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A consultant will look at the Hillsborough school finances

Superintendent Addison Davis wants an outside look at the books.

TAMPA — A onetime deputy superintendent of the Hillsborough County Schools has been brought in to examine the school district’s finances, following Tuesday’s revelation that the reserves might have lost $50 million since this time last year.

Much is still unknown, as the district has not yet completed its accounting for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

But School Board members reacted angrily when they learned that the main reserve, known in school district lingo as the fund balance, might have shrunk from $150 million to $100 million despite ongoing efforts to fatten it.

“As we close out the 2019-2020 fiscal year, and prepare the budget for 2020-2021, I have serious concerns about maintaining the district’s fiscal position, particularly in light of the impact of COVID on our system,” Superintendent Addison Davis wrote in an email to the board on Wednesday.

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“This includes an impact on our ending fund balance, and the reconciliation of our revenues and expenses moving forward."

Davis said he has brought in Jim Hamilton, a consultant who works for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, to begin a fiscal study of the district’s $2 billion operating budget.

As Hillsborough is a member of the organization, he wrote, “the Association will cover all fees and expenses related to our financial review.”

On Wednesday, district leaders said there was a great deal of confusion following Tuesday’s board discussion.

In that discussion, the board was led to believe that even though it authorized $39 million in 2019 for employee raises, the negotiated agreements wound up costing an additional $25 million. Combined with other expenses, some related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the district seemed headed for a $50 million shortfall in operations.

Board members asked for a clear and thorough accounting, to be presented at a workshop that the public could view.

On Thursday, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said that workshop has not been scheduled yet, and no further information was available about the budget shortfall.

Jeff Eakins, the district’s former superintendent, told the Tampa Bay Times he is working with Davis and Chief Financial Officer Gretchen Saunders to clear up any confusion surrounding the pay issue, or other problems with the budget.

Hamilton worked for the school district from 1968 to 2007, holding positions that included deputy superintendent and chief of staff . After he retired he became a consultant, working under contract for the district’s governmental relations office.