Cutbacks Are Ugly But Needed As School System Faces Downgrade
By Mark OBrien
Judith Brunson remembers the coach who bet she couldn´t help a student pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
She proved the coach wrong, and then some. Brunson, a media specialist at Pine Forest High School, helped the student become the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
That happens when you have two media specialists who open the library early and keep it open late and who work closely with the students, including many who don´t have computers at home.
But a proposal before the Escambia School Board will split that team, reducing the number of media specialists at Pine Forest to one for the 2,000 students, and sending Brunson´s colleague, Ellen Crow, to another school.
It´s just a small part of Superintendent Jim Paul´s plan for covering at least $9 million in shortfalls, but Brunson, for one, objects.
“Take money from things, not from our children,” she told the School Board on Monday evening.
“Things,” however, don´t yield many savings unless they´re big-ticket items like schools, and the system won´t close another school before 2009 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, employees are logical targets because they comprise 80 percent to 85 percent of the system´s budget. They will feel the squeeze Tuesday when the board meets to accept or reject Paul´s plan.
That´s especially tough in a business that is built on helping people, but it´s an ugly necessity as a sinking economy, surging fuel prices and insurance rates and other financial problems affect the quality of education and other services vital to society.
“All of the people on this document are valuable people,” Paul said, pointing to a list of positions facing change or elimination.
Yet the economy dictates cuts now, and more are likely in coming months.
“It´s just the way things are in Florida right now,” Paul said.
Leaders of unions for the employees complained that Paul isn´t cutting enough people from his own staff, and he complained that they were using the financial problems to recruit new members.
“Too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” said union leader Dave Pittman.
But some “chiefs” feel overworked, too.
Beverly Patteson, district specialist for elementary languages, is retiring in June to become principal of a private school.
The work load, full of directives from state and federal agencies, now is so grueling that “I cannot physically keep up with all the demands,” she said.
Hard times are ahead, whether you´re a student, a teacher or an administrator, and that´s a shame, because school should be a positive experience.