By Michael Stewart
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Now that the Escambia County School Board has approved staffing cuts to save money, focus is shifting to Superintendent Jim Paul´s other recommendations to trim a total of more than $16 million from next year´s budget.
Paul has 31 items listed on this last round of cuts. Many will be hotly contested. Others, such as a proposal to cut administrative pay by 2 percent, likely will not.
On Tuesday night, the board approved the Escambia School District personnel planning document that spells out $1.7 million in cuts.
That document includes about 35 nonteaching positions that will not be filled next year, including a director of elementary education and director of staff development.
Last month, board members approved Paul´s recommendation to cut $6.2 million by, among other things, reducing by 115 the number of high school, special education, music, art and physical education teachers throughout the district.
The third and final phase of Paul´s cost-saving measures include a smorgasbord of $8.6 million in cuts that include eliminating transportation for the Program for Academically Talented Students, changing school start times and closing Carver Century K-8 School.
Residents voiced opposition to all three of those proposals Tuesday.
But Paul said afterward that until he makes a formal recommendation to the board, none of the items on the list is set in stone.
He compared the budget process to making sausage.
“I´m not going to recommend to the School Board to cut transportation to PATS,” he said. “Residents don´t know that; they just see the sausage-making part of the process. Stuff goes into it, and stuff comes out.”
Other items, such as a proposal to reduce costs for employee health care by $3 million, will have to be negotiated with the School District´s employees´ unions. Escambia Education Association President Gail Husbands questioned whether a proposal already approved to require high school teachers to teach an additional class for a $3.2 million savings violates bargaining requirements.
“Teachers need time for planning. They need time to eat lunch,” Husbands said. “All of that has to be bargained so we don´t kill teachers. They are already exhausted and overworked.”
Paul has proposed saving $1.2 million by changing school start times to reduce the number of bus drivers on the road at one time. High school, which now starts at 7:20 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m., would start at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4:35 p.m.
Adam Smith, a sophomore at West Florida High School, spends much of his time volunteering in the community after school.
“He´ll come in dead in the morning because he spent all evening doing community service-type activities,” said Adam´s teacher, Cathy Boehme.
Adam told School Board members the new hours would shorten his time for volunteering and hamper students who work after school.
“Everybody I´ve talked to felt pretty strongly this would ruin a lot of opportunity for students here,” Adam said at the meeting.
The cuts will come from next year´s budget. Paul has until mid-July to submit a tentative budget to the state. Board approval is required by September, after the new school year starts.