Hillsborough County's School Board is implemented a hiring freeze, but it won’t be enough to solve the district’s budget problems.
The School Board met again Tuesday to discuss what else can be done to balance the budget for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year; an estimated $100 million or more needs to be cut to do so.
Since Superintendent Jeff Eakins took over the top job, the county has worked to eliminate jobs as teachers retire or positions open, choosing instead of layoffs to eliminate unfilled roles when possible.
This policy has helped the district to get the roster of employees down to the level it was during the 2011-2012 school year; the district now has 613 fewer employees than it did during the 2015-2016 school year, says a district spokesperson.
As of right now, over 500 instructional vacancies are “frozen” and many may never be filled, and another 500 non-instructional positions are also “frozen.”
100 positions were officially “collapsed” this past Thursday.
The policy is saving the district millions of dollars. As are other tactics, such as energy-saving programs for schools.
“The largest portion of our budget is salary costs,” says Superintendent Eakins.
As the School Board debates whether the district can get by without teachers losing jobs, the county is closely monitoring changes state leaders are making in Tallahassee.
House Bill 7069, which was passed during a Special Session and creates what’s called the “Schools of Hope” program that would offer financial incentives to charter school operators, has drawn criticism this Spring for Superintendents across Florida, including Eakins.
“It literally will take dollars away from our most needy schools,” Eakins told ABC Action News last week, pointing out that these “Schools of Hope” would essentially be paid to compete with the district’s “Title 1” Schools, which educate students from low-income backgrounds.
Eakins estimates it will cost Hillsborough about $10 million.
Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, a Republican who represents the Land O’ Lakes Community, retorted online recently in reference to Hillsborough County, “Administrative bloat, inefficiencies, & debt are the reasons for school district problems, not game changing legislation.”
Administrative bloat, inefficiencies, & debt are the reasons for school district problems, not game changing legislation. @Marlenesokol
— Richard Corcoran (@richardcorcoran) June 13, 2017
Cool-headed about the criticism, Superintendent Eakins tells ABC Action News, “I just want to sit and talk with the Speaker and let him know some of the things we are doing. He may not be aware of some of the things we’ve put in place over the last couple years to really defray some of the costs he may have mentioned in some of his comments,” said Eakins in between budget sessions.
Corcoran also criticized the school district for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new equipment for the district’s board room, which ABC Action News reported on last week.
School Board Member Cindy Stuart tells ABC Action News the equipment replaces old technology that was still in place from the 1980’s, and was purchased two years ago.
“I would agree we don’t want any waste in our district wasteful spending,” Eakins tells ABC Action News between budget workshops Tuesday. “That’s why we’re having workshops like this today to talk about the things we need to do to prevent any spending we don’t need to do, any spending we do should be essential spending we need to do to support the students,” he added.
The debate over teachers and administrators doesn’t address some of the bigger problems looming over the school district.
The district is also facing about a billion dollars in school construction debt, an additional billion dollars or so in maintenance backlog, and believes it may need another billion dollars to build dozens of new schools in high growth neighborhoods.