Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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School board gives administrative raises

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BROOKSVILLE - A child not more than 5 years old broke away from his father and darted into traffic at the four-way intersection of Tillery Road and Barclay.

"Timothy! Timothy!"

Behind them Explorer K8 had just dismissed school Thursday afternoon and the roads were full of cars and children. The child stopped in the center of the lane and turned around and returned to his father and siblings, unharmed.

"You're going to run across the street?" his father said. "Look at these cars."

Signs prohibiting parking within 500 feet of schools have not deterred traffic in neighborhoods like this one, where parents continue to drop off and pick up their children. Parents say the traffic, both pedestrian and automobile, has increased since the school board voted to stop busing students who live within 2 miles of their zoned schools.

The signs hang at the edge of neighborhoods along Landover Boulevard, where children run with backpacks and weave with bikes between cars going 35 mph around the turns.

Nearby residents Eva Bogner and John Beckon said that, while the no-parking signs have helped reduce congestion, a child was struck by a car one morning this year crossing the road, trying to get to school.

"They should put a crossing guard there," Beckon said. "They don't have anyone to bring them. They're all on their own."

The school district stopped busing students who live within 2 miles of school after the state cut funding for the so-called courtesy busing.

The school district said it couldn't afford to continue the program. It saved about $1 million by eliminating the 19 routes. About 4,500 students were affected.

During a school board meeting last week several parents spent more than an hour calling on the district to bring the bus routes back.

Board members said they would look into it.

Later, they unanimously approved nearly $250,000 in retroactive salary and benefit increases for several school and district-based administrative employees, partly out of the same general revenue fund as student transportation services.

The total amount, taken from the general fund and special revenue fund for salaries and increases (excluding health insurance), is $233,544, roughly the same as the annual costs of operating five of 19 eliminated routes.

"I think that's absolutely bloody appalling," said parent Nikki Highley, who has been personally inconvenienced by the eliminated bus routes, and spoke at Tuesday's meeting. "Our buses are going to save our kids' lives. That's what I worry about is it's going to take a kid getting killed. We've already had one student hit. An ambulance was called. We had one of our teachers' foot run over."

The raises are also more than twice the cost of the county engineering department's traffic safety improvement plan, which was created to compensate for the influx in student pedestrians.

"It comes out of the general fund or operating fund, and it was something that was budgeted, to my knowledge," said newly hired Chief Financial Officer George Gall. "They built in, I know, a nominal increase for persons in those categories, and the budget doesn't get approved until the middle of September, and it just takes time to weed through all that stuff until you feel comfortable with making that type of recommendation."

The board felt comfortable with making the step increases retroactive to July 1, or two months prior to the passing of this year's budget. That increased pay will be reflected in Dec. 2 paychecks, according to media specialist Roy Gordon.

A draft of the 2013-14 budget passed this September shows nearly 81 percent of appropriations in the general fund already go toward salaries (61.59 percent) and benefits (19.28 percent).

Most of the increases represent around $1,000 per employee, according to district data, and the measure was brought forward as a result of the school board declining to give the increased payments last year.

Teachers were not included in the raises, according to Gordon. Teachers received a similar pay and benefit increase at the beginning of the school year, according to the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Teacher salary increases set aside by Gov. Rick Scott in the most recently approved state budget are individually allocated to school districts across the state based on locally bargained and approved distribution plans, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Hernando Classroom Teachers Association President Jo Ann Hartge said in September that the teacher's union was still in negotiations with the school district over state raises.

According to the agenda items, the administrative salary and benefits increases were labeled under the district's strategic focus area of producing a "culture of trust and appreciation."

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