By B.C. Manion
Election 2010 ushered in three new members on the Pasco County School Board, representing the first time in decades that a majority of that board was elected on a single ballot.
Cynthia Armstrong, Alison Crumbley and Steve Luikart are scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Armstrong assumes the District 3 seat, vacated by Cathi Martin. Crumbley fills the District 4 seat, replacing Kathryn Starkey. Luikart assumes District 5, vacated by Frank Parker.
All three newly elected board members said the district’s anticipated funding shortfall for next year is the biggest challenge they’ll be facing as they take on policy making and budget decisions for a school system that has more than 67,000 students, more than 9,000 employees and an annual budget topping $1 billion.
“We’re looking at a $47 million shortfall already for next year,” Crumbley said.
“The budgetary issues are going to be a priority for the next several years,” Luikart predicted. “There are going to be tough, tough issues as far as cuts.”
Voters’ rejection of the proposed quarter-mil tax for public schools sent a clear message, Luikart said. “We need to live within our means.”
While tough budget cuts will be necessary, the district also needs to seek additional revenue sources, Crumbley said. “I would like to look at more grant writing done by the district,” she said. “I think there’s a huge opportunity.”
Both Crumbley and Armstrong said they’re interested in putting additional emphasis on vocational and technology training offered through the district’s schools.
While cost cutting is a key focus, Luikart, a 32-year veteran of the county’s public schools, is not interested in pursuing privatization of support services such as custodial or food service as a way to achieve savings. If there are ways to do things more efficiently, the district’s staff is capable of learning those techniques, he said.
“When you have your (non-instructional) staff as part of the school, they become part of the community,” Luikart said.
“Students are so much more comfortable when the lady in the front office knows their name,” said Luikart, who was an assistant principal and a teacher before he threw his hat into the ring for school board.
Crumbley said she’s not interested in pursuing privatization either. “There’s a lot more to privatization than people realize,” she said. “First and foremost you’re going to lose jobs.”
Luikart said his background makes him aware of how decisions made by the state Legislature and the school board level can affect the daily lives of teachers and students.
“We keep putting things on teachers’ plates, but we haven’t taken anything off in a long time,” said Luikart, Florida Assistant Principal of the Year in 2001.
The school district also will continue to deal with the challenges of class-size restrictions, Armstrong said. Voters rejected Amendment No. 8, which would have relaxed those standards.
Armstrong said she hopes the Legislature will be able to help the school district on the funding front, but given the economic climate, she is not overly optimistic.
School board members are elected to four-year terms however, Crumbley was elected to a two-year term to complete Starkey’s unexpired term. School board members are paid $36,419 annually.
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