Pasco School Board gives initial approval of tax rate increase

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County property owners will see their school district tax rate increase by 42.7 cents this year.

The Pasco School Board approved a local tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for critical operating needs. Only board member Kathryn Starkey voted against the tax, saying the answer to district funding shortages should come from Tallahassee.

The rest of the rate increase comes from the state Legislature, which has set districts' required local effort. The total tentative rate for the district's $1.1 billion budget is $7.767 per $1,000 of value.

The rate is higher than it has been since 2003-04, when property owners paid $8.382 per $1,000 of assessed value. That was before the implementation of the Penny for Pasco, the passage of which led the board to decrease its capital outlay tax rate by 50 cents per $1,000 of value.

Board members said they did not want to raise the local tax rate. But they contended that they had little choice if they wanted to see the school system succeed. Chairman Allen Altman observed that even with an increased tax rate, the district will generate nearly $6 million less in property taxes than it did a year ago.

Revenue has shrunk, he said, even as the district has grown.

"It tears me apart. There are no good options," Altman said, noting that many residents can ill afford added taxes. "But I have made the decision as much as it grates me to support the quarter-mill because it is the right thing to do."

The critical operating needs addition would cost the owner of a $175,000 home with a homestead exemption an extra $37.50. Overall, that homeowner would pay $1,165 in school taxes, compared to $1,101 a year ago if his value has not changed.

Altman warned that this year looks bad, and next year looks even worse for the budget. He expected more cuts to come.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino explained that the district's budgeted general operating revenue has not met the actual amount the district has received since 2007-08.

She showed a bar chart where the budgeted amount in blue hovered over the final figure in red.

"The question is, where will our red column come in next year?" Fiorentino said, noting that the district will lose more than $20 million in federal stimulus funding that it received this year and last year.

"As our money was declining, our enrollment was growing," she said. "That causes a problem."

Fiorentino also talked about the costs associated with complying with the class size amendment. The state has estimated the district must hire 250 teachers, at a cost of about $13 million, to meet the final stage, in which class sizes are counted per period per classroom.

For each student the district misses by, the state will penalize the district according to a formula in which students are valued between $2,731 and $3,283.

The board is set to adopt the budget on second reading on Sept. 14.

In other business Tuesday, the School Board;

• Conducted a workshop on long-range construction plans. In that plan, the district is looking at remodeling or replacing all its 1970s era Kelly designed schools, including Bayonet Point Middle and Land O'Lakes High. Fiorentino said those schools are becoming too costly to maintain.

• Approved the appointment of new assistant principals for Hudson High School (Monica Carr), Bayonet Point Middle (Kathryn Ciokajlo), Gulf High (Douglas Elias) and Rushe Middle (Jennifer Hull).

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

Pasco School Board gives initial approval of tax rate increase 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 9:59pm]

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