Officials see possible breakthrough in Hillsborough school budget crisis

Superintendent Addison Davis is said to be optimistic after a trip to Tallahassee.

Tampa Bay Times | by Marlene Sokol | April 29, 2021

TAMPA — Leaders of the Hillsborough County School District might have hit upon a way to stop the state from placing them under financial receivership in June.

School Board chairwoman Lynn Gray said Thursday that superintendent Addison Davis was optimistic after a meeting with state education officials in Tallahassee.

Gray said Davis and members of the district’s financial staff uncovered “new information” that they can use to revise the financial recovery plan state education commissioner Richard Corcoran has demanded by May 12.

Because of this new information, Gray said, a special School Board meeting that had been called for Tuesday is being postponed until Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

“Addison did go to Tallahassee to meet with officials from Department of Education,” district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. “They met to discuss the district’s financial status, immediate needs and the financial forecast. We’ll know tomorrow what strategies will be available for us to employ.”

The board will still meet in a retreat Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. to continue working on a professional development plan for Davis, whose leadership style has been criticized by both the board and hundreds of school administrators.

Following years of operational deficits, the district has been trying to find $80 million so it can keep its reserve balance above the state-mandated threshold of 3 percent of revenues.

Earlier this week, district leaders said they found enough cost cuts and accounting transfers to shrink that gap to $31 million. If they are considering the 2 percent level that triggers the takeover process, they said, they are $15.9 million away.

To raise that $15.9 million, they discussed two possibilities: An advance from their energy consultant, equivalent to the first year’s savings, and an appeal for donations from the local community.

As a third source, they could tap into the hundreds of millions that the federal government has made available through the second and third installments of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES. Until now, however, state education officials have said that money will not likely be available during the current budget year.

Image: Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis, left, addresses the School Board Tuesday in Tampa as board chairwoman Lynn Gray looks on. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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