Hillsborough school board spends $800k to study money-saving measures

Aaron Mesmer reports

- The Hillsborough County School Board and Superintendent continued the process of trying to figure out how to cut expenses and balance the budget during a workshop Tuesday.

The district hired the Gibson Consulting Group to help determine ways to replenish its reserves, which it determined last year were being overused, to the tune of $200 million since 2011. In June, Gibson recommended gradually reducing 1,700 jobs. During Tuesday's workshop, the group's representatives discussed ways to cut janitorial and clerical jobs.

"We have to honor the classroom. That's how we generate dollars in this district, when students attend our schools, and so we have to do everything we can to make sure as many dollars goes to that classroom experience," Superintendent Jeff Eakins said following the meeting.

The district is spending more than $800,000 to pay the consultants; it's a price that isn't lost on the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. HCTA Executive Director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins pointed out there are some schools that haven't had fully functioning air conditioning since the beginning of the school year.

"Do I think in a world where we're not fixing air conditioning and where we're talking about cutting jobs, where we are laying off people, do I think that was a good use of money? I don't," Baxter- Jenkins said. "I'm not a big proponent of spending close to a million dollars on reports that, in essence, are going to tell you things your top leaders should be able to do."

The school board remains confident the air conditioning issues will be fixed over time. Eakins said the long-term cost-savings of the efficiency study will more than make up for the price the district is paying Gibson.

"We can spend dollars like that when we get about a hundred million dollars in cost savings and that's really what the benefit of this efficiency audit has done for us," Eakins said, adding this audit is a "real comprehensive view."

Eakins also tried to reassure educators that teachers will not lose their jobs and the cuts will be made through retirement and attrition.

"We have no intention at all of doing layoffs. That's been very clear from the very beginning," he said.

Baxter-Jenkins, however, believes there are lot of teachers who would prefer to remain in a classroom, but will be losing their jobs.

"To say no one is losing their job is also slightly disingenuous," she said.

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