By GEOFF FOX
The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 21, 2008
LAND O´ LAKES - After exploring the minutiae of an anticipated $16 million shortfall in the Pasco County School District´s 2008-09 budget for more than two hours Tuesday, school board vice chairman Frank Parker said he felt pessimistic.
He wasn´t convinced that there wouldn´t be a call for more mandatory cuts before the final budget is adopted in September.
“We have some hard decisions to make. and it´s not going to get any easier,” he said during a workshop in the district´s board room. “We all said we don´t want to cut jobs, but if this continues the way it´s going, it might not be possible to keep all jobs.
“Last year, they told us how much our budget would be, then they gave us a $10 million cut.”
Under Superintendent Heather Fiorentino´s plan, about $11.3 million would be saved by using flexibility in class-size reduction requirements to freeze teaching positions.
“Effectively,” Parker said, “we´re going to postpone hiring 200 teachers.”
An additional $719,566 in savings would come from freezing positions in district departments.
Some of Fiorentino´s other recommendations include reducing school budgets by 10 percent, a $437,000 savings; reducing the use of substitute teachers by 10 percent, a $325,000 savings; and reducing district department budgets by 15 percent, a $550,000 savings.
The board will discuss the budget at another workshop in July before the first public hearing, scheduled for July 29.
“It´s our job to find $16 million,” said Olga Swinson, the district´s chief finance officer. “We don´t want to touch classrooms, and we want to keep our benefits package.”
Saving money could also mean no step pay increases for teachers.
The 2008-09 budget is based on the projected increase of 1,387 new students in the district. There were about 1,700 new students last year, about 500 more than anticipated, according to the school district.
Responding to a question by board chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, Fiorentino said she wants to keep class sizes as small as possible.
Starkey seemed opposed to Fiorentino´s suggestion of cutting athletic programs by 5.5 percent, or $76,000, arguing that the teamwork and camaraderie learned through sports has been beneficial to countless children.
Board member Cathi Martin disagreed.
“If there is a place we can cut, it´s athletics,” she said. “My children loved athletics, but if we can see a cut anywhere, I would go with that.”
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