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Schools

Budget preview shows choices limited

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 25, 2007


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LAND O'LAKES - With budget season just a week away, Pasco School Board members took a first look at what they can and can't do for the coming year.

They quickly learned that their options are limited.

The board already has set its teacher allocations, which account for about 85 percent of the $470-million budget, and has most of its remaining money claimed by fixed costs such as utilities and insurance. Only about $15-million is left "to play with," chief financial officer Olga Swinson told the board, and much of that likely will go to ongoing programs such as International Baccalaureate and Odyssey of the Mind.

The construction budget didn't offer much wiggle room either. Impact fees are down by about 50 percent from expectations, and other revenue for building also is lower than past years. The district doesn't even have enough money to build a needed new high school in Hudson or rebuild dilapidated Sanders Elementary in Land O'Lakes.

But that didn't stop board members, particularly the new ones, from saying exactly what they want. Vice Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, in her third year, and member Allen Altman, in his first, expressed dissatisfaction with past budget proceedings, saying the staff drove the train and the board didn't set priorities and ask questions as it should.

"Some of the questions that were asked, or that were not asked, were some of the things I thought should have been gone through," Altman said.

"They didn't do much," Starkey agreed.

Altman listed a set of items that he wanted included as the district plans its spending for 2007-08. Chief among them was an incentive program to bring what he called the district's "best teachers" to the lowest performing schools.

Along that line, Chairwoman Marge Whaley suggested another incentive for teachers who complete an acceptable amount of local training.

Altman also called for discussion on the creation of a career and technical program for central-east Pasco, consideration of alternative education programs for at-risk students and upgrades to older, existing buildings.

Altman said he further wanted the district to consider whether it spends its money wisely now, or if some programs and initiatives should be ended in favor of new ones.

Starkey pressed for parks and other facilities that the district can share with other parts of the community. She also urged the district staff to seek public advice as it sets a strategic plan for the next five years.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said she plans to start talking with department heads about the budget next week, and she intended to bring more information to the board as she gets it.

"We need to make sure we're putting moneys in the right place," she said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 909-4614. For the latest education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 22:54:38]


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