TAMPA — As he gets ready to take over as the Hillsborough County school district’s chief of facilities, Chris Farkas knows he’ll face his share of challenges — especially in the transportation department.
But Farkas, currently the district’s Area 8 director, says he is up to the test. It’s one of the reasons he wanted the job, which he officially starts Monday.
“I like the challenge that comes with it,” he said.
The school board recently hired a consultant to help create a plan to replace aging buses and conduct a review of district transportation. Simultaneously, the district began investigating concerns raised by some transportation trainers, including the handling of medically fragile students.
Other employee concerns include low morale, leadership issues, overheated buses and overworked drivers.
One of the biggest parts of Farkas’ job will be to carry out any improvements that are identified by the end of the review process and investigation.
“Obviously, we want our staff to feel comfortable and happy doing their job,” he said. “I want our kids to feel safe.”
Farkas said he will continue to work to fix the district’s bus driver shortage.
“People want to work where they are happy,” he said. “I know we have some that aren’t happy and they’ve been vocal about that. I’ve encouraged them to come and talk to me.”
Farkas has been the district’s Area 8 director since 2012, when the position was created to accommodate growth in south Hillsborough County. In that job, which he is juggling with his new one until a replacement is hired, he oversees the principals of 25 public schools.
In addition to transportation, Farkas will be responsible for overseeing energy conservation, maintenance, building code management, growth management and construction.
Some big projects for his division include two new schools slated to open in the next two school years and a third that’s set to open in 2016. The new schools will accommodate a growing school district, which has more than 201,000 students and is the eighth largest district in the country.
“Trying to couple growth with funding is always a challenge,” Farkas said. “Having money to build the schools takes some creativity and experts in the field. I like the idea of trying to stretch the taxpayer dollar as far as it can go.”
Farkas grew up in Indiana and attended the University of Alabama, where he earned a secondary education bachelor’s degree in comprehensive social sciences. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from National Louis University.
Since 1999, Farkas has worked in Hillsborough as a teacher, coordinator for youth services and assistant principal. He was principal at Tampa Bay Technical and Freedom high schools. He is married and has three daughters who attend Hillsborough public schools.
Farkas replaces Cathy Valdes, who has been promoted to deputy superintendent. Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia was in the facilities post before Valdes.
“I’m fortunate because I’m following someone who is extremely effective and creative,” Farkas said. “My two predecessors are my bosses. That provides a unique challenge to step up and do something they both know very well.”
Valdes said Farkas’ perspective as someone who has been a principal will serve him well.
“On the transportation side, someone who’s been a school administrator who knows the challenges is advantageous,” she said. “He has experience dealing with parents and bus drivers and in knowing what to expect from a client standpoint.”