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Pasco School District To Cut $26m and 87 Jobs | News

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Pasco School District To Cut $26m and 87 Jobs
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Pasco County, Florida- The school year will be over next week but work on next year's budget is picking up for school district officials, and they see another round of budget cuts ahead.

Pasco School District officials are notifying 87 employees that their positions will likely be cut.

School districts like Pasco have undergone five years of deep budget cuts. The total for Pasco adds up to $144 million so far including 26 million for next year.

Why the budget shortfall? Pasco Superintendent Heather Fiorentino says the reasons are the same across the bay area and the state. 

Those reasons include a poor economy, a drop in property taxes, no state funding for many required programs, less federal funding and the cost of meeting class size requirements. These reasons, Fiorentino says, are affecting the bottom line, and this time reaching the classroom.

"When you have dire cuts you have to make year after year, after year, you are going to impact students," says Fiorentino.

When budgets have to be cut, students at Pine View Middle School know electives such as band are the first to go.

Ben Gonzalez, a 13-year-old 7th grader, plays in the school's drum line. He says, "I don't' be in band next year all my work be for nothing."

The budget for Pasco County Schools is $26 million short, and to close the gap, electives will be fewer and class size larger.

Zach Knoxx, a 13-year-old 7th grader, says, " It wouldn't be good. Some people not have jazz band or beginning band, and bigger classes means less attention for each kid."

Band Director Steve Herring wonders if his job is on the line. "Each year I hold my breath. Many of us teachers are friends. We don't know if our friends will be back. It hurts to not know you have a job."

Last year's cuts left some teachers doing double duty. 

Patricia Heid spends half of her day at Land O'Lakes High School teaching computer classes, and the other half at Pine View Middle. "It changed my life. It's considerably a lot of added stress and extra preparation," says Heid. 

By working at two schools, Heid says she has to attend double the meetings, pass two principal's evaluations, and take on double the work. Heid will continue doing double-duty next year.

Due to $54 million in cuts this school year, media and tech specialists are covering two schools, and next year, literacy teachers may be doing the same.  

Fiorentino says, "It is five years of multi-million dollar cuts. We try to protect the classroom."

That's until this year,  Fiorentino says the poor economy has left no wiggle room for cutting outside of the classroom. 

The proposed cuts look like this: 87 instructions positions are being eliminated. All employees would take three furlough days, and that will help save the district 5 million dollars.

"The reason for the furlough days is the furlough days are temporary cut not a permanent cut. If you do a salary reduction it's harder to bring those dollars back," explains Fiorentino.

The superintendent says other cuts include having employees pay a portion of health benefits. District officials say Pasco is one of three school districts state wide that covers 100% of employees' health premiums. 

The budget cut proposal also includes possible salary reductions and additional positions cut and still the district will be $3 million short.

But those on the front lines of education say students should get more, not less.

Herring says, "Fund education; that's where the future is. Find a way."

The proposed cuts have not been finalized. 

The Pasco School Board will take a look at the proposal at its June 5 meeting, and the first of two votes will take place in July.

The teacher's union USEP still needs to negotiate some of the proposed layoffs.

Superintendent Fiorentino says the district will try to reassign some of the 87 employees whose jobs are being eliminated to positions that are currently vacant.

Fiorentino says the district needs to hire a minimum of 107 teachers to meet the state's class requirements.

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