Hillsborough gets federal funds for ailing school budget, board chair says

Hillsborough gets federal funds for ailing school budget, board chair says
·2 min read

In what is becoming a pattern, another top Hillsborough County school official has announced an expected $100 million infusion of federal money to ease the school district’s financial crisis.

On Saturday morning, School Board chair Lynn Gray tweeted: “$101 million lump sum for the HCPS District from the ESSER Funds. Tuesday’s Special Called HCPS Board meeting will explain where the funds actually will go to.”

The acronym ESSER, which stands for Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief, is the school funding component of the federal government’s multibillion-dollar COVID-19 assistance fund.

Gray was not immediately available to answer questions about her tweet. Leaders of the teachers’ union said they got similar news in texts Friday from superintendent Addison Davis, also specifying the $101 million amount.

Davis was not immediately available either, and district communications chief Tanya Arja said she did not have further information.

This is the second time in under a week that word has come about a payout of this size. It is believed the money would allow the district to avert a threatened state takeover of its finances.

On Monday, addressing the district’s Citizens Advisory Committee, chief financial officer Romaneir Johnson said $100 million would be available to the district that Thursday. At the time, Davis said there was nothing in writing about the $100 million. And when questioned about her statement on Friday, Johnson repeated that there was nothing in writing.

The money is intended for a wide variety of uses related to the pandemic — from educational materials and programs to reverse students’ learning loss, to reimbursement for safety and cleaning equipment.

Democratic leaders have been exerting pressure on the state to free up the money in the current school year.

In Tallahassee, however, Department of Education leaders have insisted the money must flow through the legislative appropriation process. They have also cautioned against using COVID-19 relief money for ongoing expenses — especially in a district such as Hillsborough, which is under orders to balance its operational budget.

Hillsborough has a May 12 deadline to submit a plan to the state that will address spending this year and next. On Tuesday, the board has a scheduled meeting to review and approve the plan.