Pasco School Board budget proposal has steady tax rate

LAND O'LAKES — With minimal public discussion, the Pasco County School Board set its tax rate and tentative budget Tuesday.

The plan calls for a maximum tax rate for 2008-09 of $7.208 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same rate as a year ago. The owner of a $225,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $1,441.60 in taxes to support the district's $1.2-billion budget.

The total spending plan includes $554-million in general operations, down 1.3 percent, and $380-million in capital projects, down 18 percent.

But that's just a starting point.

"This is just the opening round of our budget presentation," vice chairman Frank Parker said. "We have that time frame between now and that date in September to come up with a final product."

District officials noted that the governor's office already has announced that funding set by the Legislature would be reduced by 1 percent quarterly, or about $4-million.

They also have explained that the budget could be affected by a lower than expected number of students showing up for classes.

Already, the board has made plans to reduce its spending because of cuts at the state level. Among the known decreases are:

• Freezing compliance with the class size amendment, $11-million.

• Reducing extended-year and extended-day programs, $500,000.

• Freezing district-level jobs, $719,566.

• Cutting school budgets by 10 percent, $437,000.

The budget also does not include annual step increases for employees, which carry an expected cost of $5-million to $6-million. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said she has not been able to find the money to cover those annual increases.

Lynne Webb, president of United School Employees of Pasco, told the board that the association has agreed to further delay the step increases past July 31, as originally negotiated. But that does not mean the group is willing to forgo the raises, she said.

During the budget public hearing, Land O'Lakes High teacher Kenny Blankenship urged the board to dip into reserves to "do what's right" for employees and students.

Only two other speakers made comments during the hearing.

Matthew Ross, a senior at Mitchell High, encouraged the board to mainstream more disabled students, which he said could save money. "Being disabled does not mean that we are stupid," he said.

Dennis Smith of Wesley Chapel told the board that it had promised a half-mill reduction to the capital budget tax rate as part of the Penny for Pasco campaign, yet it was not fulfilling that pledge. The capital millage rate is tentatively $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Smith suggested it should be $1.25 per $1,000, as the state has reduced the maximum capital rate allowed.

"We would have gotten this decrease even if the sales tax had not passed," Smith said. "Rather than breaking a promise to property owners … you need to reduce the capital improvement millage and work to increase the impact fees instead."

The board set its final budget hearing for Sept. 16.

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.

Pasco School Board budget proposal has steady tax rate 07/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 11:21am]

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