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School board to ask union to help with cuts

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By Eryn Worthington

 

School board members on Thursday requested help from unions to reduce a $2 million shortfall in the 2013-14 budget.

Board members reviewed a list of potential cuts presented by Assistant Superintendant of Schools Kenny Blocker. It was similar to a list presented to board members last year, but due to an increase in funding last year, the cuts were never put into effect.

The state is increasing funding again this year, but those increases are offset by a higher contribution to the state retirement fund, plus a drop in revenue brought about by the Duke Energy property assessment dispute and voters in 2012 rejecting a quarter-mill property tax for schools.

After board members reviewed the proposed list, School board member Pat Deutschman calculated about $3 million in potential cuts controlled by union contracts.

“Maybe we haven’t done enough to engage our unions in these cuts,” Deutschman said. “We see money that could be a part of the money reduction measures through negotiations. There has to be ways to cut areas a little that won’t impact programs at school, that won’t impact students, that won’t impact quality of education in our school system.”

Proposals such as a one-percent pay cut for all staff, eliminating supplements and reducing staffing days, collide with union contracts that impact hundreds of district employees. These cuts require union approval.

The unions — which include teachers, aides, bus drivers and custodians — will be asked to assist with cuts. Board members said they will ask negotiators with the Citrus County Education Association, or CCEA, for compromise on some budget cuts. The CCEA represents teachers and aides.

Board members are hopeful unions would be able to accept $750,000 to $1 million in budget cuts.

After a closed executive session for collective bargaining, board members returned in agreement.

Additionally, board members discussed adjustments to the Renaissance Center, deciding on staffing changes rather than overhauling the program. Staff will be reduced by four teachers, three aides and a teacher on special assignment (TOSA), saving $250,000. Staffers will be reassigned to vacant positions at other schools.

“We are keeping the Renaissance Center in place and reducing the cost of some of the existing staff,” said board member Thomas Kennedy after the meeting. “Renaissance Center is an essential asset to our community.”

Board members also felt media specialists were an asset to schools. They rejected a proposal that would have eliminated the positions from elementary and middle schools and transferred them into the classroom.

Media specialists will be designated as TOSA/Media Specialists. Principals will redevelop the position with broader responsibilities based on the individual needs of each school.

The board also said it will not eliminate the 2-mile bus transportation for middle and high school students, which would have saved $100,000. The district absorbs the cost of children living 2 miles or less, as the legislature does not reimburse them as it does for children living more than 2 miles from the school.

“The savings to me is not worth one child having an incident,” Kennedy said. “This is not about the parents driving to school. It is about the children coming to school safely and in one piece.”

The CCEA budget meeting is scheduled for May 30.

Contact Chronicle reporter Eryn Worthington at 352-563-5660, ext. 1334, or eworthington@chronicleonline.com.