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School budget passes in Hillsborough despite calls for more information

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board approved a $2.78 billion budget Tuesday despite questions from some board members about how Superintendent Jeff Eakins reined in spending this year.

Homeowners will pay $690.60 per $100,000 of taxable value, down from last year's rate of $724.70.

Facing an operational deficit of more than $100 million when he became superintendent in mid-2015, Eakins has worked this past year to maintain the districts reserves at $146 million.

He gave few details Tuesday, and members Melissa Snively, Doretha Edgecomb and Carol Kurdell said they would welcome more information. For example, they asked, what resulted from his pledge to reassess the district's many reading programs?

Eakins said he will provide the information they requested, although with so many schools and reading programs, it isn't a simple exercise.

Chairwoman April Griffin said she is troubled by the district's continued relationship with the nonprofit College Board organization, which includes purchases of the unpopular SpringBoard curriculum for math and language arts.

"The kids hate it, the teachers hate it," Griffin said, reigniting a discussion that began earlier in the year. The choice of curriculum could be one reason why high school graduation rates in Hillsborough lag behind other large districts and the state average.

"We have abysmal rates of getting kids across the stage," Griffin said.

Edgecomb, however, cautioned that not all students and teachers dislike SpringBoard.

Griffin also challenged the district's recent decision to allow an employee of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes who was banned from area high schools earlier for proselytizing to students to preach to students at an off-campus fundraising car wash.

The employee, David Gaskill, went through district training and was cleared to return to the schools.

Eakins said he will provide details to Griffin about that decision at a later date, and she said she wants that conversation to be public.

He also is working to make sure they are fully staffed with certified teachers, he said.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol