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Schools work to soften cutbacks

Principals and teachers brainstorm to find things they can do without as a $12.8-million shortfall looms.

By MONIQUE FIELDS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


Principals and teachers brainstorm to find things they can do without as a $12.8-million shortfall looms.

Budget cuts proposed by principals in north Pinellas County public schools will not have a dramatic effect on classrooms, administrators say.

To help shore up a $12.8-million budget shortfall, principals sat down last week with teachers and asked what their schools could do without.

Among the answers: office clerks, teacher's assistants and personnel who help teachers make improvements in their classrooms or serve students with more complex needs.

"We tried to minimize the impact on kids," said Osceola High School principal Doug Smith.

District administrators are reviewing principal recommendations, and a final decision on the budget isn't expected until the fall.

What is already known is that each school will suffer a 10 percent decrease in discretionary funds used for teaching supplies. As for the rest, principals were charged with cutting up to two positions from their budgets. Classroom teachers and core personnel, including guidance counselors, were spared from the recommendations.

What may be cut: a second media specialist at Safety Harbor Middle School. Two teacher's assistants at Skycrest Elementary. A curriculum specialist and a teacher who helps first-graders struggling in reading at Oakhurst Elementary School.

"We will have to meet their needs through another program we have called Literary Success," said Oakhurst principal Nanci Wilson. "We may have to recruit volunteers to work with students."

Osceola Middle School may run its office by reducing the number of clerks by one. Oak Grove Middle School could begin next year by decreasing the number of dropout prevention teachers by one.

"Our students need a lot of services," including help with school work and behavior, said Oak Grove principal Patricia Browne. "Where does the Legislature think that's going to come from if they don't have people at the school to help?" she asked.

Schools also may lose positions through attrition. Dunedin High School probably won't hire a fourth dropout prevention teacher. Administrators at Largo High School are less likely to replace two teachers who retired this year, slightly raising the student-teacher ratio in some English classes.

The size of the classes will fall well within the district's guidelines, but the cuts may take time away from students who need extra help.

"It's discouraging, because you feel you put something in place to make a difference for students and now we don't have it," said Largo High School principal Barbara Thornton. "My hope and belief is that our teachers and staff will work very hard not to hurt students."

The district's reason for searching for nearly $13-million in cost cutting measures is twofold: Half of the money is needed for raises and inflation. The rest of the money is needed because the state ordered all districts to direct more money into the classroom.

Superintendent Howard Hinesley has said no one will be fired because the district has plenty of jobs to go around. Dozens, however, may find themselves in new assignments this fall.

The latter frustrates teachers and principals.

"I don't think they understand," Thornton said. "I think they're making decisions without truly understanding the impact."

Browne said teachers at her school feel micromanaged by the Legislature.

"We're discouraged," the Oak Grove principal said. "We have to do more with less and less and less."

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