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Pasco County schools can't use stimulus funds for administrative space

LAND O'LAKES — If the Pasco school district wants to build a new administration wing, it can't use stimulus dollars to do so.

That's the latest word coming from the district's bond counsel, which has advised against including plans for a multimillion-dollar complex in an application for federal no-interest bonds created to pay for "shovel ready" school projects.

IRS rules for the bonds say the money may be used for "construction, rehabilitation, or repair of a public school facility or for the acquisition of land on which such a facility is to be constructed." Administration buildings don't fall within that definition, the district's chief financial officer Olga Swinson said.

That means the district will focus its request for the $11 million in bonds that it qualifies for on a new culinary arts academy at Land O'Lakes High and on "major remodeling projects." The district stands to get another $11 million in the Qualified School Construction Bond program next year, too.

School Board members said they want to see the money go toward projects that affect students and teachers, and not into buildings for bureaucrats.

The district might very well be short on administrative space, board member Joanne Hurley said. But "it would be sending the very wrong message" if the board approved a new administration complex while schools needing major repairs, such as Richey Elementary, don't get attention, she said.

"Spending $15 million on an administration building is not my highest priority," Hurley said.

Use Penny proceeds?

The idea of a new administration complex is not dead, however. Swinson said the superintendent's team is working on a proposal to bring to the board later in the fall. "We have money set aside," Swinson said.

But even that money could raise some hackles if the board gives the green light.

The administration has squirreled away about $10 million in funds associated with the Penny for Pasco, which voters approved in 2004 for school construction and other projects. As part of the pitch to voters, school officials agreed to drop their property tax rate for construction projects by a half-mill (or 50 cents of tax per $1,000 of taxable property), and replace those lost funds with proceeds from the Penny.

Members of the Penny for Pasco oversight committee have criticized the idea of using those replacement dollars for an administration building, noting that the district promised to use the sales tax and related revenue for a specific list of school construction and renovation projects.

Swinson said the administration does not consider the reimbursement amount to be part of the Penny for Pasco money.

School Board chairman Frank Parker would not rule out the notion of using that cash for new administration buildings.

"If you could build it cheap now, would you not want to do that if you have the dollars saved to do it?" Parker said.

The board is scheduled to discuss approval of its application for the federal construction bonds during its meeting tonight. The money is not yet included in the 2009-10 budget, which also comes up for a first public hearing.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

If you go

Comment on the school budget

The Pasco County School Board is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on its 2009-10 budget at 6 p.m. today at the district board room, 7227 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Land O'Lakes. The board will hear public comment before taking preliminary action on its proposed tax rate and spending plan.

Pasco County schools can't use stimulus funds for administrative space 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 8:47pm]
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