Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Hillsborough's plan for a better bottom line: cut hundreds of jobs, promote schools

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County school system is halfway through a process of getting its spending practices in line, with two more years of job reductions ahead, superintendent Jeff Eakins said Tuesday.

Using attrition instead of layoffs, the district has eliminated more than 1,500 positions including 500 this past spring. Many already were vacant; administrators merely "cleaned up" their books by deleting them.

Plans are in place to phase out 2,000 more, half by March and the other half a year from now. In addition, Eakins wants to beef up marketing, both at the school and district level, to stem the exodus of students to privately managed charter schools. And he wants to offer specialty programs at suburban schools to complement magnets that already exist in urban schools.

RELATED: Money is the issue as Hillsborough strains to fix school air conditioners

"We always have to think very boldly about how we move forward," Eakins told School Board members.

Now beginning his third school year as superintendent, Eakins spoke midway between two state-mandated public hearings on a 2017-18 budget of nearly $3 billion. It was a rushed presentation and discussion, as board members were able to ask their questions previously in one-on-one sessions with Eakins.

Unlike other large districts, Hillsborough is seeking to pay its bills without the help of a voter-approved sales tax. Eakins and board leaders, while not addressing the issue Tuesday, have said in the past that they want to restore confidence in the schools before they ask voters for more money.

But that's easier said than done in a district that has been hit with one controversy after another since the era of open warfare between board members and the prior superintendent, MaryEllen Elia. Most recently, parents and teachers have complained about failing school air conditioners. At Tuesday's meeting, there was also a litany of parent complaints about pedestrian safety, now that the district has cut busing near the schools to save $3.5 million a year.

The nation's eighth-largest school district, Hillsborough boasts award-winning magnet schools and a growing number of students who distinguish themselves in International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and National Merit Scholar competitions.

But it also far exceeds all other Florida districts in the number of schools on a state list based on low elementary reading scores. And, like a lot of urban districts, it is losing many students to privately run charter schools.

Eakins, in addition to cost-cutting measures that will touch on energy use and employee insurance as the size of the workforce decreases, stressed the need to market the district-run schools.

Each principal should think about how he or she can meet the demands of families in the community, he said. Even people who do not have children in the schools should support them.

"Our schools have to become better at how they tell their story and we have to empower them with the tools to do that," he said.

Left unspoken were details about how Eakins will cut $130 million, as he proposed, in salary and benefits over the next two years.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

Teachers in Hillsborough, while earning less than many other districts in their early years, have a salary plan that pays them more than surrounding districts after they hit 15 years. The district is in the midst of bargaining with its teachers' union, which has asked for a package that the district estimated to cost $65 million.

Jean Clements, president of the teachers' union, said she was encouraged that Eakins did not mention the pay plan.

However, Eakins did say payroll costs are too high, at 86 percent of the budget, compared to 76 to 80 percent in like-sized districts.

His plan listed four ways to get the size of the workforce in line: clear and consistent staffing methods, voluntary attrition, eliminating positions that do not align with the district's strategic plan, and merging some departments.

In addition to educating more than 200,000 students, the Hillsborough school district is the largest public or private employer in the Tampa Bay area, with more than 25,000 employees. Recognizing that, district leaders place great importance on their reserve fund, which they would use to pay employees in case of a natural disaster.

"Do you see what is happening in Houston, Texas?" Eakins asked to make that point.

A public hearing and board vote on the 2017-18 budget is scheduled on Sept. 12.

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

Comments
Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring...
Published: 12/15/17
Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Three months later, the Pinellas County school district has totaled up the costs of operating 16 schools as shelters for 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma.The district is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a reimbursemen...
Published: 12/15/17
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
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
Updated: 12/14/17

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 ...
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
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17