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Byrd letter: District won't feel the pinch

Published May 25, 2003

To refute what he calls "propaganda" penned by Hillsborough County School Board officials, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd this week sent a letter home with students who go to the Plant City elementary school his children once attended.

During the recent tug of war over school funding in the state budget, that school's PTA sent notes to parents warning of cuts in teacher aides, assistant principals and guidance counselors and urging them to contact their state legislators about the situation.

Byrd said Saturday that the PTA note was part of a broader campaign to pressure lawmakers to give the school district more money.

"It was all garbage," Byrd said. "There's $65-million. No one needs to lose their job."

So Byrd said he contacted the school board's lobbyist, Connie Milito, about writing a letter signed jointly by him and school superintendent Earl Lennard.

Lennard said that he wasn't pressured to write the letter with Byrd and that it was a good idea.

"It was something that got our thoughts on a piece of paper," he said.

At a news conference last month, Lennard and three other superintendents warned that the state budget Byrd helped craft would cause Hillsborough County to cut $50-million.

In response, Byrd called School Board efforts to sway public opinion about the budget "shameful" and used taxpayer money to write to 25,000 households disputing Lennard's claims that enrollment is growing faster than school spending.

The new letter, dated May 23 and sent to the parents of children attending Walden Lake Elementary School, mentions the possibility of layoffs, but says "hopefully" they can be avoided by shuffling assignments and vacancies.

Byrd said the letter was needed to tell his side of the story. He said he helped edit the letter, but most of it was written by Milito.

Byrd has said for weeks that the school district has been bluffing about the dire consequences of a lean state budget. In a telephone interview Saturday, he said he doesn't think any layoffs are needed. The district could save by sending administrators back to work in the schools and hiring fewer managers, he said.

- Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this story.

[Last modified May 25, 2003, 01:30:37]

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