Hillsborough superintendent wants more funding for 'basic' school needs

- A group of Tampa Bay school superintendents are calling on lawmakers to rethink the education budget they just passed. They say it funds school security, at the expense of classrooms.

Jeff Eakins, the superintendent of Hillsborough County, the largest school district in Florida, joined Good Day Tampa Bay to discuss his biggest concerns with the current budget.

He explained his reservations lie within two categories for the education budget: base student allocations and categoricals. The funds for base student allocations pay for basic necessities such as teacher salaries, operating the school district, health insurance, lights and electricity. Categoricals are funding sources for specific things, such as textbooks, security and transportation.

When the state legislature passed the budget, the base student allocations was given an increase of 47 cents, “which creates a budget deficit for almost every school district across the state of Florida,” Eakins said on Good Day. “We added almost 50,000 students to our school district here in Hillsborough county, so, the funds are needed.”

He explained that earlier in the legislative session, there was $152 per child placed in the base student allocations, which would have covered the “basic needs in our school districts,” including fuel costs and teacher raises. 

Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people, Governor Rick Scott decided school safety improvements will be the priority, which includes supplying an armed school resource officer in every Florida school, and thus changed the funding arrangements in the education budget. 

“We’re urging the governor to look at the funds,” Eakins said. “This is the time we must do more for our students.”

He said he hasn’t heard from Scott since Sunday, but is asking people in the community, school district employees and parents, “Has the Governor heard from you?” Eakins hopes he re-thinks the current budget, and consider the use of reserve funds as Florida’s economy grows.

His interview with Good Day comes a day after a joint news conference with Eakins and superintendents from Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties admitting that while school safety is a top priority, it shouldn’t take away from learning.

“We’re asking him as superintendents to veto the education portion of the budget,” Eakins said, “and asking the legislature to come back and redirect more funds into our base student allocations.”

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