PINELLAS SCHOOL BOARD WORKS ON BUDGET CUTS-Andrew Stelzer

03/07/06

The Pinellas county school board spent the entire day discussing how to cut 22 million dollars from next years budget. The cuts proposed by superintendent Clayton Wilcox included the cutting of 270 jobs, which has drawn protest from many non-academic employees, such as maintenance and cafeteria workers. Cuts suggested at the workshop were not binding, but are meant to advise Wilcox, as he draws up a proposal to bring before the board later this month. The districts Chief business officer Lansing Johansen, told the board that the district is not in debt, but that cuts are needed so that the school district still has money in reserve.

ACT-Johansen “if we did no cuts at all, we would have negative contingency, we would have reserves, so were trying to avoid the situation..�

Board member Nancy Bostock praised the work that Johansen has done in managing the budget, but Board member Linda Lerner had a difference of opinion about the districts current standing.

ACT-Bostock and Lerner “were averting a crisis, were not in a crisis, lets not diminish, we haven’t been irresponsible in the pat but were on the margin…Ill forget the rhetoric if your job is cut you are in a crisis, I don’t think you can break the two were gonna make tough decisions about those..�

The board spoke about cuts to the substitute teachers’ usage pool; as some schools have been exceeding their allocated sub budget. Dr Ron Stone, the associate superintendent of human resources and public affairs told the board that there is a current pool of dollars to fund schools which go over their sub budget, but that pool could be made smaller and schools would be made to come up with the money.

ACT-Stone “One thing we’ve noticed that it use to be 7.5 now its 10, we have to drive that down..�

Board member Janet Clark said she not sure if threatening schools is the right way to save money.

ACT-Clark “my concern is the possibility that when a school is given the pot of money and teachers have to cal I, there will be intimidation or saying you can take this day off..I would lie top see incentives to maintain good attendance, I think we would get more buy in..�

Board member Mary Russell said the board should consider an program that Pinellas county employees already have, in which around Christmas time, employees can cash in any days off they have beyond 80 hours. School Board member Linda Lerner disagreed with the entire premise that teacher are taking too much time off.

ACT-Lerner “we are talking about our professional teachers. I believe the vast majority takes sic days only when they are sick. 10 days, are you figuring, I don’t accept that as the average teachers that is an average, when you take into account lets be careful…the other thing; not having subs does effect high student achievement..�

And Board member Mark Russell said that the potential of schools with poor air quality has to be considered—last year, many parent transferred their children out of Tarpon Springs elementary schools because of concerns about poor air quality, and 10 years ago, an elementary school was closed for 18 months because children began getting sick after a major mold outbreak.

ACT-Russell “air quality is going to become a he issue..its bad enough, but to say to the same school that the teachers and kids, reducing sick time is the districts responsibility, if we are not following through on their plan how can we reduce the number of sick days?�

The board also discussed eliminating 1 of the 2 parent advocate positions, which because of objections, ended up on the list of items they will try not to cut. The same happened for the number of staff for the districts mentoring program, which were slated to be cut until board member Mary Brown spoke up, and said the current 20 percent of Pinellas county students with a mentor is not enough.

ACT-brown “this is a program that I feel is important, I would not only like to have full time coordinator, I want more staff. I think we look down in Miami, it is huge, it hasn’t been supported, it has had 1 person with a part time secretary and minimal budget. We are talking about finding mentors there are a lot of tasks. It caters not only to young black men and Hispanic and white. It is predominantly African American because we have a problem it does a good job. I want to see it expanded…..CAN I PUT A BENCHMAEK< THEY HAVE 40%

And the board discussed cutting one of the two positions of people working on writing grants, and helping teachers write grants. That second position is currently unfilled, but after hearing that the district received 21 million dollars in grants last year, several Board members, including Linda Lerner, said it doesn’t make sense to cut a position that pays for itself. But board member Mary brown reminded the board that for every item that isn’t cut, that inches towards much protested job cuts to maintenance and cafeteria staff that have been threatened.

ACT-Brown “there is no one in this position remember that, grants and important but there is no one is the position..�

The board did not discuss those proposed job cuts until late in the day. WMNF spoke to Bill Angelus, chapter Chair for the SEIU representing the school board employees. Angelus said the union met with the districts Chief business officer and associate superintendent of human resources yesterday and it appears their jobs may be saved.

ACT-Angelus “They are leaning towards no cuts but no guarantees, saving..they are o the board as liking to preserve them..WHY..combination, presentation, public pressure board protect personal, they protect people..�

The Superintendent will take direction from the board workshop recommendations, and come back with a proposed budget on March 14th.

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