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Hillsborough County Public Schools vows to protect school programs as students rally for support

Posted at 6:26 PM, Sep 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 07:46:24-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Students, parents and teachers in Hillsborough County rallied in-person and in-song against any possible cuts to programs like the arts and music in Hillsborough County Public Schools. The school district stressed they will continue to protect those programs as they look at staffing models.

“I support our students. I support their pathways, electives, art, music, PE, ROTC, AICE, IB, you name it,” said Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis. “Those are pathways we must have that starts to separate us from others, and we’ve got to expand those programs and have continuity from K-12, and we’re going to do that under this leadership.”

Students and teachers reached out to ABC Action News saying they heard about possible cuts to school programs. During a school board workshop Tuesday morning, Superintendent Davis said they’re going to protect programs they offer across the district, like arts, music and PE. Superintendent Davis said they have not cut a single position as of today.

The board did hear about budget concerns that the superintendent said need to be addressed, including a potential $56 million payback to the Florida Department of Education in spring if adjustments aren’t made. The district says that number comes from a loss of more than 7,000 students this year.

The district found around 3,000 of those are in home school now, while school officials are actively calling remaining families to have a better understanding of where they are.

“My job is to be the civic leader, and at the same time, be a steward of all of the funding that we capture from the Department of Education and also locally and make sure we do it in an effective fashion,” said Superintendent Davis.

According to Davis, the district faces a potential budget deficit of $128 million in total.

The superintendent presented cost-saving measures Tuesday that, if enacted in full, would cut the deficit by $71 million.

Options include reducing employee overtime by 50%, which the district estimates would save $1.1 million.

Davis announced leaving approximately 424 vacant positions unfilled would ave an estimated $32.6 million.

The district is also considering cuts to non-classroom positions in the spring 2020 semester that would save about $7 million.

ABC Action News reporter Ryan Smith asked Davis if his office plans on cutting teaching staff.

"It just continues to be how much money we can recoup?" said Davis. "It is the last, last resort that we will touch: individuals that impact children daily."

Superintendent Davis called programs like the arts and music educational pathways they must not cut, but instead grow. Still, dozens rallied outside the school board’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, holding signs reading “Save the Arts” while many sang in unity.

“It starts at the bottom. It starts with the grassroots,” said supporter George Alexander. “It starts with the kid who has no idea what a violin, a cello is, has no idea they can sing, who sings in their shower alone to the radio at home. These are the kids that go on to be the next Beyonce, the next Taylor Swift.”