Some believe state takeover is imminent for Hillsborough Schools

During an emergency Hillsborough County School Board meeting Friday, district leaders expressed concern that a state takeover could be imminent.

The meeting was called earlier in the week my Board Chair Lynn Gray, who wanted to discuss concerns about Superintendent Addison Davis' performance. The direction of the meeting was adjusted Thursday when Gray received a letter from Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran threatening to take over the district if it fails to come up with a plan to fix its budget crisis in less than three weeks.

"It's almost an impossible situation and you heard it today. We don't have the money coming in from the [second federal COVID relief act]," Gray said.

The district has discussed using the federal COVID relief money, known as the CARES Act, to stabilize the budget, but, in his letter, Corcoran said those dollars can't be used as a quick-fix. Further, the funds have not been released to districts by the state.

"Who are we going to ask for the new revenue streams?" Gray asked. "Is it fair? I would say 99.9 percent of the public...would say, 'no.'"

The district is facing a budget deficit that exceeds $100 million. Superintendent Addison Davis has said as many as 1,000 positions would need to be trimmed, mostly through attrition and retirements.

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Although Gray does not feel a state takeover is inevitable, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Michael Kemp isn't as optimistic and fears it's a near-certainty if the district can't use the second CARES Act money, which he calls "soft dollars."

"If we have to submit a plan without the use of soft dollars, we're not in the best situation financially for that," Kemp said.

Davis, however, believes there are ways to bring in more revenue: draw more students to Hillsborough County public schools.

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If we do a really good job of regaining the trust of this community, regaining the trust of our teachers and our support staff and our leaders and we really market the great things that happen in Hillsborough County, you'll see an uptick in students that are selecting us as a choice to compete," said Davis.

Gray worries a state takeover would be disastrous.

"You're looking at a model that is absence of local leadership," she said. "When you are minus the local government, the local school officials, the mayor, everything that's developed locally, you're not really acknowledging the needs of your communities directly."

A spokesperson for Corcoran's office told FOX 13, if the state takes control of the district's finances, known as "state receivership," the local school board and superintendent would remain in place. The state would establish a financial emergency board that would review the district's financial audit and oversee the district's funding and expenditures.

In a statement, Superintendent Davis said, in part:

"My leadership team has identified and implemented strategies that have helped to mitigate this crisis through staffing allocation cuts and other measures. We have done everything to minimize the impact on individuals, but I know that they have affected our teachers, students, families, and school-based administrators. All of this has been necessary to avoid a state takeover."

PDF: Read Corcoran's full letter