School district budget cuts hurt students, teachers

As+the+School+District+struggles+with+a+shortage+of+funds%2C+Superintendent+Addison+Davis+has+proposed+a+slate+of+new+budget+cuts.+Those+these+policies+are+intended+to+save+money%2C+they+harm+students+and+teachers.

As the School District struggles with a shortage of funds, Superintendent Addison Davis has proposed a slate of new budget cuts. Those these policies are intended to save money, they harm students and teachers.

Rowan O'Flanagan, Staff Member

As the Hillsborough County School District attempts to reconcile a massive shortage of funds, new Superintendent Addison Davis has proposed a series of budget cuts which rein in the district’s spending—athe expense of Hillsborough County students and staff members’ wellbeing.  

A major component of the proposed budget cuts (aka “Strategies to Recapture Funding”) is a “reduction in non-classroom positions,” slated to account for 7.5 million dollars saved.  

Though “non-classroom position” is a particularly ambiguous term, it’s nonetheless concerning. How many guidance counselors, school psychologists and reading coaches will be laid off? And what effect will that have on the students who depend on them?  

The school system is like a safety net for many students, a variety of resources and individuals woven together to create a foundation of care and support. However, cut a few strings in the wrong places and there’s no telling how many students will fall through the gaps. 

Though non-classroom personnel have always been an essential resource, they play an especially important role now that students are coping with the additional stress and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Cutting these vital school staff members now isn’t just illogical, it’s ludicrous.  

The pandemic has also added any extra layer of difficultfor those who lose their jobs in the budget cutsAny employee who is let go of by Hillsborough County will be cast into a wildly unstable job market, searching for a new job at a time when few businesses are hiring but it is no less essential to put food on the table 

By slashing jobs without considering the broader implications to the staff members affected, the superintendent is failing to treat school district employees with the respect and compassion they have earned. School staff members aren’t numbers on a spreadsheet, they are human beings and deserve to be treated as such regardless of the state of budgetary affairs.  

Another one of the “strategies to recapture funding” mentioned in the superintendent’s budget presentation is budgeted unfilled vacancies” — 424 unfilled job positions which were eliminated last Spring and will remain vacant for the foreseeable future. Though this measure supposedly saves the district 32.6 million dollars, it increases the burden on teachers and students.   

To make up for the decreased number of teachers, the remaining teachers either have to instruct extra class periods, giving them less time for planning or teach classes with more students, restricting the amount of individualized attention they can give to each student.  

As a result, students may be forced into overcrowded classrooms where learning is more difficult. With less attention from their teachers, some students are likely to fall behind, harming the wellbeing of those students and undermining the academic excellence that Hillsborough County claims to prioritize  

This situation isn’t just a hypothetical. Plant has already faced a decrease in the number of teachers and will likely continue to do so as more teachers retire or switch jobs, leaving behind additional “budgeted unfilled vacancies.” Many teachers have been asked to take on extra class periods and extra students, which will only worsen as additional teachers leave 

These changes perpetuate existing inequalities within the school system. To compensate for the decreased individual instruction in class, many wealthier students will be able to hire tutors or even switch to private schools with smaller student to teacher ratios. Meanwhile, students from underprivileged backgrounds will be left behind, trapped in underfunded and overcrowded classrooms.  

Although some budgetary changes may be unavoidable, there’s no reason to believe that the proposed cuts are the only option. For example, if the district reduced consulting agreements by 50% instead of the 20% reduction outlined in the superintendent’s planthe resulting funds could be used to fill approximately 83 of the estimated 424 budgeted unfilled vacancies.* Though this is far from a solution, it illustrates the ways in which funds can be reallocated to better prioritize students and teachers. 

Hillsborough County has not only an option but an obligation to consider alternatives to the budget cuts as they are currently proposed. If the school district intends to live up to their motto of “Preparing Students for Life” they must implement policies which actually help students and teachers, instead of setting them up for failure.  

Within Hillsborough County Public Schools, nearly everything that students and teachers do is directed towards a single goallearningAs these budget cuts are implemented, we will certainly be learning important lessons about our school district, and whether or not our leaders truly value education.  

 

*If a 20% reduction in consulting agreements amounts to $4.3 million, then a 50% reduction would amount to $10.75 million, between which there is a difference of $6.45 million. Furthermore, if leaving approximately 424 budgeted unfilled vacancies accounts for a savings of $32.6 million, then each vacancy costs approximately $77 thousand when filled, meaning that saving $6.45 million is the allows for filling between 83 and 84 vacant teaching positions.