Thursday, April 19, 2018
Education

Pace picks up for decision on increasing school impact fee

The Pasco County Commission has set a fairly aggressive schedule to move a proposed school impact fee increase to a quick conclusion.

After rejecting an advisory committee's recommendation to tie some of the fee to a sales tax referendum, the commission has asked its Development Review Committee to look over the proposal on May 25.

It also has scheduled two of its own public hearings, for June 20 and July 11, after which the commission could vote the increase up or down. A new fee could take effect 90 days after that vote.

School district officials have pressed for rapid action, citing the need for added revenue to support new school construction in fast-growing communities. They said the urgency was compounded when the Florida Legislature voted to have school systems share their capital tax revenue with charter schools.

Pasco generated just over $36 million in capital tax revenue in fiscal 2017. Its newest high school will cost about $61 million.

"It (is) now more imperative than ever that new growth pay for its impact," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said in an email to people who requested updates on the impact fee.

Commissioners have not stated how they might vote. But several have acknowledged the need to place the full fee on new home construction to help the district add seats in communities where schools already are at or over their capacity.

BONUS MONEY: While awaiting Gov. Rick Scott's decision on the state budget, Pasco County School District leaders are trying to assess how the spending plan might affect district operations.

One area that would see increased expenses would be teacher bonuses.

During the current year, 261 district teachers received $6,817 Best and Brightest awards, based on their evaluations and SAT or ACT scores.

The proposed budget would continue Best and Brightest bonuses at $6,000 each. It also would add $1,200 bonuses for all teachers rated "highly effective" and $800 bonuses for those rated "effective."

District officials have estimated the bonus budget would increase from about $1.8 million currently to just over $6.8 million in the coming year. The bonuses are annual and do not get added to the teachers' base salaries.

BUILDING THE FOUNDATION: By all accounts, the school district and the local education foundation have a "great" working relationship.

But the people in charge now won't always be at the helm. So in an abundance of caution, foundation executive director Stacey Capogrosso asked the School Board to approve a 10-year memorandum of agreement detailing the roles and responsibilities each group has to the other.

The six-page document spells out things like when the district's logo can be used, who has authority to accept and reject gifts and donations, and how any money in closed funds could be used.

Perhaps most important, Capo­grosso said, it makes clear that contributions made to the foundation are to be used for schools and the district, not for other purposes. The question has come up in other counties, she said, over whether the education foundations could spend their revenue on charitable activities that don't involve education.

Gadd said he at first was surprised to receive the agreement request. "We already do all of these things," he said.

It wasn't long ago, after all, when the district and foundation found themselves at cross purposes and nearly separated. The differences focused in large part on the foundation's biggest program, Take Stock in Children.

The School Board also continued to press the organization to pay for all of its salaries and end its financial dependence on the district. Now, the foundation receives only in-kind support, such as a district office, from the School Board.

The agreement aims to maintain the positive ties.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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