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Florida education commissioner says Hillsborough schools at 'point of crisis', demands action

Commissioner Richard Corcoran threatens to take emergency action
Hillsborough County school bus
Posted at 3:26 PM, Apr 22, 2021

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla- — In an open letter Thursday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said Hillsborough County schools' finances are at a "point of crisis" and he would take emergency action if the situation doesn't change.

The three-page open letter is addressed to Hillsborough School Board Chair Lynn Gray. In the letter, Commissioner Corcoran says, "The District’s lack of attention to this issue since 2015 has already created a disruption with your workforce, and your lack of comprehensive and timely action at present threatens the basic delivery of education services to Hillsborough’s students."

Corcoran says the Florida Department of Education wants to work with the county to address the financial emergency.

RELATED: Hillsborough teachers union pushing back against likely cuts to 92 instructional positions

According to Corcoran, the district is $107-million overspent on their budget. The district has 20 days to put together a financial recovery plan and present it to the state on how they plan to solve the issue moving forward into the next several years.

Corcoran is threatening a state takeover if the financial outlook for the district does not improve.

That would include appointing a financial emergency board to oversee the district’s budget and an investigation into accounts and records.

"It is concerning, the prospect of a state takeover, because I do feel like it’s a nuclear option," said parent Kimberly Pullen. "I do understand that the current administration and leadership has not been completely at fault for the budget crisis, however, I do feel like there are decisions that have been made within the last year that have exacerbated the situation that we’re currently in."

Near the end of the letter, Commissioner Corcoran said he would use emergency action to bring the school district into compliance with Florida law.

ABC Action News spoke with school board member Nadia Combs on Thursday. Combs said state officials are playing politics by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds.

"I think there’s a bigger picture that the state is trying to create a weakness within our district," said Combs. "If we make the cuts that we are making, and we are making difficult decisions through our district, I feel that with that and the CARES Act money, we will be fine."

Statement from Superintendent Addison Davis:

“For the last nine months, I have shared publicly the critical state of the financial picture for HCPS. My leadership team has identified and implemented strategies that have helped to mitigate this crisis through staffing allocation cuts and other measures. These decisions have not been easy and I understand the community’s frustration and angst. We have done everything to minimize the impact on individuals, but I know that they have affected our teachers, students, families, and school-based administrators. All of this has been necessary to avoid a state takeover, and I look forward to working with the Board in the weeks and months ahead as we continue to improve and work in the best interest of our primary stakeholders – the students.”

Read the full letter below: