Sunday, September 23, 2018

Money tight for maintenance, capital projects in Pasco County schools

Pasco County schools expect to receive $1.14 billion over the next decade for construction and maintenance projects.

It might sound like a lot, but district officials anticipate having $1.25 billion in expenses over the same time period.

And that amount doesn't include some priorities, such as an east-side technical high school to pair with the west-side one opening in the fall.

The 2018-19 fiscal year, which began Sunday, is proving daunting on its own, chief finance officer Olga Swinson told the School Board on Tuesday.

"We could probably use another $20 million just to do everything we want to do," Swinson said.

There is positive news, she said, in that the district will see a 7.1 percent increase in the tax roll, generating about $42.1 million in capital revenue, and the Penny for Pasco collections continue to generate their highest returns since voters approved the sales tax more than a decade ago.

But state support for capital needs continue to lag, Swinson continued, and much the the revenue is tied up in debt service and construction to ease population growth. The district currently has about $508 million in construction debt.

The money left for unrestricted use is just over $5 million, Swinson said, calling that amount "dangerous" but the best the finance team could do.

"We have a balanced budget for you. It wasn't easy getting there," she told the board, noting the overall proposed maintenance budget was $3.8 million — not nearly enough, she suggested.

"That's not much if we have a major hurricane," observed board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin lamented the situation.

"We can't keep kicking roof repair and HVAC repair down the road. We have to do these things," Beaudoin said.

She asked if the administration and board would seriously consider seeking other revenue streams, such as a voter-approved bond issue or property tax increase.

Superintendent Kurt Browning has been reticent to make such a request, raising concerns about what might happen if the voters someday cancel the increase. But he said the conversation would take place over the next several months.

Driving some of the concerns is the district's continued enrollment growth. It's sucking up much of the capital funds, leaving little to care for existing schools.

Planning director Chris Williams said plans call for a new middle school on Old Pasco Road in 2020, and a K-8 school in Trinity in 2021, to help ease the load.

The district also has opened more seats at Sanders STEAM magnet to relieve bursting Connerton Elementary, with plans to promote an International Baccalaureate elementary program at nearby Pine View Elementary, as well.

A new K-8 charter school in Wesley Chapel is expected to draw students from full campuses there, too.

See the district's Capital Plan for more details about the situation.

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