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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Board to decide media specialists’ fate

LAND O’ LAKES - The future of school media specialists, technology specialists and literacy coaches rests in the hands of the Pasco County School Board come Tuesday. Board members, needing to deal with a projected $19.6 million revenue shortfall for the coming fiscal year, will consider a proposal by Superintendent Kurt Browning to meld those three jobs into one. Browning’s plan creates a new position called information and communication technology coach, with one such coach assigned to each of the district’s 80 schools. In addition, many of the technology troubleshooting duties once handled by technology specialists will be handed off to a newly created team of eight network technicians. That team of technicians, which Browning has likened to Best Buy’s Geek Squad, would rove from school to school, wherever problems arise.
Browning expects to save the district nearly $4.9 million with the revamped plan, according to budget cuts included in the school board’s agenda for Tuesday. The superintendent’s other recommendations for reaching the $19.6 million target include failing to meet state class-size requirements, a $4 million savings, and eliminating other jobs, such as 10 adult-education secretary positions and 10 ESOL resource teaching positions, among others. Two schools — Shady Hills Elementary and Quail Hollow Elementary —are being closed temporarily while they undergo massive renovation projects, and the district expects to eliminate 30 jobs for each of those schools. In all, by merging jobs or eliminating them, Browning is proposing cutting 265 positions. Browning has said the job cuts don’t necessarily translate into layoffs. Retirements and attrition should allow the district to find other positions for those people displaced by the changes, he has said. Many media specialists, for example, could end up as classroom teachers. The road to Tuesday’s school board meeting has been tempestuous. Browning initially proposed doing away with all media specialist and literacy coach positions entirely. Under that plan, school libraries would have been operated by a media technology assistant. Media specialists and their supporters vehemently opposed the idea, saying students, teachers and schools would suffer without the many contributions media specialists make, such as helping students and teachers with research and inspiring students to read. Media specialists and their supporters showed up in droves at two school board meetings, and the school board asked Browning to develop an alternative proposal. He quickly came up with his “Plan B” that also brought technology specialists into the mix and created the new job, along with the Geek Squad. In a meeting with Browning, some media specialists were skeptical that one person could handle the combined media-technology-literacy job he proposes. Linda LaBarbara, a media specialist at Land O’ Lakes High School, told Browning her school’s technology specialist is busy all the time. District officials, though, say change needs to happen if Pasco schools are going to improve. Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson told the media specialists that more Pasco students are failing to meet the state proficiency levels and more schools are falling below the state average. “If we want different results, we cannot continue to do the same things we’ve been doing,” Larson said. Getting the district where it needs to be, while at the same time dealing with budget constraints, means the retooling of some roles, she said.
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