LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County property owners will see their school taxes decrease as the district slashed spending for another year.
The Pasco School Board gave initial approval Tuesday evening to its proposed budget for next year, a $1 billion plan that's down 4.6 percent from last year.
The owner of a $125,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $734.10 in school taxes, under the proposed new tax rate of $7.341 per $1,000 of taxable value. That's down $30.30 from a year earlier.
Faced with shrinking revenues and growing expenses, the district had to find ways to cut $24.7 million in spending. That meant a fifth year without raises for employees, as well as two days of furloughs, a reduction of literacy coaches at the secondary level and the elimination of dozens of non-instructional positions.
Just one member of the public spoke during the board's public hearing on Tuesday.
Jim Ciadella, business representative for the United School Employees of Pasco, said the employees union remained dissatisfied with the balancing of the budget on workers' backs.
He noted that employees face another year without raises, not to mention a pay cut in the form of furloughs. He termed it a mandatory "donation" to the district.
"Have they not given enough?" Ciadella said.
He urged the board to continue to look for other ways to save money, such as reallocating teachers in positions that do not directly instruct students.
"We do believe the district has not made enough efforts … in moving personnel into allocated positions," Ciadella said.
All local governments continue to feel the pinch, as Pasco's property values fell another 5.9 percent this year. The Legislature increased state funding for education, but much of the new money is covering that and other declines.
The school district's operating budget of $504.7 million is $4.1 million lower than 2011-12. The district also had to find ways to make up for the elimination of the federal "Edu-jobs" grant and for having spent some textbook moneys and other funds that it no longer has.
At the same time, some expenses, such as insurance, increased.
As a result, the School Board faced a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall for the fifth consecutive year — and next year could be tough, too. The board decided to transfer about $12 million in non-recurring funds into the general budget, meaning it already is looking at a potential deficit for 2013-14.
The board unanimously adopted the tentative budget as presented, without comment. A second and final budget hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 18.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.