Hillsborough County Schools is making massive cuts, as the district battles to stop the financial bleeding, Superintendent Addison Davis told members of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, during a Zoom business meeting.
The superintendent detailed the rollercoaster ride the district has been on — adjusting to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and dealing with significant financial problems.
Davis joined the district on March 2, just weeks before the district shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the school year because of a shutdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then, when the 2020-2021 school year began, there was the controversy over whether schools should be required to offer brick-and-mortar for students, or online options only.
To retain state funding, the district was required to offer a brick-and-mortar option at every campus. It also offered parents the ability to choose an online option.
Davis said about 122,000 students are in brick-and-mortar classrooms and about 95,000 students are learning remotely. Some remote learners are assigned to specific classes, while others are enrolled in a more flexible virtual learning program.
The pandemic also has required the district to spend money on personal protective equipment, and has increased sanitation and cleaning costs for district schools and facilities.
“We have spent close to $14 (million) to $15 million initially to start the school year out, related to buying the necessary PPE, whether it’s gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, other cleaning equipment and technology, to ensure every one of our common areas, every one of our classrooms were protected for every one of our learners.
“And, that’s a reoccurring costs that we don’t get additional funding for, and it’s costing us close to $4 million to $5 million a month to continue that PPE, to make certain that we have sanitation stations, not only through our common areas, but also within every one of our classrooms,” Davis said.
The superintendent also pointed out the need to cut staffing because of district deficits.
“We’re $72 million in the hole,” Davis said.
Enrollment has dropped by 3,079 students, which could result in a requirement to give money back to the State Department of Education, unless state officials hold the district harmless, Davis said.
The school system already has cut hundreds of positions and is identifying others.
It has a long ways to go to bring staffing into alignment with the district’s allocation model, he said.
“We’ve identified over 3,000 positions that were overstaffed at our schools,” Davis said.
The district has already cut hundreds of employees, including some brand-new teachers that were hired on temporary contracts, after Aug. 14.
“It breaks my heart, and I know it’s disruptive,” he said.
The actions are necessary to protect the payroll for the district’s 24,000 employees — which amounts to $66 million, every two weeks.
“We’re in a bad spot, but we’re going to stand strong, and we’re going to lead through it,” he said.
Staffing is just one issue
Besides cutting personnel, the district is scrutinizing its vendors and its contracts.
The district is “going to selectively abandon contracts and exit them, if they’re not mission critical,” Davis said.
It plans to put a freeze on consultants.
The district has been “consultant-rich, program-rich” but ”results-poor,” the superintendent said.
“We’re ranked 40th out of 67 in the state of Florida. We have the title for having the most D and F schools in Florida, as well.
“So, we have a lot of work — not only from a fiscal perspective, but we have a lot of work with what we’re going to do to improve the overall health on the instructional side of the work.
“So now, more than ever, we’ve got to find ways to reset our priorities,” Davis said.
The school chief said the pandemic has hampered his efforts to “connect with constituents” through town hall sessions.
The town halls are needed, he said, “to talk and share about the current status we are in, and why we are having to make some hard decisions as an organization.”
While unable to connect personally with community groups, Davis is doing Zoom sessions, such as the one with the North Tampa Bay Chamber on Oct. 22.
He told those listening that the district’s top three priorities are student achievement, fiscal responsibility and community engagement.
He said the district is planning a luncheon in November in an attempt to recruit students to boost enrollment.
Davis also fielded questions during the Zoom session.
In response to a question about masks, Davis said he expects them to be required until at least January.
A question also came up about when parents and volunteers will be allowed on campus.
Davis said the district has restricted access to campus to reduce potential spread of COVID-19.
The district leader said he looks forward to the day when those restrictions can be eased.
“We’ve got to get back to a point where we’re having some normalcy,” he said, where “we can have volunteers on our campuses — those who want to reach out and do mentorships.
“That’s going to really help us.”
Another question came up regarding how the district’s experience with COVID-19 cases compared to what it had expected.
“We thought we would be a tremendous super spreader when we opened and have to shut down wings, classrooms and schools. And, it wasn’t the case.
“What we did see — and are seeing — is that individuals are going to parties, going to events, coming to school when they don’t feel well, when they have symptoms — that’s creating the positive cases in our schools,” Davis said.
“In one of our high schools, we had to quarantine 260 kids last week because they went to a party. Four of them came back to school, they’re in classes — they moved — and we quarantined 260 kids.
“This is where we have to reclaim the dinner table and talk about core values, and talk about expectations,” said Davis, whose daughter had to be quarantined from school, and he had to be quarantined, too.
Position cuts in Hillsborough County Schools
Hillsborough County Schools has announced these cuts:
- 424 vacant positions that will not be filled for the 2020-2021 academic year
- 246 positions (Teachers hired prior to Aug. 14, will not lose their jobs, but may be reassigned to a different role at their school or to another school)
- Fewer than 60 teachers hired on temporary contracts after Aug. 14
- 150 district level staff
The district also is scrutinizing its contracts and will selectively abandon those that are not deemed to support the district’s critical missions.
Source: Hillsborough County Schools
Published November 04, 2020