Hillsborough School Board ponders budget transparency
As they prepared to vote for a $2.8-billion budget and a property tax rate of $7.69 per $1,000 of value, several Hillsborough County School Board members reminded the audience how imperfect the system is in Hillsborough and statewide.
First the state issue: Unless the board approves the tax rate mandated by the state, Hillsborough misses out on nearly $1-billion in state funding.
"This is the most convoluted taxation system that I have ever seen with respect to education finance," said member Stacy White. "I'm going to be voting yes to the millage rate in protest... That yes vote will be with my hands tied and at gunpoint."
Homeowners are likely to be assessed more money due to rising property values, he said, even though the rate is going down. "I want to remind those folks that it's not really the school board levying that tax, but it's bureaucrats in Tallahassee levying that tax."
Echoing his statements in years past, he added that there is still not as much transparency in the budget process as he would like.
"I don't want an accounting of every paper clip that's bought in this district but I want a littile bit more than what's presented to us," he said.
Member Cindy Stuart agreed, especially as, unlike other nearby school districts, Hillsborough does not publish a detailed budget book.
If neighboring district are producing budget books, in paper and online, she said, "put some more information online so the public does see where their dollars are being spent."
Member Susan Valdes suggested that if people knew more about school district spending, they might be more supportive of public school funding. "Being transparent has its benefits," she said. "The more transparent we are to the people, we can show how efficiently and effectively we are running our budget."
Not everyone wanted to complain.
Carol Kurdell said the district is more transparent than it was years ago, when she asked for budget information for a middle school and was told "it was none of my business."
What's more, she reminded the board, unlike neighboring school districts, "We have not laid anybody off and we have not had furlough days."
Doretha Edgecomb said she wished those complaining about the system would offer specific suggestions. As a board member, she said, she never has trouble gaining access to information. "I think this board has to recognize the hard work that the staff has done in order to simplify the workshops and make available the information that we need," she said.
Candy Olson said, "We need a workshop. We're not going to get anywhere sitting up here at the budget hearing and saying we should do something different."
Stuart said she hoped the workshop would take place before the next public hearing on Sept. 10. But, with some of the timetables proscribed by law, that might not be feasible.
Chairwoman April Griffin said that if more people can see how the district spends money, "they might see things that we don't see and I'm always open to those suggestions and comments." At the workshop, which has not yet been scheduled, she said she hopes to look at other school districts as models.
Everything passed unanimously except the budget itself, which White voted against because of his concerns.