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County school district places hiring freeze on central office personnel

By Staff | Feb 16, 2011

The Lee County School District announced a hiring freeze for all central office personnel positions Wednesday afternoon due to the expected $52 million budget shortfall from the state for the next fiscal year.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Larry Tihen said the district is researching how many vacancies there currently are for the central office personnel positions and reviewing them to see if someone else already in the district can fill the responsibilities.
Tihen said the district certainly does not want to fill a position and then turn around and say we have to lay that person off.
“We will be looking at all vacant positions at least until we know of the actual numbers of our budget,” Tihen said. “It is a matter of reassigning responsibilities,” because those positions are “essential to the district.”
Tihen provided an e-mail correspondence to all the principals and department directors, so he could communicate to the employees what steps have to be taken due to the projected budget shortfall.
“The FY12 budget cycle is now in full gear, and I want to make sure I communicate clearly throughout the process so everyone is informed of our progress and challenges,” Tihen said in the email.
The state is projecting a $3 to $5 billion shortfall as a whole for the next fiscal year. Tihen said the district recognizes that the governor’s budget is the first part of the information, adding that the “potential for a very large budget cut is there.”
“The governor released his budget early this week — a budget that gives our school district a $52 million loss to contend with for the next year (FY12),” Tihen wrote in the email. “The governor’s budget is, of course, only the first draft of what our budget could be. The legislature must do its work before our final budget is actually determined.”
He went on to explain in the email that the district is expecting lower property taxes, which means less revenue, no replacement of stimulus funds, along with some percentage of employee contribution to the retirement fund.
The district will face many challenges if the expected shortfall in revenue holds true for the next fiscal year. Some of those challenges include reinstating art and music into elementary schools and planning periods in middle schools. The shortfall will also affect addressing salary increases to offset retiring contributions, as well as preserving enough reserves to protect the district from additional cuts during the 2012-2013 school year.
“I will continue to take a long-term view of the budget as we strategize,” Tihen said in the email.
He explained that a major priority of his is to limit the amount of reductions in staff.
“This freeze does not affect school positions yet, but I ask principals to please be thoughtful about filling vacant positions,” Tihen emphasized in the email.