Hillsborough gets $8.7 million in state recognition funds
TAMPA - He came bearing an oversized cardboard check for $8.7 million that will be divvied into smaller bonuses for thousands of school district employees in Hillsborough County. Gov. Rick Scott made a pit stop in Tampa on Friday to hand out financial rewards to schools where student performance has stayed at a high level or seen significant improvement. From Alafia Elementary to Wilson Middle, many of those who work in the nation’s eighth largest school district will be rewarded – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers and other personnel. “Every time he is bringing money, he is welcome in Hillsborough County,” Superintendent MaryEllen Elia joked at the governor’s morning stop at Plant High, which will receive nearly $139,000 from the state’s school recognition program.“People love you when you bring money,” the governor told the superintendent. “Teachers change lives. Everybody has a favorite teacher.” Principals from many of the schools on the list joined Scott, who is running for re-election next year, in the fiction section of Plant’s library for the announcement. “Not only do we make a difference in children’s lives, we are the difference in children’s lives,” said Principal Marie Valenti of Chiaramonte Elementary. It is left up to each school to decide how to use the money. Some divide it for bonuses for teachers, while others give money to all school employees. Still others use it to purchase educational equipment or materials. At Chiaramonte, school employees voted to spread the more than $35,000 among all workers. “My teachers work really hard,” Valenti said. “But it takes a village to raise a child. The bus drivers get their share. The part-time people will get a share.” The same is true for those who work at Just Elementary, which serves a population where 98 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. “It’s huge for Just,” Principal Carolyn Hill said of the more than $82,000 the school received. “It means a lot to the teachers, but it also means a lot to the students and the parents that our students are making academic progress. “We’re all a team,” Hill added. “You can’t do it without everybody on board.” Hillsborough County’s $8.7 million is part of a more than $134 million school recognition program statewide.