COLLIER COUNTY — Saying they can't hold off on cuts any longer, the Collier County School Board on Tuesday approved the district's recommendation to make about $16.5 million in spending reductions.
The cuts include reducing central office and school budgets, and eliminating 100 jobs, including central office and related arts and media specialist positions. However, none of the 33 affected employees in instructional positions will lose their job. Instead, they will be moved to a different position within their area of certification.
Because of the cuts the district will use around $5 million in reserves rather than the $18 million the district projected it would use to make ends meet for the 2012-13 school year. It will reduce district reserves from $38 million to $33 million.
Board Member Julie Sprague cast the only dissenting vote.
Cutting one media specialist from each of the nine high schools will impact student instruction, she said. According to the job description, a media specialist's duties include helping students research and use technology, developing engaging lessons for students, and teaching students to correctly cite and use intellectual property. Sprague asked that the board consider using reserves to maintain those positions.
"We made a commitment to protect services and programs," she said. "I'm not sure that those responsibilities (of media specialists and general assistants) aren't going to fall back on teacher shoulders."
The board's decision came after weeks of input, including more than 100 spending reduction recommendations from parents, teachers and community members.
Five district employees, including three district media specialists, spoke out against the cuts. By cutting positions, the ratio of students to media specialists will be more than 850 to 1 at district high schools, they said. The media specialists stressed that cutting those positions would affect student learning.
Most Florida school districts have one media specialist per high school, according to the district's report.
"You know it's real easy to sit down and Google something and call that research," Elaine Gates, a media specialist at Gulf Coast High School said. "We encourage the kids to get great articles. We teach them critical thinking that is going to make our students great citizens."
Chris Johnston, an English teacher at Barron Collier High School, said she couldn't successfully educate her students without the media specialists.
"When you've got as many students doing research papers as you do in our schools, you can't afford to lose that support," Johnston said.
Board Member Barbara Berry predicted the district will have to continue to make cuts in the coming years.
"I fully understand that this is just the beginning and I strongly feel we'll be here doing the same thing next year," she said.
Making reductions this year saves the district from making double the cuts next year, Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute said.
"It's a very difficult situation but saving $50,000 this year saves us $100,000 the following year," LaBute said. "It's a recurring cost."
Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton also predicts there could be more budget cuts next year, particularly if the state Legislature continues to hand down unfunded mandates.
"It's a tough decision. We're in very hard times," Patton said. "But it's the fiscally responsible decision."
The district will notify all employees affected by the cuts by the end of the week.