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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pinellas approves smaller budget, higher tax rate



The Pinellas County School Board approved a $1.46 billion budget tonight that increases the tax rate to prevent deeper cuts to schools. And, as they did at the first budget hearing in July, board members blamed state lawmakers for making them do it.

This year, for the ninth year in a row, the Legislature forced districts to pay a greater share of education funding.

“I have grave concerns that they’re passing the buck to us … that you go be the bad guys,” said board chair Peggy O’Shea. “We have to come up with a better way of getting through to these folks.”

The 2009-10 budget is built on a new tax rate of $8.35 for every $1,000 of taxable property value – up from last year’s rate of $8.06. The owner of a home with a taxable value of $150,000 after exemptions would pay $1,253 – up $44 from last year – if his property values did not drop.

Countywide, property values have fallen 11 percent since last year, so the increased tax rate still brings the district $45.6 million less than it received last year.

The board voted unanimously for the overall budget, but not on one part of the rate hike – a quarter-mil increase the Legislature said school boards could raise if a super majority of members agreed.

Board member Carol Cook voted no, as she did in July. By shifting costs to districts, the Legislature is not living up to state constitutional requirements to provide an adequate education for its students, she said.

Voting in favor of the emergency rate hike is “telling the Legislature it’s okay to shove this down to us,” she said.

But other board members said voting no would leave students in a lurch.

“My no vote will be against the incumbents in Tallahassee who forced this upon us,” said board member Janet Clark.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:35am]


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