On Wednesday, Hillsborough County school leaders were still trying to clarify the reasons behind Tuesday night’s revelation that the district’s financial reserves are shrinking again. The news shocked School Board members as they heard administrators try to explain the problem. Here are some of the highlights of that discussion:
Superintendent Addison Davis: “We have got some preliminary data that has been provided for June 30. If that indication (is correct), the reserve balance has declined from $150 million to close to around $100 million. That is a $50 million deficit.
“There is a concern related to what was approved for employee raises. While I know there was a particular amount that was identified here in executive session, the prior administration spent around $25 million more than the board approved, Hence the reason that half of the reserve balance has been reduced.”
School Board member Stacy Hahn: “How do you spend $25 million without this board’s approval? “When you brought the budget back to us, why wasn’t this mentioned? We are hearing about it now? I can’t get past that. I have people sitting at their kitchen table, balancing their checkbook, paying bills, and if they spend $100 more than what was in their account, the bank would call it fraud.”
Marie Whelan, Chief of Human Capital, when asked why the pay increases exceeded the $39 million that the board authorized: “We did talk about those things in executive session. And we did our calculations based on our numbers at the time. And what we thought the impact would be when we implemented those particular areas. ... So we did the very best that we could. We were not anticipating that it was going to exceed that amount and we are still working through those numbers exactly where those salaries are.”
School Board member Steve Cona: “I have never heard one inkling or update about the fact that we are going to be taking a $50 million fund balance hit. Never have I heard that. ... Somebody has to be accountable for $50 million.”
School Board member Cindy Stuart: “I am sick to my stomach. I’m sick for the employees of this community, the students, that we have yet again betrayed. And we seven of us sit up here, elected, and take all the damned heat for what the superintendent does.
“It is disgusting to me that seven people have been betrayed so badly by a now former superintendent who basically did the same thing that the superintendent before him did. This is like a trick in somebody’s playbook. ... It’s probably a good thing that our former superintendent is not here because there probably would be a motion on the floor today to fire him.”
School Board member Melissa Snively: “I feel like a liar, is what I feel like, because we promised the taxpayers and the public that we would be fiduciaries, responsible fiduciaries and stewards of their dollars.
“We can’t run a business or an operation like this. ... You can’t run a business on crossing your fingers and hoping that you are going to spend a little here but get it back over here. Because it’s not our money. We can’t spend it like it’s always going to be there, because we don’t know, because things change and you know that.”