Following the Money: A whole lot of glue sticks
First up: No word yet on whether Hillsborough's teachers will get more money this year. They asked for $750 for each pay step on the new, post-Gates plan. As their raises come every three years, we calculate the impact at roughly $3.75 million (assuming the teacher scores at least an "effective" rating, which almost always happens).
That's half the $1,500 the union asked for when barganing began in May.
But remember: The pay plan that coincided with the Gates reforms increased teacher pay by $65 million, not including the $12 million in performance bonuses that brought the total impact up to $77 million. Union leaders say the new plan corrected problems and inequities that were especially harmful to long-time teachers. They also argue that, as long as teacher pay in Hillsborough starts at $38,000, the district cannot compete for talent with neighboring districts.
The union asked for a number of other things too, including a 1.2 percent adjustment for teachers at the top of the scale, a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for the small number who have not opted into the new plan, and multiple adjustments that would raise the earning power of teachers' aides and clerical workers.
But back to those glue sticks:
Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders released revenue and spending information from the last three years that sheds some light on the question of how the district stabilized its reserve account to $146 million, virtually unchanged from last year, when there was so much concern that it was fading away.
Salaries increased slightly, from $1.059 billion to $1.062 billion. (That's up from $980,000 million in 2013-14, before the new pay plan took effect).
Benefits went up. Purchased services - an amount that includes the flow-through money that goes to charter schools - went up.
Energy spending dropped by $6 million, for which Saunders credited the facilities department under the leadership of Chris Farkas.
The big drop was in spending on materials and supplies. That amount went from $58 million in 2014-15 to $38 million in 2015-16.
There was no detail provided as to what those materials and supplies were. According to the state Red Book, which governs school finances, it can mean anything from motor oil for the buses to textbooks for the children.
But we do know that early in the year, the district announced a 10 percent cut in spending in that category. Schools were frugal all year and, in the final weeks of school, their accounts were "swept" earlier than usual.
The Tampa Bay Times hopes to learn more about the past year's spending decisions and has requested a meeting with Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez for that reason. We're also on the lookout for Phase II of the Gibson efficiency study, which is due in September.
A peek at next year's budget, which was posted Tuesday in advance of the second public hearing on Sept. 6, projects $1.045 billion spent on salaries - suggesting a slightly smaller workforce despite the growth in student population - and $59 million on materials and supplies. All of these numbers refer to the "general fund," which accounts for most of the money, and which the investment community watches when assigning credit ratings.