Hillsborough County braces for widespread layoffs in school district due to budget crunch

Rumors and speculation over district layoffs have swirled ever since Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis announced looming staff cuts last week. Over the weekend, Davis attempted to allay parents' anxieties over staff cuts, instead he may have stoked them.

In an email to Hillsborough County parents, Davis explained a need for staff reallocations in order to "ensure fiscal responsibility."

Last week, Davis announced the possibility of cuts to teacher and administrative positions. 

"There's always going to be possibilities of being able to potentially add or eliminate positions. That happens on an annual basis," said Davis. 

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Davis said the district has long failed to account for shifts in student populations at schools and the future funding of programs that started under grants that have since stopped paying out. 

"We've got to have the conversation about where we are potentially overstaffed and whether that's at the district-level or the school-based level and figure out a compromise of where we come back in line in order to be efficient," said Davis. 

In response, one parent created an online petition calling for the district to save teachers' jobs. In just 24 hours the petition garnered thousands of signatures.

Parents worry that cuts to teaching staff will lead to larger class sizes at a time when the district should be prioritizing social distancing. Some feel the district, with its operating $3.2 billion operating budget, is off target with cuts to teaching staff. 

“The sole purpose for the school district is the kids and if you’re tightening up and cutting back, why are you starting at the bottom where it directly affects the kids? Why are you cutting teachers who teach the kids?” wondered Blake High School parent, Kara Atchison. 

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Atchison said she fears arts programs and electives will be the first to go, much to the detriment of many children. 

“There are kids out there that feel like they don’t belong and if you’re going to take away the one place that makes them feel like they belong and makes school bearable for them, that makes them enjoy and want to continue to learn, then you’re going to lose all of those kids,” said Atchison. 

Davis said no final decisions have been made. In his message, he specifically addressed concerns about cuts to specific programs. 

"I want to be clear, we will accomplish this process while preserving existing programs such as music, art, physical education, and advanced coursework," Davis said in his email. "I ask you to have patience while we work through this readjustment process at the district level and our nearly 250 schools."

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Davis said the process of paring back the district's excess staff will take two years. The first round of cuts will happen in the second quarter of this school year. Davis' hope is that retirements and current vacancies will address the majority of first round cuts.