TAMPA, Fla.— — Hillsborough County Public School leaders are trying to find a way to fill the gap for a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. The school board and superintendent met in a special-called meeting Friday, discussing among other issues plans to address the district’s ongoing financial crisis.
“This can has been kicked down the road,” said board vice-chair Stacy Hahn. “We as a board need to address this. It will be our legacy forever.”
The district explained it is facing a $107 million budget shortfall. In a letter sent Thursday, Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the district’s fund balance does not meet requirements, and they need to submit a financial recovery plan showing how expenses have been and will continue to be cut back as well as showing the district has a plan to fix its financial emergency for this fiscal year and the next. That plan must be submitted within 20 days.
Otherwise, the letter lays out how the FLDOE could appoint a financial emergency board or conduct a forensic audit and investigation. ABC Action News asked board chair, Lynn Gray, what a potential state intervention in this way could mean for students.
“When a state takes over or commands all the bureaucracy, suddenly the infinite needs of children in a classroom, children in a housing complex who have very little transportation, children that are in a migrant situation out in Wimauma and south counties, southeast counties, children will not be addressed,” said Gray. “They will be left alone without, I would say, assistance, a lot of them will be missed.”
The board stressed they need to get on solid financial ground, with some members also demanding different CARES Act funds be released from the State.
“It is truly, truly disruptive of what this financially situation has taken place,” said Superintendent Addison Davis. “And openly as the leader of the organization, it all comes down to me. And it’s unfortunate that a pandemic landed and a financial deficit landed, but I’m going to do everything I can to fight.”
The Superintendent was also in the hot seat during Friday’s meeting, as the board looked at results of a survey by the Hillsborough Association of School Administrators. Gray said the survey and numerous testimonials revealed low morale.
The meeting came amid cuts in the district, which have frustrated teachers, parents, and students. Davis acknowledged they’ve made some very hard, uncomfortable decisions, but said he’s going to fight to build relationships with the community and school leaders.
“Being able to try to navigate through the pandemic and address the budget and at the same time build relationships with principals that you see periodically, it’s been difficult, but the survey lends us an opportunity to listen, learn, to grow, to get better,” said Davis.