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Education

Hillsborough schools face shortfalls at every turn

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Published:   |   Updated: May 14, 2013 at 05:48 PM

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TAMPA -

There’s no extra money for new computers or wireless technology to take Hillsborough County schools into a new world of testing.

There’s $12 million less than a year ago in the state budget for instructional materials.

And there won’t be enough money for teacher raises at the level Gov. Rick Scott pushed for and state legislators passed.

Those are some of the stark facts Hillsborough County school board members were faced with Tuesday at a budget workshop.

The nation’s eighth-largest school district keeps hearing it needs to pay bus drivers, special education and teachers more money.

But the district doesn’t have budget numbers yet from the state Legislature, and what they do have doesn’t look good.

That’s especially true of the teacher-raise pool. The governor wanted to give all teachers $2,500, but legislators voted to give teachers graded as effective $2,500 and those judged as highly effective $3,500.

The Hillsborough portion of the state money for that purpose adds up to $35.4 million, budget officials with the district said today. Take out $2.4 million for charter schools, and that leaves $33 million for teachers, principals, counselors, media specialists and other employees who would qualify.

And with about 15,000 likely to be in the mix for one of the raises, the numbers don’t add up.

“Here’s the pie,” said Dan Valdez, the deputy superintendent who will be sitting down at the bargaining table with employee unions soon.

“As soon as all of the pieces of the pie are gone, it’s gone,” he added. “We can’t make another pie.”

For the promised teacher raises alone, said Gretchen Saunders, the district’s chief business officer, “We need more money. There is not enough money.”

That seems to be the case in a lot of areas, according to preliminary budget numbers.

The school district will receive $12 million from the state for new technology, but it lost $12 million to fund instructional materials.

“We still have to replace textbooks, too, as part of the law,” said April Griffin, school board chairwoman.

The state also projects that Hillsborough will have 1,967 fewer students next year because of increased enrollment in online classes. That’s a number the district disputes; fewer students mean less state funding.

“When those kids show up, they’re going to show up,” Saunders said. “They are going to need transportation, they are going to need textbooks.”

They will also need more computers.

District officials told board members the state Department of Education wants schools to have one computer for every two students.

“Tell them to show us the money,” said board member Doretha Edgecomb. She called such a proposal out of touch with reality.

Board member Candy Olson had another phrase for it – “this is fantasy finance.”

It will cost the school district nearly $7 million to outfit the rest of the schools for wireless capabilities. Such a move will be essential with the transition to online testing in the 2014-15 school year as part of Florida’s new Common Core curriculum.

The price tag to purchase new computers is $7 million to $15 million – depending on what devices the district ends up buying.

The hope is to get enough computers at each school to be able to test one grade level per day. Officials also want to avoid using areas such as the media center for testing because then it is closed to students too many days of the school year.

To avoid using the media centers as testing sites, the district needs 3,648 new computers for elementary schools, 4,808 for middle schools and 5,243 for high schools.

If it wanted to follow state recommendations and have one computer for every two students, those numbers would soar again.

Elementary schools would need nearly 18,000 new computers. Middle schools would need 8,000. High schools would have to have 14,000.

“That’s insane,” one board member said.

Just how much money that would cost is unknown.

“You never know from day to day what the cost of the device is going to be,” said David Steele, chief information and technology officer. “Everything changes go much.”


rshaw@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7999

Twitter: @rshawTBO

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