Turnout disappointing’ at first school budget meeting
TRINITY - Two years ago, near capacity crowds poured into town hall meetings to hear about the Pasco County School Board’s budget woes and to suggest ways to plug a multimillion dollar revenue shortfall. Parents rallied to save arts programs. Band students, fearful of losing their favorite activity, waved signs. Residents lined up at a microphone to plead for school services they worried would be slashed. It’s a new budget year and once again the school board faces drastic spending cuts. This time, though, the public response is more muted.Roughly 30 people showed up Wednesday evening at Seven Springs Middle School for the first of this year’s town hall meetings. Many of those people were school district staff members, principals and teachers. “It’s disappointing,” said board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, who hosted the meeting. “I still remember my first one when I had 500 people attending and that was exciting to see so many people interested in our district.” The board plans two more town hall gatherings at schools, plus a virtual town hall meeting that residents can participate in without leaving home. Armstrong is hopeful those will generate greater participation because, she said, the board wants the public’s ideas as it mulls its spending options. The numbers are daunting, though some trimming of the deficit is already underway. The bottom line: The school district faces a $26.4 million shortfall as it plans the 2013-14 fiscal year budget. Already the board and Superintendent Kurt Browning took care of about $19.6 million of the shortfall with a series of actions approved May 7. Among other things, they combined the media specialist, technology specialist and literacy coach jobs into one position; they eliminated numerous other jobs; and they decided to ignore the state’s class-size requirements. That last item means the district faces a fine, but the savings outweighs the fine, Armstrong said. Browning suggested this week additional ways to save money totaling another $4.8 million, but that’s largely by using money from non-recurring funds, something the board has said it prefers not to do. Even if the board accepts that proposal, the district still needs to find an additional $2 million in savings. The school board’s first public hearing on the 2013-14 budget is at 6 p.m. July 30. The final public hearing and vote is 6 p.m. Sept. 17. Remaining town hall meetings include:
Tuesday: Hudson High School mini-theater, 14410 Cobra Way, Hudson; hosted by board member Steve Luikart.
Wednesday: Virtual meeting available on PETV, channel 614 on Bright House cable or channel 40 on Verizon, and also live streamed at www.pasco.k12.fl.us/communicaitons/videostream; hosted by board members Joanne Hurley and Allen Altman.
Thursday: River Ridge Middle/High School, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey; hosted by board Vice Chairwoman Alison Crumbley.
All meetings begin at 6 p.m.
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