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  1. Education

Hillsborough School Board requires financial disclosures for top staff

Published Sep. 11, 2013

TAMPA — Senior staff in the Hillsborough County school district will have to file financial disclosure forms, the School Board decided Tuesday.

"My goal is to ensure that we have transparency in this district, to restore the public's confidence," said chairwoman April Griffin, who introduced the motion late in the meeting.

When Griffin raised the issue on Aug. 27, it was voted down.

This time, with two board members absent and information available for the rest to consider, Griffin got the votes she needed. Susan Valdes and Cindy Stuart sided with her while Candy Olson and Carol Kurdell voted no.

Attorney Tom Gonzalez cautioned against voting because the item was not on the agenda. Griffin said the board often takes votes spontaneously in the course of discussion. But Gonzalez said the move seemed problematic because Griffin came prepared to bring it up. "If the board member knows he or she is bringing something to the board, absolutely, positively that should be on the agenda," he said.

MaryEllen Elia, her chief budget officer, principals and procurement officers already file disclosure forms with the elections supervisor. The new rule extends the practice to Elia's staff of about a dozen, including deputy and assistant superintendents.

Griffin said she raised the issue because while larger contracts come before the board, staff members spend lesser amounts of money without much oversight.

The vote was a victory for Griffin, who has clashed with Elia and early this year could not get board approval to hire an independent auditor.

Also on Tuesday, the board agreed to have a workshop to discuss a June letter from the NAACP. The civil rights group alleges the district allows "enormous educational deficiencies" that have "gone on without solutions for several decades."

The organization wants a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions, which disproportionately affect black males; and to hold the superintendent accountable for learning gains among minority students.

Later the board adopted a $2.8 billion budget for this school year. School property taxes will be $7.69 for every $1,000 in value after homestead exemptions. On a $200,000 house with a $25,000 exemption, that would be $1,345.75.

Member Stacy White voted for the tax but against the budget, saying he continues to be dissatisfied with the level of budget information shared with the public.

Elia, in response, showed the board an expanded budget section on the district website that breaks some spending down by school. More such features will follow, she said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

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