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Hillsborough County teachers, parents try to take budget cut changes 'in stride'

The school district says staffing transitions usually happen at the beginning of October, but it's been moved up due to COVID-19.

TAMPA, Fla. — In the middle of an already chaotic school year, some families in Hillsborough County Schools have found themselves saying goodbye to teachers they've grown to love. 

Friday was the last day for many Hillsborough County students and teachers to share a classroom together. They were notified early this week there would be changes in order for the school district to be able to balance the budget this year. 

Last week, the district announced more than 400 positions wouldn't be filled this year, meaning some teachers will be reassigned and about 50-60 people will be let go.

8-year-old Jayce Fierro lost his 3rd grade reading and writing teacher.

"It was sad. They said that she was gonna leave in a note. It made me sad because she is a good teacher," Fierro said.

The 3rd grader surprised his teacher with a gift on her last day. 

"He's never really taken to a teacher like this, so it's very shocking for me. He was just talking nonstop asking, 'Why does my teacher have to be the one to leave? She was really nice, I really liked her!' It was heartbreaking just because none of my kids really have ever experienced this and for him to be the one to experience it at such a young age," Maria Fierro said.

Llora Gilman and her 1st grader experienced the same pain. Gilman is a teacher herself and has gone through reallocation before. She was happy she was able to talk to her 6-year-old before it was announced at school.

"He just started sobbing. He was really upset. He was like, 'Do you think she'll be able to teach me again later this year?' I was like, 'Honey, I don't know.' It's hard. I've experienced this on a teacher level, I've experienced this with friends, and it's hard when it's your baby, to see them sad, upset, and just heartbroken," Gilman said.

The district says about 200 teachers in the district are being moved or cut to make up for a budget shortfall.

"This has weighed heavy on my heart, I know this isn't about me, but I've had to make really difficult decisions that I wouldn't make as a leader. I would never ever take educators out of schools, but when faced with a situation like this it's taxing not only on students, this board, this partnership, but the community," Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis said.

Starting Monday, teachers like Lindsay Valentine will slowly make the transition into their new role.

"I was at Nelson Elementary for five days, and my position got cut to a four-day position, which opened me up for having one day that I would have to travel to a different school," Valentine said.

She'll now have the opportunity to teach art at Springs Elementary one day a week. While it's not an easy transition, Valentine says she's excited to bring arts and creativity to new faces.

"It was a little daunting at first, but I'm trying my best to see it as a positive thing! It allows me to get in front of 160 new faces and get them through this with art and magic. That is my number one goal every time I'm walking into the classroom. Just to bring that childhood wonder back to a time that really is so adult and so scary. I'm just trying to take it all in stride," Valentine said.

The school district says all changes in the classroom should be in place by the start of the second semester. This should make it a more natural transition for students, employees, and families. 

The district says this process happens at the beginning of October, but it's been moved due to COVID-19.

RELATED: Hillsborough schools announce salary raise, but budget cuts coming amid COVID-related challenges

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