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Board antsy over coming cuts
Some School Board members want to work ahead of the Legislature.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 1, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - They know the budget cuts are coming.
And several Pasco School Board members are getting sick of sitting around just waiting for them.
So when the board meets Tuesday, at least two of them plan to suggest that the superintendent and board begin making some hard decisions about what should stay and what should go after lawmakers slash revenue this month.
"We should be prepared for a 5 percent cut and not wait until the last minute," chairwoman Marge Whaley said, noting that several other districts have made priority lists already. "It's putting your head in the sand not to think you're going to have some sort of cut."
Vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said the board must become more decisive. For too long, she said, it has simply received information from the superintendent's staff, often too close to voting time.
"We're the ones that approve the budget," Starkey said. "We need to ... give direction as to where the cuts should be coming from. ... It's important that we do this as a board, and it's not something that is given to us, just put on the table for us."
Board members never saw the budget recommendations that superintendent Heather Fiorentino gave to the Pasco legislative delegation in mid August until the day of their joint meeting. That rubbed some members the wrong way.
Starkey said she wants to take a closer look at transportation expenses. Whaley said she trusted the experts to offer better ideas than she as a policymaker could suggest.
They agreed that no matter who makes a proposal, the conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Board member Frank Parker didn't join that chorus.
"It's a moving target," he said. "We don't know exactly what's what, so if we do something, we're going to have to redo it."
He figured it would be better to wait until the Legislature finishes its special session, scheduled to begin Sept. 18, before wading in with any specifics.
"Every time you try to guess with the Legislature, they end up someplace else," Parker said.
Fiorentino shared that perspective. She didn't want to put proposals before the board without knowing how lawmakers intend to treat the education budget.
"We don't know if they're cutting categoricals. We don't know if they're cutting per-student funding. And we don't know how much," she said. "It would be putting the cart before the horse."
She put Pasco in a different category than the districts that have begun preparing cuts in advance of the session. Pasco does not face the same "double whammy" of losing a slice of the budget and losing enrollment, which compounds the loss.
As a result, it can manage the tight times through a hiring freeze and other budget controls, she said.
"We've held even on fully allocated positions," Fiorentino said. "Right now, our systems are go, kids are in school, things are working well. We just need to be frugal as we move forward until we know what the cuts are."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.