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Hillsborough School Board chair calls unusual special meeting Friday

Lynn Gray will say only that she wants to share information with the rest of the board.
The Hillsborough School Board, seen here during its April 13 meeting, will meet again Friday for a special session requested by chairwoman Lynn Gray.
The Hillsborough School Board, seen here during its April 13 meeting, will meet again Friday for a special session requested by chairwoman Lynn Gray. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 21
Updated Apr. 21

TAMPA – The Hillsborough County School Board will hold an emergency board meeting Friday at 10:30 a.m. at its downtown Tampa auditorium.

Chairwoman Lynn Gray’s decision to call the meeting follows days of discussion and speculation about the continued employment of superintendent Addison Davis, who has received public criticism because of job cuts to balance the district’s operational budget.

At a retreat on Monday, the board agreed it is time to draft a professional development plan for Davis, intended to improve his performance. They are scheduled to do that work on Tuesday.

Gray said that “there will be no motion to get the superintendent or any staff fired” at the Friday meeting.

Beyond that, however, she would not give specifics about what will be discussed.

“I have had additional information that I received. This has been coming in since our meeting on Monday,” Gray said. “This additional information has to be shared in a transparent way and I want them to have access to it before the media because they need to be the narrators of this information.”

Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Lynn Gray addresses the rest of the board at a retreat on March 3 in Plant City.
Hillsborough County School Board Chairwoman Lynn Gray addresses the rest of the board at a retreat on March 3 in Plant City. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]

She added: “It has to do with leadership and it’s something that is written and it is not hearsay. That’s important.”

Davis said he did not have information either, and wished he did so he could respond if necessary. “I would like to know, professionally,” he said. “There’s been nothing that’s been extended to me.”

As Friday’s meeting is informational in nature, no votes will be taken and the public will not be allowed to comment. If the board wants to take action, it will have to notice that action for a future meeting, at which time the public will be allowed to comment.

In the days preceding Monday’s retreat, board member Jessica Vaughn touched off a firestorm by remarking on Facebook that she wondered if there were enough votes on the seven-member board to end Davis’ contract. Vaughn went on to say that if anybody polled the board and counted a majority, they should send her a private message.

Related: Hillsborough School Board member: Can we fire Superintendent Addison Davis?
Related: Hillsborough school cuts draw outcry from parents, teachers

On Monday, Vaughn was joined by other members in criticizing aspects of Davis’ leadership style. They described an erosion of trust in the superintendent and his inner circle, which consists largely of people who followed him from his last post in Clay County. But they said that they hope he will accept their guidance to succeed in his job.

Polled by the Tampa Bay Times on the question of whether they would vote to dismiss Davis, none of the four members who responded gave a definitive answer. Gray and Nadia Combs declined to comment. Vaughn and Henry “Shake” Washington said they would need more information before deciding.

Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis addresses members of the School Board at a retreat on Monday. Shown, to his right, are board members Jessica Vaughn and Stacy Hahn. In the background is Tanya Arja, the district's chief communications officer. [MARLENE SOKOL  |  Times]
Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis addresses members of the School Board at a retreat on Monday. Shown, to his right, are board members Jessica Vaughn and Stacy Hahn. In the background is Tanya Arja, the district's chief communications officer. [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

Vaughn said Wednesday that she was as confused as anybody about what Gray hopes to accomplish on Friday.

She and other board members have received a flood of calls and emails from teachers and parents who are unhappy about the job cuts. Davis and his team say the cuts are necessary because the district’s financial situation is so dire that it might run out of money, leading to a state takeover. But opposition has taken the form of new Facebook groups, an online petition calling for Davis’ resignation, and planned protests in front of School Board headquarters.

“Whatever happens in the next few weeks, and I mean this sincerely, I hope it’s for the good of the community and for our school district,” Vaughn said Wednesday.

“The amount of fear and chaos and mistrust and anxiety at this point — we can’t continue that if we want be successful,” she said. “I’m hoping whatever happens at the next two meetings helps us identify what we do to change the culture and climate in our schools, give confidence to our families and really support families moving forward.”