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School cuts to juggle resources

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Budget plan has media specialists furious

By Mike Wright

A budget-cutting plan headed to the Citrus County School Board this week is causing uproar among media specialists in the county’s elementary and middle schools.

That’s because the proposal is to eliminate their positions and instead transfer them to classrooms with teaching vacancies.

In their place, the district would hire aides to oversee media centers and programs in the elementary and middle schools.
District officials have broached the subject in the past and met with the same resistance.

Media specialists say they do more than just operate the school libraries. Many teach reading, tutor students one-on-one and instruct teachers in the use of technology, a necessary link as the district eases toward state mandates of replacing textbooks with iPads.

“Research proves that in schools with certified media specialists, student learning improves as well as their achievement levels,” one media specialist wrote in an email to the Chronicle. “With the implementation of the new Common Core Standards, media specialists will be needed more than ever.”

Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel said she and her staff are looking for areas to cut $2 million from the 2013-14 budget. She said moving media specialists into vacant teaching positions, and replacing them with aides, would save the district $500,000.

She said none of the media specialists would lose their jobs. And the plan doesn’t include high schools, which require media specialists for accreditation.

She said elementary and middle school principals have bought into the plan.

“In the short term, they would make it work by using an aide in the media center rather than a media specialist,” Himmel said.

However, asked if the move were only temporary, Himmel said that would depend on the district’s funding situation next year.

Even though some principals late last week sent the word out to their staffs, veteran school board member Pat Deutschman said she knew nothing about the plan to eliminate media specialists.

She noted that district officials have toyed with the idea in the past and board members decided each time the move would have a negative impact on classroom teachers.

“They’ve been sitting on the bubble three years in a row. They’re low-hanging fruit,” Deutschman said. “We keep rejecting those proposals as budget cuts and they keep coming back.”

Himmel said the issue isn’t whether media specialists are important.

“Everything we do is going to impact our kids,” she said. “We value media specialists. We see real value in having them in our schools. The principals discussed it and said they will make it work.”

The district, she said, is facing significant budget shortfalls, including:

+ $750,000 due to Duke Energy’s decision to pay about 55 percent of its 2012 tax bill. Although the issue is being litigated, Duke says the county and school board should expect a similar payment, or less, in 2013.

+ Voters’ rejecting renewing the quarter-mill property tax for schools in 2012 cost the district about $2.2 million. Since the referendum was not a tax increase, it represents a loss in revenue.

+ The district must contribute an additional $1.4 million to the Florida Retirement System fund.

+ While the state increased funding to the district by $4.2 million, $2.4 million of that is earmarked for special teacher raises. The funding for those raises — $2,500 for “effective” teachers and $3,500 for “highly effective” teachers — actually is $850,000 less than what the district needs, assistant superintendent of schools Kenny Blocker said.

Deutschman said the board should make a decision one way or another about media specialists.

“It’s an idea that keeps coming up every year,” she said. “We either have to do it and find out if it works or not, or take it off the table and say never bring it back to us again.”

BUDGET CUT PROPOSALS

 Move 15 media specialists in the elementary and middle schools to classrooms, replacing them with full-time aides. Potential savings: $500,000.

 Eliminate the “two-mile rule” for middle- and highschool bus routes (but keep it in place for elementary schools). Potential savings: $100,000.

 Combine bus routes. Potential savings: $200,000.

 New staffing formula in high schools to equalize second semester class loads with first semester, eliminating nine vacant teaching positions. Potential savings: $500,000.

WHAT: Citrus County School Board meeting
WHEN: Approximately 4 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: District administrative offices, corner of S.R. 44 and Montgomery Avenue, Inverness.
ONLINE: www.citrus.k12.fl.us.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.