TAMPA, Fla. - Broken air conditioner units inside Hillsborough County public schools has been a continuing problem, one Superintendent Jeff Eakins says won't be an easy fix.

“It will not go away until we get the assistance we need financially, in order to resolve this issue,” he said.

The problem is aging school buildings and A/C units combined with reduced state funding, which equals maintenance crews responding to multiple issues, Eakins said.

The key part, Eakins said, is the money the district has to fix A/C issues:

  • The district receives $125 - $135 million annually for maintenance projects.
  • Half goes to paying past debt from previous projects, which leaves $30 million to fix current A/C and roofing issues at about a handful of schools.

Repair costs depend on the school:

  • $3 million for elementary schools.
  • $5 million for middle schools.
  • $7 - $12 million for high schools.

Reduced funding

There are 15-20 schools that are "high priority" for A/C repairs, but different problems happen at different schools daily, said Chris Farkas, the district's chief operating officer.

Many times, one issue is fixed, then a new one pops up days later with the same A/C unit, Farkas said.

The district received $164 million annually in "PECO funds," used to make large purchases, between 2002 and 2009, but those funds dropped to $19 million in recent years.

“That's 145 million less dollars in the past 7 years,” Eakins said. “During the last five to six years the majority of the dollars have shifted to charter schools from the 'PECO' funds. There was a year where we not nothing and it just went to charter schools.”

Hillsborough, unlike other school districts, is not planning to sue over House Bill 7069, which forces public school districts to share construction funds with public charter schools.

Spot coolers, spotty relief

The average age of a Hillsborough school building is 49 years, which makes fixing A/C units a complex issue, Eakins said.

While spot coolers have been used, their effectiveness has been limited. Temperatures recently reached 92 degrees inside Hillsborough High School.

The air handler, which pumps cold air into classrooms, was broken. It was a two day fix.

Students are not allowed inside hallways and classrooms when the air conditioning isn't working.

Requests by district officials for more funding from state legislators have failed, said Eakins, who has encouraged parents to voice their complaints.

“When our legislature hears the voice of the parents and how it's impacting our students, there seems to be a different response,” he says.

Replacement efforts

Riverhills and Potter elementary schools received new A/C units this summer.

Replacements are currently in the design phase for these schools:

  • Crestwood Elementary
  • Cypress Creek Elementary
  • Lee Elementary
  • Morgan Woods Elementary
  • BT Washington Elementary
  • Williams Middle