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Schools may save without layoffs

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Employees asked to take three days off

By Kellie Parkin

In the effort to reduce the operating budget by more than $1 million by the end of the current school year, Superintendent Bob Hastings is asking for the School Board’s and the union’s approval to take an unusual approach.

Rather than eliminating approximately 50 jobs district-wide, as previously proposed, Hastings has found a more creative means.

“We’re going to ask all employees to take three days off without pay,” Hastings told the Board.

If the plan goes through, employees will not be required to work on three normally paid non-school days, such as teacher workdays. The lost pay would be deducted in equal amounts over the remaining 12 pay-periods of the year. If approved, employees will lose anywhere from $318 to $885 each, an average of about 1.5 percent of pay.

Hastings and the Board members will also give up three days pay. “I’m certainly willing to give that up,” said Chiefland representative Paige Brookins. “We’re all in this together.”

Board Chairman and Williston representative Frank Etheridge was in agreement. “We need to recognize the severity of the financial situation we’re in,” he said. “It’s an equal share of this from top to bottom.”

The total savings benefit to the county will be approximately $510,000.

“We need to trim from our budget $1 million to $1.5 million if we’re going to end the fiscal year with a fund balance of 2.5 percent,” Hastings said. “Three percent would be great, but we need at least 2.5 to open the schools next year.”

Hastings said he has no current plans to lay-off employees. “It’s obvious that we will have to operate on less personnel,” Hastings said. “And obviously we prefer to do that through attrition and retirement.”

Hastings also proposed that many currently vacant positions remain unfilled, including Williston High School’s principal. “We can move personnel around to fill the needs from within,” Hastings said. The estimated savings from the unfilled positions is more than $433,000.

The two big-item proposals must have the approval of both the School Board and the Levy County Educators Association.

“The union certainly understands that this is a big boat and we’re all in this together,” Hastings said.

The District expects to receive an answer from the union soon, and the Board will most likely vote at the next meeting on Jan. 20 at 9 a.m. The evening Board meeting for January has been cancelled.

Other cost-saving efforts already put into motion include field-trip limitations, holds on new materials and equipment, and spring athletics restrictions.

Until further notice, all school fieldtrips will be limited to curriculum-based learning excursions. “We have asked schools not to have field trips unless they’re directly reflective of the curriculum,” Hastings told the Board. He added that Grad Night and Safety Patrol trips will continue as planned.

Plans for new Language Arts textbooks scheduled to be adopted for the 2008-09 school year have been postponed. “We will review additional textbook needs this summer,” Hastings said. The District’s purchase order for five new school buses have also been put on hold.

Spring sports programs for all grades will be limited to the minimum number of games required for participation in respective athletic associations, as well as any tournaments already scheduled. “Our idea is not to impede or harm any programs,” Hastings said. “We are just looking to alleviate some costs.”

Budgeting measures also under consideration for this school year and next include decreasing the number of employee-issued cell phones and Blackberries, eliminating block-scheduling, reducing overtime hours to only those approved by the Superintendent, and adjusting or consolidating bus routes.

The District is also researching the possibility of limiting custodial work to daylight hours. Custodians would not have their time reduced, but instead have their hours shifted so that work would be performed without the high energy costs of keeping the school open into the night.

“We need to keep in mind how we can make things more efficient, how we can do better in using our resources,” Hastings said. “We will ask everyone to make sacrifices and do things conducive to serving the students.”

“Our goal is to educate our children,” he said. “And they deserve the best education we can give.”