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Hillsborough schools move conservatively to plan next year’s air conditioning jobs

Revenue losses from the pandemic were not as bad as feared, but the referendum fund is in the red.
This image is part of a brochure Hillsborough school officials are preparing to showcase work paid for with a 2018 sales surtax.
This image is part of a brochure Hillsborough school officials are preparing to showcase work paid for with a 2018 sales surtax. [ Hillsborough County School District ]
Published Oct. 30, 2020
Updated Oct. 30, 2020

TAMPA — With an estimated 5 percent drop in revenues from its new sales surtax, the Hillsborough County School District is cutting the number of air conditioning projects it will pursue next summer.

Losses could have been a lot worse after businesses were closed for the coronavirus pandemic, district leaders told an oversight committee Friday. Year to date through August, the two-year-old tax has brought in $76.4 million, compared to $80.97 million in the first eight months of 2019.

''It could be worse. I kind of feel like that’s good news," said former state education commissioner and USF president Betty Castor, who chairs the oversight committee.

Nevertheless, because of the timing of projects and collections, the district is having to borrow $7 million from other accounts to finish paying for the past summer’s projects. Air conditioning overhauls make up the majority of the work, and because they are so disruptive, they must be performed in the summer when schools are mostly empty.

In addition to the drop in sales tax revenues, the district is contending with unanticipated expenses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Much of this spending, but not all of it, is eligible for federal relief. Chief of Operations Chris Farkas told the group the district spent more than $1 million to install better quality air filtration systems because of the coronavirus.

With revenues and expenses uncertain for the coming year, the district has planned 14 major capital projects for 2021. That’s down from 19 projects in previous years.

These schools are on the 2021 work list for air conditioning and other large jobs for a combined cost of $73 million: Burney, Carrollwood, Claywell, McKitrick, Robinson and Valrico elementary schools; Liberty, Farnell and Davidsen middle schools; Chamberlain, Freedom, Robinson, Leto and Plant high schools; and Pizzo K-8.