Addison Davis, the superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, and his team are attempting to put budget cuts into place in order to tackle the county’s financial troubles, but these cuts could come at the expense of teachers.
As students switch to charter, private or online schooling, public schools have experienced a sharp drop in enrollment. Due to this loss in the student population, the district could lose upwards of $250 million. Furthermore, the equipment and cleaning required to keep schools open and students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic only adds to the burdens the school district has had to carry.
In order to alleviate this, Davis proposed that staff cuts would help Hillsborough financially, claiming that public schools are overstaffed, which has led the district scrambling to pay staff members.
“We’ve got to be accountable for how we’re going to continue to fund whether it’s a district level position or a school level position,” Davis said in an article from Bay News 9.
This has happened as a result of the Hillsborough County school district hiring extra teachers after launching grant-funded programs. They, then, keep these staff members once the grants expire, even if they do not receive as many students as they expect to.
Davis and his deputy superintendent, Michael Kemp, claim laying off these staff members, which they struggle to pay once grants are over, is the key to balancing the district’s budget.
“If we have $100 and we’re going to Publix, we cannot purchase $150 worth of food,” Davis said in an article from the Tampa Bay Times.
His planned budget cuts include seeing which schools have more staff members than they need and looking at positions which were funded by grant money—individual funds given by a government institution or other organization. In order to keep from laying off valuable staff members, he plans to apply job cuts gradually over two years and avoid cutting programs such as music or advanced coursework.
Laying off teachers in overstaffed schools alone is not going to balance the district’s budget. Davis is not the first superintendent who has tried to fix Hillsborough’s budgeting issues by cutting teachers’ salaries. After planning to cut teachers’ salaries, former superintendent Jeff Eakins decided not having enough teachers makes it harder for students to learn. Taking this into account, something more must be done to balance the district’s budget.
Attempts to balance the budget have been made, as the Hillsborough County school district has been blessed with large budgets and grants, but it has a history of failing to make those grants last. Davis claims the online learning systems, which were purchased from a company that employs his brother as an executive, are to aid students in learning.
Students, however, find online learning to be more tedious or boring than helpful. Without the human touch in learning students don’t retain as much.
“I absolutely think that working with actual human beings is always going to be more effective for long-term skill level building than computer programing,” Executive Director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, Stephanie Baxter-Jennings said in an interview with the WMNF Radio Station.
Davis said the programs were able to increase the literacy and math skills of students when he worked in Clay County. He also compared Hillsborough County’s staff numbers to those of Broward County, a slightly larger county. He said that since Broward County is larger than Hillsborough County and has about the same amount of staff, Hillsborough County is overstaffed. However, comparing counties is not an ideal method of deciding what to do with the amount of staff in a district.
“I don’t think that we should compare ourselves to another district,” the school board district three candidate, Stephanie Baxter-Jennings said in an interview with the WMNF Radio Station. “What we should be looking at specifically is the needs within our own district.”
Instead of justifying budget cuts with data from other counties, Davis should focus on Hillsborough County and listen to those around him who may have been in Hillsborough County for longer and are more familiar with its needs.
After taking everything into consideration, laying off teachers and other staff members alone will not balance the Hillsborough County Public School district’s budget. Instead, the county should tackle the root of its financial problems and make changes, such as cutting online learning systems, to ensure the budget remains balanced.
Angelica Mendez // Staff Writer