Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Florida School Districts Facing Major Hurdles

 Hillsborough County School Superintendent Ready to Trim Staff

Tampa Bay, Fl 

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD

There is no doubt that Florida's school districts are facing major challenges. A lot of it is being laid at the feet of the coronavirus; however, the problems with Florida's school districts have been growing literally for decades.

One of the major issues with school districts in Florida and elsewhere in the United States, is the fact that they tend to grow their administrative staff as fast or faster in some cases than the actual teaching staff.

With an overlaying layer of administrators’ assistant administrators and other non-teaching positions, school district budgets have climbed exponentially over the last few years.

Taking the case of Hillsborough County, here is a quote from Superintendent of Schools Addison Davis: "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."

For some additional insight, take a look at this article from the Tampa Bay Times by MARLENE SOKOL Education reporter: Hillsborough public schools brace for workforce cuts.

What I find interesting about the Hillsborough case, and in almost all other cases of school boards in financial difficulty is they start looking in the lowest corners of the organization to make reductions and staffing cuts.

In the Hillsborough County case, I think Superintendent Davis could have gained a lot of traction if one of his first moves were  to take a personal 20% salary cut and a comparable cut of all of his senior administrators and hold off on bringing in some of his “former” employees from his previous school district.

In Hillsborough County, as in most school districts, there's a lot more bloat at the top than there is at the bottom.

While these conversations almost always begin with hints, threats and maybe even some actual budget cuts and layoffs, the real effort, here is often to begin driving the political narrative and preparing the school board for a big request for a large budget increase. Take a look at my post: Florida’s Most Dysfunctional Government Body School Boards.

When you start seeing things like we're going to cut special services, reduce arts and sports, what you're really seeing is an attempt to influence public input and put pressure on the elected school board to somehow figure out a way to either raise school board property taxes or generate other sources of revenue.

Addison has made a big issue out of the Hillsborough district's tendency to acquire grants, hire staff to fulfill the grants and when the grants have expired not eliminating the staff since there is no longer funding to support them while making them part of the budget.

That's not a teaching problem, that's a management problem. Any staffer there that can be traced back to a funded grant that is no longer in place should just simply be terminated. I don't care what they're doing right now.

Then there are all those athletic coaches their assistants, their assistance assistants, the football guy who wipes the footballs, the equipment guy, and so on and so on for every sport that a high school or a school system engages in. You know we just got to win at all costs. Some cutting here would be a great start.

Now there are some programs like special needs, that you will see brought to the chopping block if it begins to look like the school board is not going to go along with expanding revenue.

That's the oldest ploy in the book because it stirs up the most emotion among the parents, especially parents of special-needs children. School board members, particularly Hillsborough County school board members, should be on the look for that one and nip it in the bud just as fast as they can. Those programs need to be off the table no exceptions.

So, if you have a child in a school system that is starting the “we need more money arguments" be alert. The dance by most school superintendents and their high-level staff is well choreographed. Well-planned and designed to have as little impact on them as it possibly can.

Before you jump on the phone and start screaming at your school board member, think about this, there's a lot of fluff and a lot of bloat and almost every school system in Florida. And while Hillsborough County says they are looking for it; the school board needs to be sure they are looking in all the right places.

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