Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Hernando School Board moves forward on sales tax referendum

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday took the first step toward placing a new half-cent sales tax before voters later this year, a measure officials say is critical to the health of the district.

A majority of board members authorized the district to form an advisory committee that will examine the sales tax and what needs the tax might cover.

District director of facilities Roland "Bo" Bavota explained why the school system is badly in need of the revenue stream once the current half-cent sales tax expires later this year.

Bavota said the district is facing at least $223 million in unfunded critical needs, including new technology, maintenance and about $110 million in debt. That estimate likely will be even higher, he said, because it doesn't take into account some future maintenance needs.

In addition, the district is looking at a new technology program that would include the purchase of new computers and place a tablet in the hands of every student, Bavota said. The district estimates the cost would be about $33.7 million over three years.

"What it does is it gives all kids the same level of access to information and instruction," said superintendent Lori Romano. "Right now we have a disparity in our district."

Over the next 10 years, Bavota estimated the total cost for all of these plans could reach $332 million.

The district's maintenance needs are among the biggest concerns, officials said.

In recent years, the district hasn't received capital dollars from the state to cover some necessary projects.

"We're now reaching the critical point where roofs are starting to fail, systems are starting to fail," Bavota said. "There's renovations and remodels that are not getting done. We haven't done a lot of that stuff because of budget restraints."

Bavota said the district has a lot to show from its two recent sales tax efforts, both of which were used for construction. The first tax helped build Nature Coast Technical High School. The current tax has generated $7.5 million each of the past 10 years for new school construction and additions.

John Druzbick, a former Hernando County commissioner and School Board member, attended Tuesday's workshop and offered some historical perspective on past sales tax campaigns.

"I would encourage, when you're looking at the half-cent sales tax, to make it as simple and straightforward and not a plethora of items," Druzbick said.

He said Hernando's history shows that narrowly tailored referendums have the best chance of succeeding.

The district hopes to form the advisory committee in the next 30 days. District officials have until August to present the referendum language to the Supervisor of Elections Office.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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