Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Budget woes force the Hillsborough school district to rethink its role as a job provider

TAMPA — At one time or another, five members of Carrie Williams' family have worked for the Hillsborough County School District.

Three still do, all at Shaw Elementary School in North Tampa.

Ashley Williams, 28, is a secretary. Savon Williams, 23, is an assistant teacher. Their mother, 47, is the principal's secretary.

"I trained them not to call me 'Mom' at work," said Williams, a school district employee since 1999.

Such loyalty to an employer is rare in today's workplace. But it's a big consideration as district leaders contemplate how to balance a lopsided budget without striking a blow to the economy.

No employer in the Tampa Bay area provides as many jobs as the district, with the latest head count at 26,000.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins recently told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board he was proud that, in a year of severe cost-cutting, he laid off only 10 employees.

More recently, School Board member April Griffin recalled how, unlike other districts, Hillsborough weathered the 2007 recession without layoffs.

"I remember sitting at a table and saying that we're the largest employer in this community," Griffin said during a June 8 workshop on the budget. "And if we start laying employees off, then this community is going to suffer because people will not be paying their mortgage."

She added: "People will not be paying their property taxes. Then it will further hurt our budget as a school district. People wouldn't be going to restaurants and shopping and purchasing things and that would hurt the economy even more."

But while officials are squeamish about cutting jobs in a community that relies so heavily on them, Eakins has come to realize he might have to do just that.

The Hillsborough district is about 7,000 students smaller than Broward County's, but has 1,500 more employees, Eakins told the School Board. It's slightly larger than Orange County's, but has 3,500 more employees.

The Gibson Consulting Group, hired in 2015 to help stem alarming losses in the district's reserves, said Hillsborough had 1,000 too many teachers.

And, as Eakins pointed out recently, experienced teachers in Hillsborough earn thousands more each year than their counterparts in nearby districts. Payroll eats up too much of the budget, he said — 84 percent. Elsewhere it ranges between 75 and 80 percent.

How to bring those numbers down is an issue on which there is no clear consensus. "It won't be easy," said Scott Brown, chief economist for Raymond James Financial.

Another, longer budget workshop is scheduled Tuesday.

Brown said Griffin made good points about the public sector's role in an economic slowdown. "If you look at past recessions, what you find is that government provides some base level of support," Brown said.

"When consumer and housing markets soften, you still have police, teachers and firemen, and those people are still getting paid and still spending their money."

The last recession was different. Governments shed workers, which weakened the economy even more.

At the same time, he said, the district must look realistically at staffing, especially if enrollment does increase. That variable is hard to measure, as in recent years independent charter schools have absorbed much of the population growth.

"Obviously a government is representing the citizens, which means the taxpayers, so you do have to keep an eye on the bottom line," Brown said. Protecting jobs in a recession is one thing. But "if there is a significant structural imbalance, then you might ask why and try to figure out what to do about it."

Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough teachers' union, agreed that the district must strike a balance between supporting the economy and making the best decisions for students.

Technically, she said, it's not accurate to say the district doesn't lay anybody off, as many new teachers lose their jobs each year through a process called renomination, in which they are not invited back for a second year. "They would consider themselves laid off," she said.

A reluctance to shed workers illustrates the difference between the private sector, where workers are largely expendable; and the public sector, where job security is a big draw.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median length of private sector employment is 3.7 years. In the school district, it's seven years.

The workforce includes bus drivers who have been on the job since the 1980s and earn $29,884 a year. There are cafeteria workers who, after more than a decade, make $15,465.

Williams, the secretary, said she started working at Shaw Elementary while her children were students there.

"I love the school. I love the kids," she said. "Some of them went to the school, got married and now have kids there, and I get to see the whole thing."

Principal Rachel Walters said Williams and her children are "great people, good to the core. They put other people first. They are everything you would want in employees."

The ability to understand and forge relationships with parents is important at a school, Walters said. Unfortunately, such qualities are not always taken into account when the district makes cuts to meet budget.

"We've had quite a bit of turnover with teachers," she said. "But the support staff has remained fairly stable, and it's nice to have someone who knows the community."

Williams said it would be "devastating" if she or her children lost their jobs, as it would be for anybody. She said she is praying for the workforce.

"I'm a God-fearing woman," she said. "And I know God will take care of us."

Contact Marlene Sokol at [email protected] or (813) 226-3356. Follow @marlenesokol

Comments

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Caitlin Gille grew up in a union household in Wisconsin, where her mom was a long-time teacher in the small city of Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.She was accustomed to seeing educators advocating for their working conditions and pay, having a sea...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

University of Central Florida Greeks won’t hold social events, serve alcohol for 6 weeks this spring

ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won’t host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the pa...
Published: 12/08/17

Pasco class notes for Dec. 15

School Calendar• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middle High, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. (...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Amid reports of rapes, beatings, cover-ups, grand jury to probe juvenile justice abuses

Disturbed by stories about the rape of teens by supervisory staff, a pandemic of sometimes savage force, brutal beatdowns ordered by youth care workers and policies that permit the hiring of violent offenders, Miami-Dade’s state attorney wants to kno...
Published: 12/07/17