Teacher raises in Polk County could mean other cuts

Hiring freeze now in place

POLK COUNTY, Fla. - Like many school districts around the state, officials in Polk County are dealing with budget issues. They are trying to cut $18 million to pay for raises and it starts with a hiring freeze effective Friday.

The hiring freeze is actually something that happens every year. But this year it came a little earlier.

Officials say the bottom line is they are trying to keep salaries competitive with surrounding counties, but that might mean sacrifices in other areas.

The good news in Polk County: school is teachers and support staff got raises.

Depending on experience level salary bumps were as high as $2500.

But paying for those raises means cuts in other areas.

Marianne Capoziello is president of the Polk County teacher's union. She says the budget problems start in Tallahassee. "As long as we have a legislature that talks about the importance of a quality education, but chooses not to fund that to the level it needs to be, this is going to be a consistent problem, not just in Polk County, but across the state," Capoziello said.

School officials say there will be no changes for the rest of this school year. But there are proposals for next year.

One is to cut high schools from seven periods to six. School hours would remain the same, and no actual programs would be cut.

"There may be fewer courses offered throughout the day, but the one thing parents should know is that there will be remedial time built into our school day for tutoring," said assistant superintendent Mark Grey.

There is also talk about consolidating bus routes, which means fewer drivers. And making parents responsible for transportation for students who go to magnet or choice schools.

Officials say they would love to see more money come from the state, but they know that will likely not happen.

"Our biggest hope is that it doesn't decline, we've been in several years of declining revenues for education," said Mark Grey, Assistant Superintendent.

As for the hiring freeze, substitutes will fill any void and there are exceptions.

"They do say if the school has somebody who leaves and the position is mission critical, the administrator can ask for permission to fill. It's just that they are going to do that on a case by case basis," said Capoziello.

Any of the cuts or changes in Polk County still need to be approved by the school board.

School district employees in Hillsborough County and Pinellas County also saw pay increases this year.

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