Advertisement
  1. Education

Hillsborough School District discusses security, funding at town hall

Hillsborough County school board member April Griffin. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Mar. 22, 2018

TEMPLE TERRACE — A town hall meeting intended to discuss the Hillsborough School District's ongoing financial challenges evolved into a forum on school safety Wednesday night at Greco Middle School.

The gathering drew citizens, parents and teachers concerned about security in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting, as well as the continuing salary impasse between the district and teachers.

School Board member April Griffin said safety has been a district priority since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, and noted the district spent $5.5 million to harden local schools after Sandy Hook.

The next step is preparing both teachers and students for active-shooter scenarios with training, lock-down drills and hardening schools at every level.

John Newman, director of security for the district, said 9,000 employees have gone through training sessions and law enforcement partners and school security officers are on site at elementary, middle and high schools. Some parents, however, want a level of assurance the district can't provide, Newman said.

A few parents criticized the board's decision to end its zero tolerance discipline policy and asked how the district was planning to keep their children safe.

Others called for technology that allows for a new alarm to piggy-back off a school's current fire alarm systems, saying this would ensure that everyone on campus would hear the alarm and know there was an active shooter.

Newman said such changes hinge on funding. The district, already beset by financial woes, has a $12 million deficit in security costs. Complying with the new state law could increase that deficit to $16 million.

As for finances, education advocate Melissa Erickson, who runs the Alliance for Public Schools, asked that the School Board step back from pushing a tax referendum and allow the community to stand up and push it.

"Every other large community in the state has done that," Erickson said. "I don't know exactly what it's going to look like, but I'm going to work over the next few weeks to get a referendum on the August ballot."

Accountability remains an issue, with district critics contending there is too much waste.

Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders reviewed the district's financial status at the meeting. She said the school system basically lived "beyond its means" for years and is now trying to revert to more fiscally sound practices.

Saunders pointed out recent cuts to busing and energy use.

Some parents responded by noting that while cuts are being made that take away from students, the School Board continues to overspend in other areas, leading to mistrust in the community.

The town hall is the first in a series scheduled for the district.

Contact Jennifer Lima at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. An eighth-grade boy can be seen punching a seventh-grader in a locker room in this screenshot from a video taken inside a Polk County middle school. Twitter
    A black student was slammed to the floor and punched repeatedly by a white classmate following a physical education class last week at Blake Academy in Lakeland.
  2. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    Gov. Ron DeSantis also had set a priority of getting more youngsters ready for kindergarten.
  3. Wendell Krinn Technical High School in Pasco County opened in August 2018. The district wants to open an east-side technical high school in 2022. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    The past department head was removed over several performance concerns.
  4. Pinellas Sheriff's trainers line the back of the room as more than 100 school security officers, or "guardians,"  began training.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The 15-year-old student was arrested Monday after shouting the threat out loud, according to St. Petersburg police.
  6. Pasco High School's state grade for 2019 remains an "incomplete," with state officials finding not enough students were tested.
    A fourth has its request rejected, leaving it with an “incomplete” mark.
  7. A screen grab of Ian Milaski's most recent Facebook profile picture and his jail mugshot. Facebook/Alachua County Jail
    The State Attorney’s office recommended $300,000 bail, but a judge released the 21-year-old resident assistant on his own recognizance.
  8. A Florida fourth-grader was bullied by classmates over the Tennessee shirt he created for "college colors day" at his elementary school. Facebook
    The care package, scholarship offer and university-sanctioned t-shirt were unexpected. But the high-fives, hugs and pats on the back meant even more.
  9. The USF St. Petersburg Campus, Thursday, June 19, 2014.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Volunteers struggle to keep branches and debris away from the graves at the African-American Spring Hill Cemetery. Hernando Today
    The aging burial grounds have many challenges in common, including ownership issues, restoration and maintenance.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement