Major cuts planned in Hillsborough School District budget

- The Hillsborough County School Board says it plans to spend $100 million more than it will get from tax dollars this year.

In an effort to close the gap in its proposed $3 billion budget, officials say they plan to save tens of millions through budget cuts, most of which will come from salaries.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins said the spending plan is all about getting back on track and finding a balance.

"We have been living in kind of a budget deficit mode for a couple of years and we have to put a plan for full recovery over the next couple of years in order get structural balance back within our budget," Eakins said.

The district plans to spend $100 million dollars more this year than what taxes bring in, after a new state-mandated property tax cut. But Eakins says his proposal will actually save $144million dollars over two years.

"Salary costs, that's' the big bucket, that's 86% of our budget right now," Eakins said to the School Board Tuesday. "Typically, in a district our size, you're looking somewhere between 76-80%."

The plan is to reduce salary and benefits by at least $130 million dollars. According to Eakins' PowerPoint presentation, 500 jobs were eliminated in May. The plan calls for 1000 more in March 2018.

"This has got to be very thoughtful. This is not about surgical," Eakins explained. "This is about being very thoughtful."

Up to a million dollars could be saved by closely monitoring employees' reporting of hours. Under the plan, millions more could come from changes including self-funded insurance or energy efficient updates for schools.

While the district is spending less on transportation, no longer busing middle and high school students living within 2 miles of their schools, about $24 million dollars is aimed at buying new buses.

"They aged out, remember that?" Eakins said. "And, now, we are to a point that we have to put in some cycle of replenishing buses every single year so we don't get ourselves in the same position as we found ourselves a few years ago."

Before the budget discussion, parent Heather Smithson brought up concerns about hot classrooms with insufficient air condition systems.

"Sometimes, the room temperature will reach 89 degrees," Smithson said. "If you can try to imagine learning in that environment, nonetheless, being a teacher who has to deal with the children."

That problem will be addressed at 6 district schools under the budget, with money allocated for new HVAC systems. Though, the district says that state funding cuts continue to make those types of repairs a challenge.

"Does this plan laid out in front of us, get us where we need to be to be more financially solid?" asked board member Cindy Stuart.

"Yes, it does," Eakins confidently answered.

You can view the entire budget presentation at http://www2.sdhc.k12.fl.us/BoardAgenda/pdfs/BD20170829_818/Attch_20170829_1241_000.pdf?GRN=1504057153469

The final vote is scheduled for September 12.

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