The Hillsborough County School Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a financial recovery plan that superintendent Addison Davis must deliver to the state by Wednesday.
The plan, which will use $24 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars to shore up the district’s reserve fund, removes the threat of a state financial takeover. Without that money, the district was unable to maintain the 3 percent reserve called for under state law, or even the 2 percent level that could have triggered the receivership process.
Davis said he will consult with teachers and principals about how to make the best use of the money.
The one dissenting vote against the plan — cast by board member Jessica Vaughn — hinted at divisions on the board.
That rift was on full display when members returned to the question of Davis’ leadership style. Board member Nadia Combs called for an improvement plan in addition to Davis’ scheduled evaluation in September. Vaughn and board member Karen Perez voted with Combs. The other four agreed that one evaluation document is sufficient.
In between the two issues, the board voted unanimously to create a citizens advisory board that will weigh in on the district’s $3 billion yearly budget.
Tuesday’s meeting, one of several scheduled abruptly because of the budget issue and questions about Davis, was supposed to be about the financial plan Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran ordered on April 22. Corcoran wanted the district to demonstrate that it can end this budget year on June 30 with a sufficient reserve.
That outcome was uncertain until, on Friday, the state agreed to release $101 million under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as CARES.
When members arrived on Tuesday, the agenda had been expanded. With such a packed schedule, they were limited in how long they could discuss the recovery plan.
Vaughn has complained in the past that the board is not given enough time to collaborate and ask questions. Gray suggested Tuesday that Vaughn speak with staff individually for any additional information. “I would actually like to ask a question in the sunshine,” Vaughn said when it was time to vote. Gray told her, “and if you choose not to vote for this plan, then you have that choice.”
Gray explained later that she expects board members to do their research prior to meetings. “We have to commit to ourselves that we have to be prepared,” she said.
Vaughn revisited the issue later in the meeting, and also posted about it on Facebook.
She, Perez and Combs all agreed that the matter concerning Davis should be handled with an action or improvement plan, separate from the evaluation. By contract, they noted, he is allowed to approve any changes made to the evaluation document.
It was Vaughn who first raised the issue of Davis’ future in mid-April, also on Facebook, after — in what was later called an oversight — close to 100 employees were told in an email that they might lose their jobs in budget cuts.
Since then, the board has met several times to discuss Davis. Most acknowledge he has taken positive steps to improve his relationship with principals, who criticized him harshly in an anonymous survey; that his first year on the job was made especially difficult by the pandemic, and that they want him to succeed.
Board members Melissa Snively, Henry “Shake” Washington and Stacy Hahn all said they were satisfied with the evaluation document, which has been revised to reflect the principals’ concerns.
“I have never seen two evaluations done,” Washington said. “So I don’t see a need of having two. That’s just my opinion, being a former administrator, teacher and first sergeant in the Army.”