School district officials outline potential job cuts

Proposals go back and forth

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - The Palm Beach County School District has just notified more than 500 permanent employees that their positions could be eliminated this summer because of a budget crisis, officials said on Tuesday.

Classroom teachers, principals and nearly all school jobs have been spared under the proposal, but recommended department cuts include 17 school police officers.

Administrators also said the number of potential layoffs would end up being a much smaller number, because of employee reassignments to various openings in the system.

"Due to vacancies and normal attrition, the vast majority of these affected employees will likely be employed by the district in the next school year albeit their employment may be in different positions than they previously held," said Mark Mitchell, the district's director of compensation.

The School Board will begin reviewing the administration's proposal during a meeting Wednesday. A citizen's advisory committee also plans to examine the recommendations on Monday. Board members are scheduled to tentatively approve the district's 2011-12 budget on July 27.

District leaders said state funding cuts and rising costs, including raises for about half the district's 12,000 teachers, is creating a potential $30 million to $50 million hole in next year's operating budget, which is estimated at about $1.1 billion.

And that is forcing the district, which has 21,131 workers, to proceed with the planned job cuts subject to board approval. The School Board has cited the teacher raises, which cost $8.4 million, as a critical priority, even if it means some people will lose their jobs.

None of the affected workers would include school media center and attendance clerks as initially planned. Principals successfully lobbied during the past week to keep those 266 positions.

Education activist Jan Porter of Palm Beach Gardens cheered the move as a lifesaver.

"You might have inadvertently saved children's lives because some attendance clerks have received special training in life safety emergencies," she wrote in a thank you letter.

But other workers won't be as lucky, as administrators Tuesday outlined $9.7 million in school-based reductions and $19.4 million in administrative department cuts.

For schools, the impact includes the elimination of 244 school hallway and cafeteria monitor positions and 23 secretary clerks. The monitors' salaries had been paid with federal stimulus funds, which are expiring in June.

Also, all schools would cut funding by 10 percent for supplements awarded to department chairpersons and teachers who work with after-school clubs. Schools also would drop from the annual district calendar four extra working days for elementary school assistant principals and two extra working days for secondary school guidance counselors.

For departments, the cuts include 489 positions — 168 of which are vacant. The 321 affected employees are spread across the administration, including positions such as accounting technicians, secretaries, construction inspectors, painters, custodians, and human resources specialists. Some of the jobs had been classified as temporary.

In total, between schools and departments, 513 permanent workers were told they may not have a job after the fiscal year ends on June 30, Mitchell said.

These changes will reduce a significant portion of the district's budget shortfall, but probably not all of it.

The School Board must still decide whether to impose unpaid furloughs, among other reductions, to balance the budget as required by state law.

Administrators said the proposal and suggested cuts was built around "critical functionality" and the board's six priorities:

Impact on student achievement; maintain safe, secure school environment; compliance with state's restrictive class-size limits; ensure compliance with local, state and federal regulations; maintain adequate budget reserves; and protection of workforce/creation of allocation for employee salary negotiations.

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