‘The threat is real’: Hillsborough School Board faces short deadline to fix $100M budget shortfall

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County School District has been given just 19 days to fix a budget shortfall, or Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has threatened to step in to make financial decisions for the county.

“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,” Corcoran said in the letter addressed to School Board Chair Lynn Gray.

On Friday, school board members met in an emergency session to discuss the shortfall, Corcoran’s letter, and possible solutions. Corcoran said the school district must address a projected $107 million deficit or the state will take over.

He blames the budget issues on staffing, saying the district is overstaffed by thousands of employees. School board member Jessica Vaughn says it’s a problem the county has known about for years.

“I feel like in the letter yesterday from the commissioner of education, it was very explicit that these have been systemic, ongoing, long-term financial crisis that we’ve had since 2015,” Vaughn said.

According to Corcoran, the law requires school districts to maintain a “positive fund balance of at least 2% for those funds that are not restricted, committed or nonspendable to avoid the potential of having a financial emergency.”

Corcoran wrote in his letter that the school district’s fund balance does not meet that requirement.

During Friday’s meeting, board members openly discussed they have no immediate solutions, although it’s an issue they’ve discussed for months.

“So the fact that we don’t already have a plan and that it’s going to take a few more weeks to put it together makes me concerned (about) what other options we have,” Vaughn said.

Hillsborough County is expected to receive up to $400 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government. 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.

Commissioner Corcoran has warned the county it can not use one-time funds, like the federal relief money, to fix a long-standing problem.

Gray says the state should allow the relief funds to help in this situation.

“Why wouldn’t the state not want to give our district the money since we are taking care of, we are trying to take care of our children,” she said.

The Hillsborough County School Board has scheduled several more meetings before the state deadline to discuss the shortfall.

You can watch the full school board conversation on the financial crisis in the video player below:

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