Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
School budget ax could fall on adult education

The Monroe County School Board will cut $3 million from the district's 2009-2010 budget by slashing non-instructional staff and other personnel and programs. About $1.4 million in cuts could come in the form of retirement and attrition of employees; $1.6 million in cuts are yet to be determined.

Teaching and instructional positions will not be cut from the budget, board members said Tuesday at their meeting in Marathon.

The reductions will bring the school budget down to $86.7 million from $89.7 million, which includes moving $1 million to reserve or operational funds, which board Chairman Andy Griffiths requested.

"With these cuts, we won't have a property tax increase," Griffiths said. "Overall, we will generate the same amount of dollars this year as we did for 2008-2009."

The 3-2 vote instructs Schools Superintendent Randy Acevedo to turn to his department heads to determine where those cuts will be made. At a later budget meeting, the School Board either will agree with the proposed cuts or debate alternatives.

Board members Steve Pribramsky and John Dick voted against the cut, saying it's not enough. Pribramsky has argued that the district needs to cut $7 million, and though Dick hasn't said how much he'd like to cut, he's got his eye on greatly reducing the number of administrators at school district headquarters in Key West. The ratio of administrators to students is "way out of whack," Dick told fellow board members.

Some cuts could be realized by closing the troubled cosmetology classes at Key West High School, something Pribramsky, Dick and fellow board member Duncan Mathewson said they'd consider.

Pribramsky cited ongoing investigations into more than $180,000 in missing cash and unanswered questions about undocumented ordering and purchasing of supplies for the cosmetology program. The State Attorney's Office has charged former Adult Education Coordinator Monique Acevedo, the superintendent's wife, with stealing the money.

"We need to shut down the cosmetology department," Pribramsky said. "It is the black eye of this district; [Florida Keys Community College] could pick it up. I am no way in favor of continuing it. The FBI is in here because of the cosmetology department."

Jeff Arnot, who replaced Acevedo after she resigned March 3 amid the financial scandal, asked board members for another year to clean up the books and restore the public's confidence in the program.

"Give me time to show the public that the money is [being deposited properly]," Arnot said. "I'm trying my best to clean it up; give me a year to show them the purchase orders are being done correctly, that orders are done correctly. We can produce workers who can be productive in the community. Give me that little bit of time to regain their trust."

Assistant Superintendent Mike Henriquez also urged the board to keep the program going, saying the money it generates will help pay for it. He also said that closing the program would halt cosmetology students in the middle of their efforts to gain state licenses.

Pointing to Arnot's hard work and efforts to clean up the department, Mathewson worried that Arnot would have too much on his plate; other adult education programs, such as the General Equivalency Degree and English for Speakers of Other Languages, also need help.

Nearly all board members have said they'd be willing to transfer the adult education programs to the community college, but that would leave the department's support of some MARC House programs in question.

The board did not make a decision about the department's fate on Tuesday.

jguerra@keysnews.com

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