TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough County School Board will meet Thursday to work out the district's official financial recovery plan for the state. It will address not only overstaffing issues, but what's needed to avoid a state takeover of the district's finances amid a $107M budget shortfall.
"This can has been kicked down the road and we've talked about this before," said Dr. Stacy Hahn at a recent school board meeting. "The board needs to address this. It will be our legacy forever."
Hillsborough County School Board members and Superintendent Addison Davis still need to find around $30M by June 30 to avoid going into financial receivership.
In a livestream on her Facebook page on Monday evening, School Board Member Jessica Vaughn said the superintendent is working with the state and talked with the Department of Education last Friday.
"I know that he went to Tallahassee to speak with the department of education and came back hopeful," Vaughn said.
Vaughn also said Davis petitioned the state to release some of the CARES Act money allocated to the district from the federal government, designed to help education agencies pay for some of the financial fallout from the pandemic.
In a meeting with reporters on Tuesday, following a school board retreat to work out the superintendent's professional improvement plan, Davis said he's still waiting to see where that stands.
"I haven't received anything from the department of education that identifies any type of relief funding coming to us this week," Davis said. "You know, fingers crossed."
However, Vaughn, along with School Board Member Nadia Combs, said it's likely we'll learn if the state will release some CARES Act funding at the May 6 school board meeting.
In an open letter, 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.
Corcoran sent a three-page letter 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."
According to Corcoran, the district is $107-million overspent on their budget. The district has until May 12 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 has threatened a state takeover if the financial outlook for the district does not improve.
To deal with mounting budget problems, Davis eliminated more than 900 instructional positions in April and those teachers are currently working to find other jobs within the district.
"We have put a lot of organizational controls in place to be able to address our finances," Davis said after Tuesday's retreat.
He also sent an email to more than a hundred of the district's newest teachers, saying it's likely they will not have a position next school year due to budget cuts. However, since the initial email went out, that number has dropped to 92 positions due to retirements and resignations.
If the state does release some of the CARES Act money, Combs said it's likely the district will be able to avoid a state takeover.
However, regardless of federal dollars, HCPS has already planned a "soft-landing" approach to more budget cuts.
The first one-third of the cuts happening in the current school year, an additional one-third of the cuts happening in the first semester of FY 2021-2022, and another one-third in the second semester of FY2021-2022.
This plan relies heavily on the elimination of vacant positions, natural attrition, and the reassignment of qualified staff, according to a review of the Financial Operations of the Hillsborough County Public Schools. The report was commissioned by the district and carried out by the Council of the Great City Schools.