Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MaryEllen Elia Left A Financial Mess In Hillsborough School District

Tell me again why MaryEllen Elia was made NYSED commissioner without any public scrutiny of the pick?

TAMPA — In the last four years of superintendent MaryEllen Elia's administration, the Hillsborough County School District went on a spending jag, tearing through more than half of its $361 million reserve fund, officials revealed this week.

Left unchecked, the pattern would have resulted in another operating deficit this year — a $75 million hit that would bring the fund down near its legal minimum threshhold.

The situation has surprised Elia's successor, unsettled School Board members and put bonding agencies on alert, which could lead to the district facing higher interest rates when it has to borrow money.

Jeff Eakins, who took over as superintendent after serving as Elia's deputy, says he was caught off guard when he realized the district used $68.5 million in non-recurring funds to meet this year's payroll.

Some examples of Elia's financial mismanagement:

For example: Teachers were given pay raises in the summer after negotiations with their union. School Board members were told how much those raises would cost.

But those were estimates that fell short of the real number because they did not take into account a new pay structure offered under Empowering Effective Teachers, the system Elia initiated in 2009 with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That's because teachers don't decide whether they want to be included in the system until the fall — well after the contract negotiations — and many more opted to be in the system than the district anticipated.

A study is under way to calculate those extra costs, which could run as high as $50 million.

It is clear, Eakins said, that the district, which serves more than 200,000 children, is spending money to extend programs that were launched with temporary funding from foundations.
The Gates grant is one example, as it is in its final year of funding. Expenses anticipated for 2015-16 include $11.3 million for teacher peer evaluators and $6.1 million to pay mentors. Eakins said he will take a close look at these expenditures to see if they are worth sustaining, or if they should be reduced.

The consequences of Elia's mismanagement?

Class sizes will be increased.

The new superintendent doesn't want to do layoffs, but that could be another consequence.

It's pretty clear from the story that Elia hid the mismanagement from the school board:

Some board members said the budgets that were made public were difficult to understand and they did not get clear answers when they asked direct questions of Saunders and Elia.

"I tried to dig for information," said Harris, who ran for her board seat in 2014 and cast the tie-breaking vote to fire Elia. "But unless you are an expert, it's impossible to get a real budget and real figures."

Stuart, who often asked questions about spending, said she was stonewalled, and despite all her questions was as surprised as the others to learn about the spending issue.

"We had no idea. We honestly had no idea," she said. "We never got the full picture."

Elia, who's on her "I Talk Tough" tour of NY State, did not respond to the Tampa Bay Times for a comment either Monday or Tuesday.

Again I ask, why was Elia hired without any public scrutiny?

And let me add, why is Elia not getting any scrutiny from the New York press now?

There was her lack of transparency around the death of a special needs child on a Hillsborough school bus that led to the death of another child later on, her refusal to take responsibility for these incidents and now the news that Hillsborough was one year away from hitting its reserve fund minimum because Elia mismanaged the district finances.

Could there be any more red flags flying that the hiring of MaryEllen Elia was a disaster?

And yet, other than readers of the blogs and folks on the NYSAPE social media threads, who knows about any of this?


  1. The reason nobody knows any of this (except us folks...a deep minority) is because NONE of the usual white blood cells whose job it is to know this stuff and make these issues part of the broader dialog DID NOT DO THEIR DUTY. Of course I am talking about the unions, most specifically NYSUT.

    One of NYSUT's primary roles in the landscape of politics in NY is to do better due diligence on everything related to the working teachers they represent, and scream loudly enough to make issues become part of the political dialog. Unfortunately NYSUT leadership sees their job as simply maintaining a "seat at the table." The leadership actually has a less sophisticated view of their role than most of the membership.

    With Elia, NYSUT was so quick to say that her appointment was a "victory" for us and that they looked forward to working with her, that there was no room for these real, verifiable, and abundant problems with her to come to light.

    We have this assumption that the media will somehow do the job of elevating issues for us. They will not. The state of journalism, especially at the state level on down, is abysmal, and even when whopper issues are reported (like Elia's past), we can't assume that the media, politicians, etc. will actually read stuff coming out of another state. ITS ONE OF THE REASONS WE HAVE A UNION!!! TO KNOW THIS STUFF AND BRING IT TO EVERYONE'S ATTENTION IN A LOUD SUSTAINED WAY!! That didn't work here. Its another COLOSSAL FAILURE ON THE PART OF THE PEOPLE WE PAY TO REPRESENT US!

    It was, in large part, NYSUT's JOB to know this stuff about Elia and make it loudly public. Where were the emails to membership about her past? Where was NYSUT saying that they oppose her for these reasons? Where were the constant letters to editors forcing papers within the state to bring these issues up? Where was the CAMPAIGN against her? NOWHERE. After all, that would look too much like FIGHTING!

    We need to abandon NYSUT and come up with something

  2. No one seems to care! Why isn't this a front page story? People talk so much about education but no one is doing anything! All gates people in hillsborough are just using this as a way to move up out of the classroom!!! Check out what evaluators do all and listen.

    1. Shhhhhhh. Be calm. Relax. Contain the outrage at why people don't care and that it isn't a front page story. There are reasons.
      I tried to outline a big reason at 7:33AM above. There are reasons.

      If we are to be an effective counter to the reform movement/the enablers of reform supposedly on our side, we need to 1) stop being horrified/astonished/jaw-agape, and begin to GET IN FRONT OF these things, ANTICIPATE THEM. All the elements were in place as to why Elia's past hasn't bitten her....they were visible. NYSUT claimed her appointment was a victory right away. Everything was legible early on. No excuse for shock. 2) We need to begin to activate and take smart action against those reasons....for example, NYSUT saying it looks forward to working WITH Elia, rather than mounting a campaign against her immediately based on her past.

      We can take action against the REASONS why things happen. We just need to focus on that, rather than this chronically being behind the curve and being shocked every time something happens. We need to be sharp, on point, focused, and specific. We have to take these F'ers on one detail at a time. Too many think we can win by having defeating their broad arguments. Nope. We can only win by dismantling them in detail.

      Its our job to stay way in front of stuff and work towards never being shocked. Staying deeply informed is a political act. People chronically in shock can't win. No excuses for shock and horror anymore. Thats how NYSUT leadership rolls, and if we basically do the opposite as them, we'll be doing better.