Friday, January 19, 2018
Education

Hillsborough School Board hires auditor and buys 200 new buses

TAMPA — Seeking to cure the Hillsborough County school district's budget problems and — in some cases — insulate superintendent Jeff Eakins from blame, the School Board voted Tuesday to hire an outside auditor.

Eakins wants to hire Gibson Consulting Group of Texas to perform an "efficiency review and audit." It is not yet clear how much the contract will cost, but the hope is that it will pay for itself with savings that result.

While Eakins suggested the move to do "a deeper dive" into the district's troubled finances, member April Griffin said an outside look is long overdue.

What's more, she said, some in the community and the media want to blame Eakins for spending of recent years that caused district reserves to shrink by more than $200 million.

"We have some people who are waiting for us to fail," Griffin told Eakins, assuring him that she holds him accountable not for the problem, but for the solution. Eakins became acting superintendent on March 6 and assumed the full title on July 1.

The reserve account, which had $146 million on June 30, is well above the legal minimum. But bond-rating firms in New York have expressed concern.

Much of the money has gone to pay raises under teaching reforms the district launched in 2009 in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates group was expected to supply $100 million, but is contributing only $80 million.

Eakins, who said he learned of the reserve issue in late June, wants to overcome a $142 million "hole" of ongoing expenses. Some of that should come into the district through $62 million in added state money, based on growth. But that number isn't certain, and much of it will go to charter schools. Eakins has already begun a number of measures that include a hiring freeze for nonessential, nonschool jobs and scrutiny of all contracts.

The audit process will take about six months. The board will be able to discuss the scope of work for the audit firm.

Officials also told the board on Tuesday that the district's transportation department is under multiple reviews. An official from the state Education Department was called in weeks ago in response to concerns raised by parents and general transportation manager Jim Beekman about driver training and customer service.

"These are issues that I've directed staff to fix and come up with solutions around," Eakins said.

Officials said those steps were taken before the accident on Sept. 17, when a bus from Bryant Elementary School went into a retention pond with 27 children aboard. The children all survived with only minor injuries, but the incident attracted attention to the over-aged buses and the district's system for training drivers.

Since then, the district has invited the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization of large urban school districts, to evaluate the transportation department.

The district has hundreds of buses that are 20 years old or older. To get some of them off the road, the board approved the purchase of 200 new buses from three manufacturers.

Earlier, Eakins reported progress in the district's efforts to suspend fewer students.

Overall, there was a 43 percent decrease in days of suspension between the first four weeks of the last school year and the same period this year.

The racial gap in suspensions between black and white students has narrowed by 4 percent.

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

Comments

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

"On Nov. 3, 2017, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to 1012 Buena Vista Drive … in reference to a death investigation."So begins a charging document in the case of Andrew Coffey, the 20-year-old Florida State University student who was foun...
Published: 01/18/18
In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushba...
Published: 01/18/18
Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises. But the Hillsborough County school district says it can’t afford to give its teachers anywhere near that much, while the teachers say they deserve nothin...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

NEW PORT RICHEY — At age 28, things were really shaping up for Joel Santos-Gonzalez. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, he had just completed his third year at Gulf Middle School."I always liked to talk to people on an intellectual ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
In Pinellas and beyond, deadlines for school choice are closing in

In Pinellas and beyond, deadlines for school choice are closing in

It’s decision time in Pinellas County and other local school districts as several school choice deadlines are upon us.For Pinellas families who want to apply for a magnet, fundamental or high school career program for the 2018-19 school year, the dea...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18
For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic

For FSU fraternity, a wild night turned tragic

The night of initiation was the most that the brothers of Florida State University’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter said they had ever seen their pledge class drink.That was the plan, court records said: Pledges would arrive at the fraternity house Nov. 2 and ...
Published: 01/18/18
9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

9 face hazing charges in death of Florida State fraternity pledge

TALLAHASSEE — The death of a fraternity pledge from alcohol poisoning has led to hazing charges against nine Florida State University students.State attorney Jack Campbell filed charges on Wednesday in Leon County Court.All nine will be charged with ...
Published: 01/17/18
From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

From the archive: USF St. Petersburg’s long journey to autonomy

As the Florida Legislature considers undoing the current governance of the University of South Florida by folding the three branches of its system into one entity, here is a look at some Times coverage of the long-running struggle for independence at...
Published: 01/17/18
How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

How a small campus grew into an independent USF St. Petersburg

Just a satellite campus many decades ago, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg has managed to carve out considerable autonomy within the arms of the USF System. But a bill moving through the state House of Representatives could undo its sep...
Published: 01/17/18