Committee discusses plan to make 12-month Palm Beach County school workers take month of furlough

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Desperate for ways to plug next year's budget deficit, the Palm Beach County School Board's budget advisory committee today explored an option to reduce almost all of the district's 12-month employees to only 11 months, with a one-month unpaid furlough.

The committee admitted it would be extremely unpopular among employees.

That would cut the pay of about 12 percent of the district's 21,000 person workforce, or about 2,600 employees, by about 8 percent, committee members estimated.

"When you're looking at a $50 million problem, somehow you have to deal with it," said Committee Member Andy Binns. "Anyway you slice it, people aren't going to like it."

The advisory committee also explored the feasibility of outsourcing major district functions like custodians and transportation.

The committee did not make any actual recommendation on the idea of reducing the 12-month employees to 11-month employees. Instead Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said he would explore the idea further and come back with a "menu" of possible options at next month's meeting.

Budget Director Shirley Knox estimated that furloughing all 12-month employees for a month would save the district $9.7 million next year. Almost $5 million of that savings would come from only paying school principals and school custodians for 11 months.

Advisory Committee Chairman Ed Tancer said only having 11 month employees would likely require shutting down almost all of the school district except for a few essential functions for a month in the summer. Burke said summer school would still run.

"I just don't know where else we're going to find the dollars necessary," Tancer said. "I'd hate to start looking at things like school programs."

Okeeheelee Middle School Principal David Samore said the summer is a very busy time for principals and custodians getting the school ready for the next year.

"We have a tiger by the tail every day of the year," Samore said. "We don't have any lull in the action."

Binns said different employees could be furloughed for two weeks or a month at different times of the year instead of a shutdown all at the same time.

Cutting employees like custodians or secretaries to 11 month employees and reducing their pay would have to be negotiated with the labor unions that represents them, Burke said. The committee is only advisory and any move to 11-month employees would have to be approved by the school board.

The advisory committee also unanimously recommended that the school board solicit bids from private companies to take over various facilities functions, including custodial cleaning, grounds maintenance and building maintenance.

Knox said the amount the district spend now for custodial service, about $1.84 per square foot of building space, is higher than the median rate of $1.71 paid by large school districts nationwide that are part of the Council of Great City Schools.

Every 10 cents the district could save on the cost of custodians per square foot if it outsourced would save the district $2.4 million, Knox estimated.

The committee did not recommend the school board solicit any bids to outsource transportation. Knox showed that the amount the district spent per student to run its buses was lower than all the largest districts in the state, including Duval County which outsources transportation. Committee members said it was unlikely the district could complete any bidding process in time to outsource buses by next year anywa

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