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Hillsborough Schools say no cuts have happened as students, parents worry about program futures

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Posted at 5:43 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-22 07:43:04-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Students and parents in Hillsborough County are worried about possible cuts to school programs as the district tries to avoid a potential multi-million dollar payback to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) in the spring if adjustments aren't made.

WATCH LIVE | Hillsborough School Board set to discuss budget and COVID-19 impact at 9:30 AM on Tuesday, Sept. 21

Several parents, teachers, and students reached out to ABC Action News after they say they heard about possible cuts to programs, including music, at other schools in the district.

“That’s really the only part of the day I look forward to in school, so it would be really tough,” said 8th grader Lauren Garcia.

Garcia says nobody wants the music or arts programs taken away. She and a friend helped spearhead a social media group to rally people to “Save the Arts.”

“Our mission was to really spread the word and get the word out there to as many people as possible,” said Garcia. “We both heard about this, and we thought ‘we need to get this out everywhere.”

“I know for my daughter personally, she was in tears,” said Kristine Daniel.

Daniel shared in Garcia’s concerns for music programs. Daniel's daughter is in the orchestra.

“It’s an outlet for kids, not only just to learn, but it teaches them teamwork. It teaches them skills that they can use elsewhere,” said Daniel.

Hillsborough County Public Schools told ABC Action News nothing has been cut or finalized. The district explained funding is based on student enrollment, which drives staffing allocation. The district says they’re down about 7,000 students now than at the end of last school year.

In a letter to families, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis shared: “The FDOE has also made clear that districts will have to give back funds following the February 2020 FTE Survey if enrollment and programmatic needs are lower than the Fall survey. At this time, Hillsborough is looking at a potential $56 million payback based on that possibility alone.”

“Making the financial situation even more difficult is the negative impact that non-reimbursable, COVID-response expenses and other costs have had on our general revenue,” said Davis in the letter. “It was necessary, but protecting our students and staff has come at an expense."

To address it, the district says it is looking to cut positions through open vacancies and natural attrition, while principals look where staff may be over-allocated.

“Two major responsibilities of a superintendent are to ensure fiscal stability and to provide a robust, comprehensive educational experience for all learners,” said Davis in the letter. “We will accomplish this process together while preserving existing programs such as music, art, physical education, and advanced coursework.”

Arts supporters plan to rally and sing ahead of the school board’s meeting Tuesday afternoon. Lauren’s mother, Hilary Garcia, says she understands what these classes mean for students.

“Our superintendent has a “children first” philosophy I feel, and I feel that the board needs to look at that, children first. And is this truly the best decision for our children that they’re making?” said Hilary.