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Hillsborough school cuts draw outcry from parents, teachers

The job losses “weigh on my heart,” says superintendent Addison Davis, who takes a verbal lashing at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.
Third-grade teacher Angel Loux, left, talks with art teacher Lashonda Wilburn at Hillsborough County school district headquarters Tuesday, where parents and teachers complained to the School Board about budget cuts that will eliminate about 1,000 jobs in the district. Loux and Wilburn teach at Lomax Magnet Elementary School in Tampa. Wilburn was told she is losing her job at the end of the year.
Third-grade teacher Angel Loux, left, talks with art teacher Lashonda Wilburn at Hillsborough County school district headquarters Tuesday, where parents and teachers complained to the School Board about budget cuts that will eliminate about 1,000 jobs in the district. Loux and Wilburn teach at Lomax Magnet Elementary School in Tampa. Wilburn was told she is losing her job at the end of the year. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 14
Updated Apr. 14

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District leaders were bracing for backlash over ongoing job cuts, and at Tuesday’s School Board meeting they were not disappointed.

Several parents, saying they represented thousands who are connected through various Facebook groups, called for a citizens committee to review the work of superintendent Addison Davis and his team.

Related: Is your school affected? A line-by-line look at Hillsborough staffing cuts.

They mentioned a petition that is circulating online, calling for Davis’ resignation. They also accused the administration of being secretive and misleading.

“I want to introduce you to a new word being used in our home: ‘Addi-spin,’ ” said Val Chuchman, a teachers’ union official.

They warned that, although enrollment numbers appear flat after a year of coronavirus, they are likely to rise sharply after the summer.

“I can stand outside my classroom and see the cranes building new townhouses next to my school, all day long,” said Dana Cook, an English teacher at Riverview High, which is losing 20 positions.

Some of the attacks were personal, revisiting the controversy last year surrounding a computer-based curriculum purchase from a company that employs Davis’ brother. As many times as Davis has explained that there was no conflict as his brother was not involved in the deal, his critics often return to the issue.

Teacher Hiedi Glick of Alonso High asked if any of the district-level employees whose jobs are being cut came from Clay County, where Davis last served.

Others spoke to the pain felt at the schools.

“These cuts hurt the students by removing longtime trusted figures for their lives,” said Edward Vaughn Maxwell, whose wife, Izabella Maxwell, was cut from her physical education teaching job at Ruskin Elementary after 16 years.

Earlier in the day, district leaders anticipated an emotional outpouring, and lamented the difficulty of explaining the cost-cutting process.

Davis and his team have said they are determined to keep as many people employed as possible. They have removed 1,000 positions, largely under staffing formulas that already existed. But the workforce turns over every year by at least 1,000 employees, meaning most should be able to find new jobs.

Recapping the situation after the speakers had said their piece, Davis insisted that he did not know the extent of the district’s financial problems when he arrived in early 2020.

He soon faced a $32 million deficit that grew to $72 million. Business and political leaders said they saw the problem as far back as 2018. One remembered warning, “in three years you will be bankrupt.” This past fall, the district had to take out a bridge loan to make sure it could cover payroll. The prospect of running out of money and being taken over by the state, Davis said, was real.

He said that in three rounds of district office cuts, he is saving the district about $24 million. He responded to the continued criticism of the curriculum purchases by saying the district used those products, called Achieve3000 and iReady, before he came to Hillsborough.

“We just expanded it,” he said.

He added that, far from being secretive or subtle about the cuts, “we over-communicate.”

Davis told the board and audience that the job cuts “weigh on my heart, on my shoulders.” He stopped short of placing blame directly on the superintendents who came before him. Instead, he said, “I wish it was on me so I could say I’m sorry.”