportation, though, as more buses are removed from the road and the newly purchased ones run on propane rather than diesel, Swinson said.

Board members praised the administration for the effort.

"We had talked about these things for the past few years," board member Joanne Hurley said. "Some of us felt we could get some efficiencies. It's nice to see we can actually get some."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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