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Schools chief is rebuffed on class size plea
Sen. Fasano says that isn't a solution to the budget crunch.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published August 17, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Faced with looming budget cuts, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino suggested Thursday that state legislators should delay class size reduction targets.
State Sen. Mike Fasano's response: Don't count on it.
The exchange was part of a first-ever workshop where Pasco's top school officials and four members of the legislative delegation met to talk about the district's financial pain.
It comes ahead of the Legislature's special session next month to lay out where to enact $1.4-billion in statewide budget cuts.
A statutory amendment to delay the class size reduction could free $16-million for the district.
"Put off class size one more year," Fiorentino said. "Give us some flexibility."
"I just don't know the feasibility of that," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "You are delaying the inevitable."
The class size law, approved by voters in 2002, caps the number of students per class.
This is the district's pain:
Pasco is one of only five counties statewide growing in student numbers. Fixed costs like fuel strain the district's wallet.
If lawmakers cut 5 percent of funding, Pasco schools would lose $12.6-million, leaving them with an $8-million deficit.
And with state deficits likely to run at about $1.4-billion every year through 2011, Fasano's warning: Better cut recurring expenditures.
"I feel like a commissioner sitting in front of the sheriff," Fasano said, evoking Tuesday's zero-increase rebuff that county commissioners gave Sheriff Bob White's budget. "School Board members, we're going to have to be realistic."
District officials also suggested tweaking School Recognition Funds and the Merit Award Program to give schools more control over the use of these funds.
Fasano was more willing to consider helping the district head off a confrontation with county officials on off-site road improvements at new school sites.
County officials often want the district to pay for roads. District officials argue that schools don't create the population; they serve it.
Fasano said a transportation trust fund, set up specifically for high-growth counties, could help.
The county could go to the state Department of Transportation to get the funds to offset road building costs.
"We'll get with your attorneys to get the language together," said state Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey.
Education will arguably be the hardest hit in the hunt for solutions to the state's $1.4-billion shortfall. A 4 percent cut in recurring expenses would lose $415-million in education funds. The next highest Fasano listed was $309-million in cuts to health and human services.