Sunday, August 19, 2018
Education

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum.

The law could delay a sales tax referendum by about eight months, past the November election that would usher in the needed bonanza.

An April 16 letter from the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability said districts had to submit their resolutions by April 23 to arrange a required performance audit by the legislative office, known as OPPAGA.

Hillsborough spokesman Grayson Kamm said that when district leaders contacted OPPAGA to arrange the audit, they were told there could be a six-month wait. And the results would have to be posted for two months before the referendum could take place.

By that logic, it would be February at the earliest before such a vote could take place.

Janet Tashner, OPPAGA’s general counsel, said the law does not require six months. But, between finding the appropriate accounting professionals and looking at all areas that the law requires for a performance audit, it could very well take that long.

"It’s really dependent on the extent of the audit," Tashner said. "We’ve done some that are very narrow and some that are extremely broad. It depends on who responds and who is available. It could take longer, it could take less."

The School Board will be asked to vote Tuesday on the wording of the required resolution.

But Kamm said that’s a preliminary step, like securing a passport for an overseas trip that may or may not happen.

In losing the option for a November referendum, Hillsborough would miss an attractive window of opportunity, as a large turnout - and, specifically, a large Democratic turnout - is anticipated in this election cycle.

And they’re not the only referendum game in town. A citizens’ group called All For Transportation is gathering the required petition signatures to place a question on the November ballot about a penny sales tax to subsidize public transportation and needed road repairs in the cities and county. And, because the law requiring the OPPAGA audit specifies "county or school district" and the citizen group is neither of those two things, they do not believe they will have to take that step.

Hillsborough-based education advocate Melissa Erickson said she does not think the new state law or cumbersome process happened by accident.

"They continue to strip local control and take away local options from the leaders who are elected and are closest to the issues that really face our schools," said Erickson, founder of the nonprofit Alliance for Public Schools.

"There is no proof or no substance to any claims that districts are wasting public education construction dollars. These departments are under regular state audit anyway."

A growing number of districts, including Pinellas and Orange, Sarasota and Manatee, have asked their local taxpayers to supplement state schools funding, either through a higher sales tax or an added property tax.

Pinellas uses a property tax, which is practical there because Pinellas has a wealth of valuable real estate but roughly half as many students as Hillsborough. In Hillsborough, which is considered "student rich and property-poor," a sales tax is considered the more lucrative option.

A half-cent sales tax would support capital needs, such as new schools and air conditioners. It could not be used for recurring expenses, such as teacher pay.

But any source of revenue would relieve the financial pressure that affects all aspects of the district’s operations. Between bond debt, unmet capital needs and the prospect of building for a growing population in the Ruskin area, Hillsborough is some $3 billion in the hole.

Hillsborough also has among the lowest starting teacher salaries of any local district, despite the resolution this month of a year-long salary dispute with its union.

District leaders say the Legislature increased per-pupil funding this year by only 47 cents, which is more than eaten up by rising costs.

Republican leaders dispute the 47-cent figure, saying they approved far more. But much of the new money had strings attached - for example, security funds that must be spent to place armed guards in all the schools.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol.

Comments

Epilogue: Tampa’s Mother Teresa, Delia Sanchez, remembered as child welfare champion

Delia P. Sanchez collected things — purses, shoes, newspapers. She hid them away in a storage unit, out of sight from her tidy husband. She had her reasons. And not one of them was selfish. The extra accessories? Those were for the mothers of...
Updated: 5 hours ago
A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

A USF milestone: Three new dorms, more than 6,300 students living on campus

TAMPA — The paint on Pinnacle Hall’s white-and-gold walls still smelled fresh as Lilly Myskey led a parade of parents and bins and bags down the hall toward her new room at the University of South Florida. "Speaking of the building being brand-new, L...
Published: 08/17/18
Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

Florida girl denied school lunch because she was 15 cents short, mother says

A sophomore at University High School in Volusia County was denied lunch on her first day of school Tuesday because she owed 15 cents, according to WKMG in Orlando.The girl’s mother, Kimberly Aiken, told WKMG a cashier in the school’s lunchroom threw...
Published: 08/16/18
Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando’s District 5 School Board seat

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that’s why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.A week after that, the local pastor spo...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

Candidates for Hernando’s District 3 School Board seat talk mental health, technical education

As Hernando County School Board member Beth Narverud makes her run for a spot on the County Commission, three hopefuls are running to fill her District 3 seat.One is Jimmy Lodato, a Tampa native and 19-year Hernando resident. Retired from a career in...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando’s District 1 School Board seat

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat."It’s not just an opportunity ...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

Corbett Prep marks 50th year with compassionate stories, family love

TAMPA — Sammi Borosh sat Tuesday afternoon in one of those tiny chairs for kindergartners and looked across the table at four of her former teachers — and her eyes misted.Borosh said she loved those four ladies and she loved the school where they tau...
Published: 08/15/18
For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

For this Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, start of school is ‘beginning of the end’

Barbara Ojago saw her grandson’s first day back at school as the beginning of the end.Her grandson, Emea, will finish his senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. But Emea returns to a school forever changed by a former student he pe...
Published: 08/15/18
Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Pinellas plans new arts and gifted magnet schools in north county

Next school year, if all goes according to plan, two new programs will expand the slate of options for Pinellas County elementary students — a conservatory for the arts in Clearwater and a gifted center in Palm Harbor.The programs, which will go befo...
Published: 08/15/18
Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

Report card on ousted Hernando schools superintendent shows little change from last year

BROOKSVILLE — Two months after firing superintendent Lori Romano, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday reviewed results of a second district-wide survey to evaluate her performance, finding that little changed from last year.Romano’s overall a...
Published: 08/15/18