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One money-saving proposition is to use empty classrooms more wisely. STOCK PHOTO
Palm Coast Thursday, May 12, 2011 9 years ago

Teachers seek smarter cuts

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by: Mike Cavaliere Multimedia Director

Teachers union President Katie Hanson submitted 20 cost-saving ideas to the School Board — 14 of which wouldn’t affect employees’ take-home pay. One idea is using empty classrooms more wisely.

About $3.6 million — that’s how much the School Board needs to save next year to account for recent budget shortfalls. And the board has approved cuts accordingly — minimizing staff, shortening school days and, tentatively, reducing teacher workdays.

But some say there are better ways to save.

“We should be looking at programs and not people,” says Katie Hanson, president of the Flagler County Educators Association. “ … I think there are enough (options) in changing or cutting programs to where you don’t have to hurt the teachers.”

Fourteen options of a proposed 20-item list Hanson presented to the board in February in response to looming cuts, would not affect take-home pay.

She says her list could potentially save the district about $2.5 million.

To date, educators have OK’d $2.1 million, or 60%, of the board’s projected savings plan, according to Hanson. In a district of almost 13,000 students, teachers shouldn’t be asked to sacrifice any further, she argues. That’s why the union hasn’t budged on the day-reduction issue — a planned six-day cut for 261-day employees and a five-day cut for 206-, 216- and 226-day employees.

“We’ve already given a lot,” Hanson says.

A few of the union’s savings ideas include lowering school-energy use (half-lighting in classrooms and a three-degree thermostat increase) and eliminating paper progress reports (approximately 312,000 printed reports a year, plus once-a-year 10-page student information packets — plus toner).

Possible revenue-building options are also offered, such as pursuing advertisements on buses and in school fields (“Why not allow our community to participate and support education where they can?” she asks).

The items Hanson is most passionate about, however, have much larger tickets.

Each school, depending on type and enrollment, has a board-approved staffing formula, which dictates how many staff/administrator positions the facility should fill. Currently, the county is five positions over its designation, Hanson says: one extra position at each Buddy Taylor Middle School, Matanzas High and Rymfire Elementary; and two extra positions at Flagler Palm Coast High School.

This type of cut would affect people, Hanson admits, but following the formula would also save around $400,000.

Most controversial is the suggestion to move Phoenix Academy — the fourth-grade charter school — to a school-within-a-school design inside Indian Trails, which, Hanson says, because of zoning and other factors will be at only half capacity next year. That would leave at least 10 classrooms empty.

The split layout of Indian Trails, she explains, also allows for almost total incubation from the rest of the middle school. “They wouldn’t even have to pass in the hallways,” she says.

This co-op would allow Pathways to relocate its facilities into Phoenix’s current offices, as well, thereby eliminating all related portables and saving a combined $180,000. That’s $20,000 more than the savings incurred by cutting teacher days, Hanson points out, and Phoenix could even utilize Indian Trails support staff.

“Keep the program intact — just move it,” Hanson says.

The list’s largest cost-savings come in the form of text books. If the county applies for a state waiver to bypass adopting new reading materials, Hanson says teachers could make what they have work for a while and pull in some additional online resources to bridge the gap.

It would be worth it, Hanson says, for a savings of $650,000.

So far, the union/board bargaining sessions have more or less been a stalemate, Hanson reports.

“We know eventually there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel for this,” says Hanson, “(but) I need to see that the district has honestly and truly considered some of our suggestions.”

The next negotiating session is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 24, at the Government Services Building.

Contact Mike Cavaliere at [email protected].

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