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Hillsborough Superintendent: Deficit Spending "Can't Continue"

Oct 5, 2015

It was with great fanfare in 2009 that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it was giving $100 million to Hillsborough County schools for a program called Empowering Effective Teachers -- one of just three public school districts in the country awarded the grant.

At the time, it was at the forefront of the movement to pay teachers for performance, rather than seniority.

Now, the district won't be getting a fifth of that money. And the consequences to the school district's budget are coming clear. Increases in teacher pay and bonuses haven't been matched by the Gates Foundation money or other revenue, forcing the school district to dip into its financial reserves.

Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins has been in his job just a little more than three months.

He says that last year the school district spent $80 million more than it took in, a trend that can not continue.

"We've had reserves to take care of that [deficit], but we're getting to the point that we can't depend on reserves to do that any more," Eakins says. "We have to have stability in the organization."

The Empowering Effective Teachers initiative has turned out to be more expensive than anticipated. Results, says Eakins, are mixed.

"Some of the data you see has been very powerful. You see higher retention rates of our newer teachers, that's been very powerful.  But one of the things we're continuing to look at -- and this is something the Gates Foundation has continued to ask --  is how is this translating to student achievement? 

Is the increased retention rate of teachers, is the increased support that we're providing teachers, translating to overall student achievement?   That's something they've been asking.  We haven't seen the same trajectory in our student achievement as we have in our teacher growth."

The school district is hiring an outside auditor to review its finances and programs.