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Following the money: Those school board offices

The Hillsborough County School Board was divided this year on the question of whether members should have individual offices.


The Hillsborough County School Board was divided this year on the question of whether members should have individual offices.

As cost-cutting continues to be an issue in the Hillsborough County Public Schools, conversations continue about the decision in 2015 to give individual offices to the seven School Board members. 

Individual offices were suggested by Chairwoman April Griffin, who feared members would violate the Sunshine Law by working side-by-side in cubicles. In MaryEllen Elia's final days as superintendent, the staff estimated the cost of those offices at $429,000. Critics of the offices said it was an extravagance. Critics of Elia said her staff inflated the numbers to make them look bad.

After Elia left and Jeff Eakins took her place, the board members got their offices.

But they remained a wedge issue. Members Doretha Edgecomb and Melissa Snively made public statements that they were a waste of money. Carol Kurdell was aghast when she received a note about how to have a television mounted on her office wall, and asked two news reporters to "do an investigation."

During labor negotiations, union leaders said the district could hardly claim economic distress when it was spending $600,000 on School Board offices. That amount came from a long-range capital work plan that called for $600,000 in renovations to the second floor of the downtown building.

When questioned in December, spokeswoman Tanya Arja said the $600,000 figure was just a hypothetical amount. The actual cost of the School Board offices was much lower -- $40,000, and maybe even less.

Still, the issue didn't die.

In April, the board was asked to approve a remodeling survey for the Instructional Services Center in East Tampa. That's where 70 human resources employees are moving, now that the School Board members have their downtown offices.

The estimated cost of that remodeling job: $600,000.

While the numbers match up, Arja said Friday that the $600,000 figure is a preliminary estimate. She also said the human resources moves happened for reasons other than the School Board offices.

Seventy other human resources employees were already at the East Tampa building. "They didn't move HR to make room for the board," she said. District officials thought it just made good sense to keep the whole department together. It will also be more convenient for retirees, who will now have a place to park when they visit the district office to ask questions about their benefits.

"We're making it a more customer friendly for our employees," she said.

Before it's all over, she added, communications employees who work in the East Tampa building will be relocated downtown.

[Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2016 4:21pm]


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