HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County School Board has an immediate budget crisis. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has given the county a tight deadline to come up with a plan to fund a state-mandated emergency reserve.
Corcoran says finances have reached “a point of crisis” and threatened to take over the school district if the school board does not approve a plan to fund the reserve account.
Money in the reserve account must equal two percent of the total county budget and can only be used in case of disaster or emergency. The county is projecting a $107 million dollar shortfall in the account.
“The district’s lack of attention to this issue since 2015 has already created a disruption with your workforce, and your lack of comprehensive and timely action at present threatens the basic delivery of educational services to the Hillsborough’s students,” Commissioner Corcoran wrote to School Board Chair Lynn Gray.
On Tuesday, School Board Chair Lynn Gray says the deficit could easily be made up if the state would release federally approved COVID relief funds to the county.
“That money was supposed to be released within 60 days of its passing. Now it has been over, way over that and then our question is, where is that money and the state has it, but when are they going to release those funds,” Gray said.
Gray says the county spent money due to the pandemic and that’s what the federal COVID relief dollars are designed to pay for.
“We have spent the money in all types of ways and we mentioned the computers, we mentioned the amount of safety and cleaning for the desks, we mentioned the masks, all this has been spent,” said Gray.
Commissioner Corcoran has warned the county it can not use one-time funds, like the federal relief money, to fix a long-standing problem.
So far, the funds have not been released and Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D) has accused the state of “slow-walking” funds that have been approved that she says could help.
School board member Nadia Combs says the federal relief funds should be released to county school boards immediately.
“Here we are talking about that we are behind, or we need 100 million dollars, but we are owed 585 million dollars,” Combs said.
She’s questioning why state officials in Florida are not releasing the funds when many other states have.
“It just shows you that continually they are not funding public education and it is a movement, I feel, toward privatization,” Combs said.
The school board has until May 12 to submit a plan to fix its financial crisis.