Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

DeWitt: Need for additional dollars continues for Hernando County schools

Jo Ann Hartge, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, left, and teacher Lucy Tucker wave signs in support of the half-cent sales tax for schools referendum, which voters passed. Still, the county schools’ financial woes continue.


Jo Ann Hartge, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, left, and teacher Lucy Tucker wave signs in support of the half-cent sales tax for schools referendum, which voters passed. Still, the county schools’ financial woes continue.

You voters out there who passed the half-cent school sales tax last year might have figured you were done.

You were willing to dig into your pockets for kids and classrooms. You did your part to ensure Hernando County has an adequately funded, well-functioning school system.

Well, sorry, it wasn't enough. The time will soon come to do more, to dig deeper.

That was the basic message during an informal School Board meeting last week, the time when, as Chairman Matt Foreman said, the board has some of its most "spirited discussions."

Sure enough, talk quickly turned to a subject that presumably had been put to bed for a few years — a referendum for a new tax.

"Two mills for two years," member Mark Johnson said.

Though he didn't say so, it was a glance back at a previous tax referendum, the one that didn't pass — 2014's Penny for Projects. The school district's share of that money, about $85 million over 10 years, had been earmarked for technology, most of it, memorably and disastrously, for computerized tablets.

That was the deluxe solution to state mandates regarding technology improvements, said Jason Chase, the district's supervisor of technology and information services. But the mandates still exist, and the district still has to figure out how to meet them.

It won't cost $85 million, Chase said, but it will cost plenty.

And regardless of the state's requirements, the need for upgrades is obvious to anyone who has paid a visit to a classroom in the district. It's like a trip back to the dial-up era; the laptops are that old, the bandwidth that bottlenecked, the waits for pages to load that long.

Then there's a software system called TERMS, which dates back to the 1980s, Chase said. It displays a shade of green on the screen that might make you nostalgic for high school computer lab if you didn't know it was the administrative workhorse of the district, the primary tool for managing enrollment numbers, grades and finances.

Technology isn't the only big, looming expense, Johnson said. There's also buses.

The district's newest buses are now 5 years old, said Ralph Leath, the district's assistant transportation director. And, he said, 44 of the district's 165 buses have accumulated more than 200,000 miles, the recommended maximum lifespan.

The district needs to, at the very least, invest $1 million per year, which would buy about 10 replacement buses, Leath said. For the next budget year, he plans to ask for 20, which would cost about $2 million.

There's also the $20,000 raise in superintendent Lori Romano's salary for next year, which may not be significant in its own right, but raises the pay expectations for all of the district's teachers and administrators.

Who, by the way, need to be better paid if the district — which has a long-term shortage of up-and-coming administrators — wants to retain quality principals and assistant principals, Foreman said at the workshop.

It's another significant expense that the district has no firm plans to meet, other than hoping the state kicks in more money for education and that property values continue to rise.

(Don't even mention the paltry impact fees on new construction that are due to kick in March 1. Their use is limited to expanding school space, and the amount so low that every new home is another financial burden on the district.)

Foreman, by the way, said he doesn't support Johnson's proposal for a new tax and doubted other board members would either.

So, maybe they won't be doing that. But in the long term, they — and we — will have to do something.

Contact Dan DeWitt at [email protected]; follow @ddewitttimes.

DeWitt: Need for additional dollars continues for Hernando County schools 02/04/16 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2016 9:59am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  2. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921
  3. Long day of diplomacy: Tillerson visits Afghanistan, Iraq


    BAGHDAD — Far from the Washington murmurs about his future, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to two of America's enduring war zones Monday, prodding leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq to reach out to longtime rivals.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, center, speaks Monday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, accompanied by Gen. John Nicholson, left, and Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens.
  4. Head-on crash kills Wesley Chapel teacher and Zephyrhills man


    TAMPA — Two men, including a high school math teacher, were killed Monday in a head-on crash on Morris Bridge Road, deputies said.

  5. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers


    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.