Hillsborough students go 11 days without air conditioning

More than $100 million, that's how much the Hillsborough School District needs to fix air conditioning problems at dozens of schools.
 
Even if you don't have kids, this story affects you. That's because every taxpayer helps fund our schools.
Here's how it breaks down in Hillsborough County:  If you have a $200,000 home, your taxable value is $175,000. Your property taxes are just over $1,800 dollars and  $1,200 of that goes to school funding. So that's the bulk of your money.
 
So you're giving them all that money and the district tells 10News WTSP they still don't have enough to repair the A/C.  On top of that, we found the district has nearly $150 million in a reserve fund.  The big question tonight: Why won't they dip into that fund to keep kids cool?
 
 
For 11 days now, third-graders at MacFarlane Park Elementary have been learning in less than ideal conditions. The thermostat today in the classroom hit 83 degrees.  A fan merely circulates the hot air.   
 
"Kids have complained of headaches and stomach aches and we're always drinking water," said teacher, Heather MacDonald. 
 
Denise Domeier teaches in an adjacent classroom. "Lethargic, not really focused on what they're supposed to be doing, I'm constantly having to tell them to pay attention, to lift their heads up."
 
MacDonald and Domeier have both been teachers for many years and been through a lot, but they say the heat is causing the kids to suffer and slows down learning.  "It's one thing if it's teachers, I can see that. But those are kids and that's what we're here for is the kids." said MacDonald.
 
The district recently passed a budget of nearly $2.8 billion dollars with $146 million set aside in reserves.
 
We wanted to know why those reserves aren't being used to fund repairs.  The district spokesperson gave us this statement: "For the security of the district and the security of our employees, we must keep the fund balance intact in case of an emergency, so we can ensure payroll is met for up to a month."
 
These teachers say they understand the budget is tight, but something needs to be done.  "I can't imagine how it got so bad. How come all the sudden all these schools, the air conditioner is breaking, have they not been keeping up with it all along? I don't understand that."
 
Chief Operating Officer Chris Farkas did speak on Monday about the problem and he says the money is just not there, so the district will soon have to look into other options.  "There's going out for a referendum for a penny tax, there's also ways to go and borrow money to get that done. Either way the goal will be within the next small amount of time, you'll see the school district of Hillsborough County will be in that situation."
 
Hillsborough is one of Florida's three largest school districts.  So we did some digging to find out how it compares to those other school districts when it comes to funding.  
 
-- Miami-Dade County school district is the largest with more than 350,000 students.  The district spends a little more than $9,700 per student.
 
-- Broward, the second-largest school district, spends just under $9,000 per student.
 
-- Hillsborough comes in third with just over 200,000 students and an average of $9,728 dollars spent per student. That's just one dollar less than Miami-Dade.
 
The district does have a five-year plan to deal with the most-pressing maintenance issues, but it is far short of the $100 million needed to replace or repair units at 25 schools.


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