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Schools may face $2-million budget cut

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


INVERNESS -- Early budget estimates for the 2000-01 fiscal year have school officials predicting they may need to cut more than $2-million in expenses.

Superintendent Pete Kelly told the School Board on Tuesday that he is looking at cuts in all levels of employees including one of his top administrator positions and slashing some programs including Art$mart and the drop-out prevention program at the Marine Science Station.

Even with those cuts, he said, the district will still have to make other across-the-board cuts to make up another $1.2-million. Kelly said he is looking for more savings so staff can add another $500,000 to the contingency fund.

Despite the bad news, Kelly said he could cut enough expenses to make the budget balance. "We think realistically that we can meet that," he said. "We'll just have to do some belt tightening."

Kelly's gloomy forecast came during a special School Board meeting Tuesday, when he was presenting a staffing plan to the board. The plan, which provides a formula for how many positions of each type each school gets, included only a few changes. The board approved the plan.

Some cost reductions fit in with the board's recent action to approve a slight increase in class sizes to save money. Coupled with the waning enrollments in elementary schools while middle and high school populations are growing, the adjustments mean the district will lose about 10 elementary school teacher positions because they won't be needed next year.

Four teacher aides, a half-time guidance counselor, three office clerks and 11/2 school secretaries also will be lost, officials said.

"We feel like all the personnel reductions can be taken care of through attrition," Kelly said. This year many employees are expected to shuffle locations with the opening of the Forest Ridge Elementary School.

Kelly also said aides will be lost at Crystal River, Inverness and Lecanto middle schools and Citrus Springs Middle will not get to add a new secretary.

"We're looking at reducing the Art$smart program and removing the dropout prevention program from the Marine Science Station back to the other schools," Kelly said. Art$mart is a program for the county's fifth-graders in which they run a craft supply store at the Crystal River Mall. Teachers have criticized the program based on safety and curriculum concerns.

Kelly also said he may not replace his executive director of management services, Roberta Long. She has asked for a principalship and Kelly has promised her one when a position comes open. Another nine positions not yet specified also will be cut from the district staff.

An aide at the Renaissance Center, another at the Withlacoochee Technical Center and the switchboard operator position at WTI are other cuts Kelly suggested.

Kelly said another area of concern is terminal leave, which refers to the unused sick days of employees who are retiring. When they retire, they take the cash value of a percentage of those days with them. Over the next five years, that is expected to cost the district between $5-million and $6-million -- money the district hasn't budgeted for.

Board Chairwoman Sandra "Sam" Himmel again raised the issue of the $500,000 the district spends each year on extra days tacked onto the standard 196-day teacher contract.

Guidance counselors, media specialists, curriculum specialists and activities directors are among the staffers who work the extra days. Several board members said they would like to finally put the issue to rest.

Kelly said his staff has been looking at the extra days list and has only some minor changes to recommend. He agreed to set up a workshop at 9 a.m. on April 7 so that the board could hear from each employee group about why they need the extra days.

Himmel said if she heard sufficient justification for the extra costs, she would drop the issue.

In other activity:

The board approved the alternative calendar at Lecanto Primary School for the coming year. Kelly had asked the school to justify the nearly $30,000 it costs to operate a portion of the school on a year-round, alternative calendar. Parents of the children in the program wrote to support it and the school's administration also supported it.

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