Hillsborough superintendent offers details on job cuts in the schools

Tampa Bay Times | by Marlene Sokol | October 14, 2020

TAMPA — Teachers are about to be reassigned and, in some cases, let go as the Hillsborough County School District continues its effort to balance the operating budget.

In an email to employees Wednesday, Superintendent Addison Davis offered some details and tried to head off rumors and complaints by reminding teachers that much of what he is doing is routine.

“I understand there is concern across our community regarding teachers’ jobs being cut and inaccurate information that you may be hearing,” Davis wrote. “Please understand that staffing adjustments occur every year in districts across the state based on student enrollment.”

Transfers normally happen about a month into the school year. But, Davis wrote, complications stemming from the coronavirus made it more logical to make the changes at the end of the first grading quarter — which, under the revised calendar, is Oct. 23. “This will provide for a natural transition for students, employees, and families,” he wrote.

As he has said publicly, Davis wrote that he is not cutting music, art, International Baccalaureate or magnet programs.

Parents, teachers and students from area schools came together to protest budget cuts for arts programs, during a multi-school choir performance of Ukuthula prior to the start of a Hillsborough County Public School Board meeting, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

But he also said that some teachers of those subjects might be “reassigned based on student enrollment” and that “in some instances, teachers may be providing instruction at two schools.”

He offered these statistics:

  • Four hundred and twenty four vacant positions will not be filled this year.
  • Another 333 positions that are filled are being eliminated. “While teachers hired prior to Aug. 14, 2020 will not lose their employment, they may be reassigned to open positions at other schools or assigned a different role at their current site,” he wrote. “It is anticipated that some of the teachers hired under temporary contracts after Aug. 14 will not return.”

Spokeswoman Tanya Arja said 105 teachers fall into that category. All were hired with the understanding that their jobs might not last. A hiring “pool” is being created, as happens every year, and some of the temporary teachers are expected to find positions there. Rob Kriete, president of the teachers union, said many of the 105 work in exceptional student education, which means there will be positions for them.

  • Davis reminded the staff that he eliminated 129 district positions in the summer. Another 20 such positions have been identified for cuts in the next several weeks, he wrote.

“All of these adjustments reduce active payroll by approximately $45 million, which helps decrease our operational budget gap for this fiscal year,” he wrote.

Arja said the plan is to have all moves completed, and teachers in their new assignments, when the second grading quarter begins on Oct. 26.

It could have been worse, Kriete said. “I know that they wanted to make deeper cuts and cut more people,” he said. “But they understood that in pandemic, laying people off is really bad timing for a lot of people.”

Still, Kriete said, “it’s just another example of public school teachers being asked to do more with less, and now more with less people. It makes our job monumentally more difficult.”

Kriete also said the union will push for the district to spend the $45 million savings on yearly raises for those educators who do not qualify for money the state allocated to boost starting pay for classroom teachers to $47,500. Negotiations are ongoing.

The union’s executive director, Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, took issue with Davis’s attempt to characterize the adjustments as routine.

“Every year we do adjust units based on where kids are,” Baxter-Jenkins said. “It’s usually a much smaller number in the fall, and this is going to be a big change, and it’s a lot of people. The process itself is not new. But there are a lot more people who are going to be experiencing this process.”

Staff cuts and employee morale have been major issues in the four ongoing School Board races, with some candidates critical of Davis’s moves this year to restore the district’s shrinking cash reserves.

During a candidate forum organized Tuesday by the Hillsborough Association of School Administrators, incumbents Tamara Shamburger and Lynn Gray took issue with the way Davis has approached the cuts. So did Sally Harris, who is challenging Gray for her at-large seat, and wants classroom jobs to be held harmless.

Candidates Jessica Vaughn and Nadia Combs warned that Davis is harming teacher morale. Incumbent Steve Cona and candidate Mitch Thrower emphasized the need for better fiscal health in the district.

Photo: Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis [Tampa Bay Times 2020]

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