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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

The who, the where, the why, and who's upset about it



The Hillsborough County School Board approved 39 administrative appointments at its meeting Tuesday.

Seven were adopted unanimously.

The other 32, listed on two pages, were approved 6-1 with board member April Griffin dissenting.

Her reason: Not enough transparency in the decision to staff the area offices with principal coaches who will also assume some duties of a deputy area superintendent, at a time when finances are forcing the district to pare down its workforce.

"We have some amazing people in this district doing some amazing work," Griffin said, emphasizing that she had nothing against the people who got the jobs.

But "timing is everything, and these are a lot of transfers lumped into one."

At a workshop on the budget last Thursday, Griffin asked Superintendent Jeff Eakins not to make any big changes until the board had a chance to meet at its next day-long budget workshop on June 20.

Apparently, this is what she was talking about.

The top six on the list are area principal coaches: Yinka Alege, Richard Grayes, Robert Nelson, Wendy Harrison, Odalys Pritchard and Kristin Tonelli.

Some, but not all, were involved in the Principal Pipeline project that was funded with a grant from the Wallace Foundation. When that funding expired, the foundation asked Hillsborough if it would continue the work with existing funds. The district agreed. Now leaders are looking for a way to continue that work, in the interest of recruiting and training strong principals.

Eakins had originally planned to hire a deputy director for each of the eight offices. He is holding off on that because of the budget. But critics say the area principal coaches will do much of that work along with their coaching duties, and Eakins acknowledged that fact in response to Griffin's remarks.

Griffin thought the whole thing - including revised job descriptions - needed to be discussed in the sunshine.  

Eakins pointed out during and even before the meeting that his plan saves money. The rationale: Three long-time area superintendents have retired and are not being replaced. They are: Brenda Grasso, Henry Washington and Sherrie Sikes. In their final year, the three worked side-by-side with their replacements: Anna Brown, Donell Underdue and Michelle Fitzgerald. Combined, that's a savings of $350,000. 

More money was saved by naming one principal instead of two for Cahoon Elementary and Van Buren Middle, which are being merged in a year; one shared assistant principal at USF Patel and MOSI, two very small elementary schools; and the loss of a $100,000 position in the strategy management department.

Eakins also pointed out to Griffin that he has reduced some departments dramatically, including the offices of Assessment and Teaching and Learning; and that there are about 75 fewer employees in the downtown headquarters compared to a year ago. "These are things you do not see," he said, although the public does see the announcement of a staff appointment.

But Griffin's remarks were not just a push-back against the superintendent. They also suggested school district employees will feel the brunt of budget cuts to come.

"We are getting ready to make some difficult decisions," she said. "And this board is going to face the consequences of those decisions through every conversation when we go to dinner, at the grocery store, through all of our interactions with the public because we are the largest employer in this community and this will affect somebody that somebody knows."

Sally Harris said she agreed with Griffin. But ultimately, she voted with the other five to approve the appointments.

Teachers union leader Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, meanwhile, seized on Eakins' math and said he really didn't save the full $650,000.

That's because for a year, in some of the area offices, there were overlapping area superintendents. Cutting back to one is not a cost savings, she said; rather, the district was paying too much when there were two.

"Lots of politics at play today," Baxter-Jenkins tweeted. "That is ok -- all the spending provides LOTS of evidence that the district can pay all staff."

[Last modified: Thursday, June 15, 2017 2:53pm]


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