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Hillsborough Superintendent Warns Of ‘Uncomfortable Adjustments’ Due To Cash Crisis

Superintendent Addison Davis speaks at a board meeting
SCREENSHOT: Hillsborough County Schools
Superintendent Addison Davis says he will preserve arts programs as the districts struggles to make up for a cash crunch.

Thousands of students have gone missing from school, which could mean an additional loss of $56 million in state funding.

The chief of Hillsborough County Schools warned on Tuesday that “uncomfortable adjustments” lie ahead, due to a major budget shortfall that has raised concerns about possible teacher and staff cuts in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Addison Davis vowed to preserve arts and elective programs as the district seeks to address a $72 million operating deficit in its $3.2 billion budget, one which could balloon even higher since thousands of kids have failed to re-enroll in school.

“We’ve been trying to message that we are in no way, shape, or form ever going to eliminate, reduce, remove any art, music, PE programs or accelerated programs within our school district,” Davis told school board members.

However, he said “potential adjustments may have to be made,” describing such moves as “uncomfortable adjustments” that may unfold over the next year or two.

Other steps under consideration include “eliminating unfilled vacancies that are both at the district level and then maybe potentially at the school level while protecting class size, programs, and school improvements, being able look at warehouse consolidations, reducing out-of-county travel, reducing potential overtime where we potentially can and then looking at reducing energy usage,” Davis said.

Another complicating factor is that around 7,300 school-age children have not re-enrolled in Hillsborough County Schools since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Davis said.

About 3,000 have opted for home-schooling, he said. It's unclear what happened to the rest, though district social workers are trying to track them down.

Hillsborough County Schools spokeswoman Tanya Arja confirmed that at the end of last year, the district had some 222,000 students enrolled, and currently that number is 215,689.

Fewer students translates to less funding from the state on the order of about $7,600 per student. Davis warned the board that could mean 56 million more dollars added to the current deficit.

"This is not a mistake on this document,” Davis said at the workshop with board members. This document is a reality. The 56 million dollars is a reality for the number of students that if they don't return, that truly exists."

A petition demanding that no teacher jobs be cut has garnered more than 4,300 signatures.

“You must lead the charge to demand better funding. Cutting teachers is the last resort,” said Anne Lenz, a pediatrician who started the petition.

“Teachers lost will not easily be replaced," she added. "How will you prevent overcrowding once students return from distance learning if these units are gone?”

Most of the three dozen people who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting asked school board leaders to preserve teacher jobs, as well as arts, music and theatre programs.

“We are here to make sure that those programs that serve our students remain,” said board vice chair Steve Cona. “But there are difficult decisions that need to be made and I think it is important that all of us realize that, at this point, doing nothing is not an option.”