Hillsborough County School Board members spent much of the day and evening of April 13 discussing the district’s need to make deep cuts to avoid losing financial control of the district.
“Hard decisions have to be made to protect this organization,” Superintendent Addison Davis told board members, and the public.
If the district doesn’t reduce its expenses, the Florida Department of Education will take over, and the cuts it makes will be less surgical in nature, Davis said.
The state will tell the district “what to do for every cent and dollar,” Davis said, essentially stripping the board and superintendent of their financial power.
Board members and Davis discussed the need to make more than $100 million in cuts during a board workshop in the morning and a board meeting in the evening.
Davis said he came to Hillsborough County with the mission of improving the district’s academic performance.
His 13-month tenure in the district, however, has been dominated by dealing with budgetary shortfalls.
“I didn’t know that Hillsborough was in any type of a financial deficit,” the superintendent said.
“We’re losing students, which is equivalent to losing leaders, teachers, district staff and support staff. That’s a reality,” Davis said.
Numerous speakers criticized the district’s planned reductions.
“As a career Hillsborough County educator, who loves this district, I am thoroughly disappointed and disheartened by where we stand today. These cuts are not good for students, schools, employees, or our communities,” said Rob Kriete, president of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
“The cuts that you are going to bring are going to destroy what little morale is left,” another speaker said.”
Others questioned the district’s plans to cut its number of assistant principals and reduce staffing levels at individual schools.
“Don’t balance the budget on the back of our schools,” a speaker urged.
“There is a lot of talk about transparency, but there’s not a lot of evidence of this,” a speaker said.
Davis said if anything, he has over-communicated the district’s financial situation. “It hasn’t been a secret,” he said, noting he’s done media tours and given talks to numerous groups about the district’s dire financial straits.
He also told board members: “We gave every school a staff allocation model for their schools. We didn’t change anything that hasn’t historically been in Hillsborough County. We’re just implementing that model.”
The district’s plan, however, reduces the number of assistant principals.
That decision has prompted concerns about how the reduced staffing will affect student safety and behavior.
As one speaker put it: “Our already overwhelmed assistant principals are going to become even more overwhelmed, coming off a very difficult year.”
School board member Nadia Combs told Davis: “I do believe that we are top-heavy in this district. I do believe that the cuts need to come from the top and go down.”
The district needs to find a landing place for the assistant principals affected by the cuts, Combs said.
“When people are identified as an assistant principal, it’s because they’ve done a great job as a teacher. They’ve gone above and beyond, as a teacher.
“I strongly believe that we need to look at every single one of our assistant principals and make sure they have a landing somewhere.”
“Some of these assistant principals just found out on Friday that they are going to be let go. Some of them have been in this district for 25 or more years.
“We have 24,000 employees. I think we can find a place for those 50 people,” Combs said.
Davis responded: “I would love to guarantee every assistant principal a job.
“I have a contract that I have to follow. Teachers have the first right in that contract.”
Davis added that master schedule reviews will continue during the summer to determine how many positions can be regained, based on the newest enrollment projections.
He also noted that while the college and career counseling position may be eliminated, 23 of the district’s 28 career counselors are certified to be counselors and will move to those positions.
Of the remaining five, he said, one has retired and two have found new positions, leaving the district down to two.
School board member Jessica Vaughn asked if the district could use federal CARES Act money, to help address the shortfalls to give the district more time to find long-term solutions.
But, Ro Johnson, the district’s new chief financial officer, said the district should not use one-time money to support staffing because ultimately the personnel would need to be cut once that money ran out.
School board chairman Lynn Gray and school board member Henry “Shake” Washington said principals need to play a key role in deciding what happens at their schools — because they are in the best position to know what the school needs.
Davis told board members he understands the educational sacrifices that the district is having to make.
“As a superintendent, I would never make these decisions, if our back were not against the wall,” Davis said adding, “I don’t want to be one of the leaders that kicks this can down the road.”
Hillsborough County School Cuts
Hillsborough County Public Schools must make budget cuts to avoid being taken over by the Florida Department of Education.
Planned cuts include:
- 1,000 positions (It is not known yet how many people the district will cut)
- Furlough days: Each administrative position will be required to take furlough days
- Fewer assistant principals: The district expects to trim about 47 AP jobs
- Elimination of college and career counselors; those services will be provided by school counselors
Published April 21, 2021