Pasco school board may keep media specialists, literacy coaches
LAND O’ LAKES - A move to eliminate school media specialists and K-12 literacy coaches is on hold at least temporarily after the Pasco County School Board asked Superintendent Kurt Browning to explore other options for saving money. Browning told the board Tuesday evening that he will present an alternative plan May 7 to cover the nearly $5 million the school district would save by cutting those jobs. Board member Joanne Hurley led the effort to consider another money-saving solution, saying she is “not real comfortable” with the idea of doing away with the positions. Board member Allen Altman, though, raised the concern that any alternative likely would affect other school employees who could lose their jobs permanently, and there would be less time for the board and those employees to address the implications of that.“We are putting ourselves in a dangerous situation timeline wise to be able to allow the flexibility we need for budgeting purposes,” Altman said. A large contingent of media specialists appeared at the meeting to urge the board to keep them in their current positions. Browning’s proposal includes a plan to find other jobs for them, most likely as classroom teachers. Mary Vathy, media specialist at Denham Oaks Elementary in Land O’ Lakes, questioned why media specialists and literacy coaches were targeted, while just five jobs at district headquarters are expected to be cut. “Media works directly with students,” Vathy said. “We have direct impact.” Media specialists and their supporters also lobbied board members at a meeting last month, soon after Browning announced his plan in a podcast shown to school staffs throughout the district. Browning said eliminating media specialists not only helps the budget, but “also moves us instructionally where we want to be” by putting many of them to work in classrooms. The district is anticipating a revenue shortfall for the 2013-14 budget year. Previously, the superintendent’s staff predicted the shortfall would be $23 million, but that projection has been reduced to $19.5 million. So far, Browning and his staff have come up with $14 million in proposed cuts, but that included the $5 million in savings from eliminating the district’s 56 media specialists and 33 literacy coaches. For example, the district would save $4 million by hiring 74 fewer teachers than are needed to meet state class-size requirements. The district would pay the state a penalty for failing to meet the requirements, but the penalty would be much less than the savings. In all, the district is considering cutting as many as 260 jobs, but Browning said retirements and attrition should help schools avoid layoffs. In other action Tuesday, the board approved contracts with United School Employees of Pasco. The contracts, previously ratified by teachers and other school workers, do not include raises, but employees do maintain their benefits packages.