Pinellas schools look at budget cuts

05/06/08 Seán Kinane
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Due to budget cuts, Pinellas County schools must find a way to trim $43 million. Making this more difficult is the fact that providing medical insurance benefits to employees will increase by $11.5 million next year. Because employee salaries and benefits make up one of the largest budget items, the controversial idea of decreasing teacher salaries was considered in a workshop this morning.

Outgoing Superintendent of Pinellas County Schools Clayton Wilcox said the school district is no longer looking at salary cuts as deep as 2 percent.

The school board looked at three scenarios ranging from one with no salary decrease but employees paying a larger share of their insurance benefits to one with a 1.5 percent salary decrease where employees do not have to pay any of the increased insurance costs.

Linda Lerner is a member of the Pinellas County school board. She said that rather than making budget cuts to either employee salaries or benefits, the school board should look at other ways to cut the budget.

The school board saw a comparison of how employees with different salaries would fare under each scenario. Most of those making $40,000 and less would fare better if their salaries were reduced 1.5 percent but they did not have to pay more for their insurance, while some higher-earning employees would fare better under a scenario where there is no salary reduction but employees would be required to pay between $440 and $1,240 more per year for insurance.

Lerner told WMNF that the school district should continue to provide the same level of employee insurance benefits as it always has.

Four thousand of the district’s 12,000 employees make less than $25,000 per year. School Board member Mary Brown said that it would be going against the will of Pinellas voters to give school employees a pay cut.

Cuts to salaries or benefits would have been deeper, but the district found $5.9 million through savings in other areas, including reducing the district’s contingency fund from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. Because health insurance costs keep going up, School Board chair Nancy Bostock suggested studying the idea of in the future providing employees health savings accounts instead of health insurance.

But board member Linda Lerner questioned whether health savings accounts would be beneficial for lower income employees.

School board member Peggy O’Shea, noting the expense to the district to comply with Florida’s constitutional class size requirement, asked whether it would save the district money to ignore the class size mandate and pay a financial penalty.

Today the school employees’ bargaining unit is meeting to discuss issues such as salary reductions, increasing the cost of insurance to employees, and a proposed reduction in hours from 8 to seven and a half per day. If the bargaining units can come to a consensus, then the agreement will go to the school board to be ratified.

The board also heard about a potential development where 27 townhouses could be built on school district land where Euclid School building now stands. If the subsidized project moves forward, the townhouses would be sold to district employees at the below-market rate of $100,000 each.

Learn more:

Pinellas County School Board

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