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Job cuts and more job cuts as Hillsborough school district watches its spending

New teacher orientation in 2016. The Hillsborough district started that year with 15,466 teachers. Today there are 15,245, with hundreds more to be cut. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published May 9, 2018

TAMPA — Despite a growing population, the Hillsborough County School District is cutting nearly 800 jobs to save $32.8 million in next year's budget.

The single biggest number, 220, are elementary teachers. The second largest group, custodians, is losing 116 positions.

And the cash-strapped district is cutting 106 positions in the ranks of bilingual classroom aides, despite opposition from some teachers in schools with large immigrant populations.

These numbers are contained in a package of information that the School Board will review at a budget workshop Tuesday .

As much as possible, the district is allowing the workers to fill existing vacancies elsewhere. Superintendent Jeff Eakins expects these vacancies to result form the normal cycle of retirements, resignations and brand-new teachers whose contracts are not renewed - in other words, attrition.

Eakins, who learned of grave problems in the district's budget shortly after arriving on the job in July of 2015, has spent the last three years trying to reduce spending quickly enough to satisfy the investment community, but not so dramatically that instruction would suffer.

He said recently that he hopes this will be the year when he hits the correct balance.

A look back at the last two years shows where he has made cuts already, not including the current round. Those numbers - which represent all funds, not just the general fund that is of greatest concern - were turned over to a hearing master during impasse hearings with the teacher's union .

That second report shows that at the start of the current school year, there were 272 fewer support teachers than in 2015-16; 216 fewer elementary teachers, 212 fewer teachers aides and 199 fewer clerical workers.

Overall, the district's workforce of 25,384 was smaller than the 2015-16 workforce by 1,131 workers even though enrollment grew by 4,249 students.

The cuts are in keeping with recommendations by the Gibson Consulting Group, which was paid $818,000 to find ways to get spending in line with other comparable districts.

The consultants found that Hillsborough had 1,060 more teachers than it should for a district its size.

Cuts are possible because the district has relaxed its methods of complying with state class size limits.

And population is decreasing at some schools as charter schools, which are operated independently, attract more students.

Despite the shrinking workforce, uncertainties remain.

Chief among them: How the district will comply with a new law governing school security. As each school must have at least one armed officer or guardian, Hillsborough must find a way to meet that need at 105 schools.

The district, assuming it will use sworn law enforcement officers, has budgeted $7 million a year. However, if the district is able to use its own non-sworn security guards for some of those positions, the cost would be lower.

Under that second scenario, the guards would qualify under the state's new "guardian" program.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol

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