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Tweaks To Duval Schools Budget Better For Some, But Concerns Remain

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Some tweaks made by Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and school board members to the much-protested school budget plan may make it a bit more palatable for some, but not all.The original budget proposed by Vitti last month called for significant reductions to reading coaches, clerical workers, assistant principals and security, and came under fire by school employees last week.

Tuesday afternoon, Vitti and board members agreed to back away from some, but not all of the most contentious cuts. For instance, the number of reading coaches, for the most part, will remain the same in the district, as will the number of extra assistant principals in large elementary schools.  

“Large elementary schools are defined  as having 900 or more students,” Vitti said. “So with those decisions made, we did decide to reduce our security staff."

That reduction would cut the district’s security staff by about 65 guards, saving the district about $2.1 million, according to district figures.  

School board members agreed to continue funding at least some of the test chair positions. Originally, the plan called to eliminate all of the positions. Under the revision, the district would provide funding for half of the positions, and test chairs would work a 10-month, rather than a 12-month year.

But as of now, cuts to dozens of district and school-level clerical staff remain on the table.

Under the current proposal, one clerical position would be removed from each of the district’s more than 160 schools. Another 66 district-level clerical jobs would also be eliminated. The move would save the district a total of about $7.1 million, according to Vitti.

But also not entirely off the table is the estimated $20 million in state funding earmarked for teacher pay raises, which school board member Ashley Smith Juarez and chairwoman Becki Couch noted during Tuesday’s meeting. Legislation passed in the House and Senate allows districts greater flexibility in how to use the money. The district is in currently the process of negotiating teacher salary schedules with the Duval Teachers United union (DTU).

During school board workshop, school board members discussed the possibility of allocating about $5 million of the teacher pay raise money towards funding to the clerical positions. However, the conversation was cut short by board member Fred “Fel” Lee, who noted that the discussion involved union negotiation details shielded from Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

“Are we sure we want to have this conversation?,” Lee said. “I’m just throwing it out as a board member… It’s up to you guys.”

Vitti later said using the money to save clerical jobs was a possibility.

“Where we are right now, if clericals is not going to be reduced,” he said. “Then, through the negotiation process, we’ll have to have concessions made by DTU to possibly limit salary increases.”

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.