Hillsborough schools hot due to budget shortfalls

Budget shortfalls are leading to hot classrooms throughout the area.

TAMPA -- It's getting hot in dozens of Hillsborough County schools. About 25 of the district's 250 schools need major air conditioning repairs or replacements. The cost: around $5 million each, adding up to more than a hundred million dollars. That's money the district doesn't have. 
One after another, teachers have posted comments and pictures of their classroom thermostats on Facebook.  
The Hillsborough Classroom Teacher's Association got complaints from teachers at 176 schools. Executive Director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins says this is the worst she's seen it in years.
"It's crazy I've had teachers tell me they've had to bring a change of clothes in the middle of the day," she says.
The district's Chief Operating Officer, Chris Farkas, agrees there is a problem. "For the first six weeks of school we have 600 more requests than we did at this same time last year," Farkas says.
Schools like Potter Elementary need major A/C repairs, and many of its classrooms have individual units. It's just one of the many schools that need a complete overhaul, but Farkas says they simply don't have the money to address all the A/C needs.
"Almost two-thirds of my budget goes to debt service," he says. Therefore, (repairs are not) available to help with the maintenance of our current system, so finding funding is definitely one of our biggest challenges."
The teacher's association is currently in bargaining talks with the district, but Baxter-Jenkins says this is about more than the budget - it's about the district's priorities.
"Having to teach in a place where it's 86 degrees all day long with hundreds of kids going in and out," she says. It's crazy. It's crazy for the teachers. It's crazy for the kids."
Farkas agrees and says they are addressing A/C issues as they come in and will do what's needed to keep the classrooms cool.
"We do things. We rent a chiller, that's a very expensive way to handle that problem," he notes. "We also have things called spot coolers which don't necessarily take the temperature down to where you want, but provide conditioning and circulation of the air.  That makes it at least an environment that students can learn in."
The district turns up the thermostat at schools overnight and on the weekends, but many of the teachers complain that the buildings simply aren't cooling down fast enough in the mornings - and the A/C just can't keep up.

(© 2016 WTSP)


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