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State Threatens To Take Over Hillsborough County Schools Due To Budget Shortfalls

TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - The Florida Department of Education is threatening to take over Hillsborough County Schools district operations if leaders can't come up with a plan in the next 19 days on how to fix the district's $107 million deficit.

A letter sent from the state to district leaders Thursday afternoon notified them of the possible take-over. The Deputy Superintendent says the district needs to have a financial plan on how to make up $80.6 million to avoid a state takeover, and the best bet is relying on future CARES Act money.

At a board meeting on Friday, chairwoman, Lynn Gray, says "Now we are looking at black and white. Shut down the school system or find the money."

A debt that's been growing for years has finally reached it's tipping point.

Stacy Hahn, board vice chair, says "We as a board need to address this. It will be our legacy."

On Friday, the Hillsborough County School Board announced it has 19 days to create a financial recovery plan to fix the district's $107 million deficit. Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, said in a letter to the district that if it cannot come up with a plan, he will take emergency action and take over the district's budget, something Gray says could negatively affect students.

"Suddenly the infinite needs of children in a classroom, children in a housing complex who have very little transportation, children who are in migrant situations in South county and Southeast county, children will not be addressed," said Gray.

Over the last few months, Superintendent Addison Davis made the decision to cut about 1,000 staff positions to help with the deficit, but that wasn't enough.

"It all comes down on me. And it's unfortunate that a pandemic landed and a financial deficit landed," said Davis.

During the board meeting on Friday, many members disapproved of how Davis has handled the budget.

Nadia Combs, board member, said "It's the communication and the leadership. I've urged many times for there to be more cuts from the cabinet."

The Deputy Superintendent says the best bet at this point is to rely on CARES 3 money from the state, and if the district doesn't receive that money in time, there are no other options.

"It's almost an impossible situation," said Gray.

But Superintendent Davis says he has some ideas on how to help.

"Whether it's continuing to reduce overtime, making certain that we reduce internal budgets as a district, not filling positions outside of the schools," said Davis.

Board member Jessica Vaughn says, "This community is crying out for its stability."

The board scheduled a special meeting on May 4, 2021 to discuss a rough draft of the financial plan.

At the meeting, the school board also presented a superintendent survey, completed by the Hillsborough Association of School Administrators, and an overwhelming majority of responses disagreed with how Davis is filling the role as superintendent.

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