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Fewer projects decrease schools' budget
Any spending cuts will depend on how the state budget works out.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published September 12, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - With no comment from the public, the Pasco School Board approved a $1.31-billion budget for 2007-08 on Tuesday.
The total is about 1.5 percent less than what the district spent a year ago. The bulk of the decrease represented a shrinking number of construction projects this year. The capital budget is $464-million, down from $539-million.
The general operating budget, which covers expenses such as salaries and transportation, is up 10 percent to $562-million, reflecting an increase in enrollment and staffing.
The plan did not take into account the possibility of a funding decrease from the state. District officials have decided to wait until lawmakers adjust the state budget before making cuts locally.
Meanwhile, Pasco still has a hiring freeze to save money.
The board also adopted a five-year capital plan, which includes $209-million for new construction projects. Board member Allen Altman questioned why the plan showed $12.8-million available for additions and renovations to the administration complex, but $35-million in unfunded projects for schools including Pasco High and Pasco Middle.
"Could those dollars for the administration complex be used for classroom construction?" he asked.
They could, superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. But then the district might not have money to expand the administration offices, which are overcrowded now, because the district cannot use state funds for administration buildings.
"It's been in the plan for years that we build," Fiorentino said. "This is an issue that's been discussed in (previous superintendent) John Long's time and we're just getting around to it because we've saved up enough money to do it."
Altman wondered whether the district could operate out of portables. Again, the superintendent said yes.
In fact, she said, that's the short-term plan.
But "do we really want all of the district in portables?" she wondered.
Altman then requested that the next available money for construction be funneled to the priority projects.
"Absolutely," Fiorentino said.
The board then unanimously approved the five-year plan.
Taxpayers will see a small decrease in their property tax bills as a result of the new plans. The budget includes a tax rate of $7.208 per $1,000 of assessed value, down 20 cents.
The taxes on a $225,000 home, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would be about $40 lower if the home assessment has not increased.
In other business, the board agreed to enter contract negotiations for one new charter school: Imagine Charter School at Pasco, which was rejected for a charter last year. The other charter applicant, Life Skills Center, withdrew its proposal.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.