The Pinellas School Board unanimously gave initial approved Tuesday to a property tax rate increase to help offset a projected $19 million budget shortfall.
The seven-member board must approve the measure again during budget hearings on July 28 and Sept. 15. But it's not likely that they will be able to change their minds on the tax after Tuesday's vote, said board member Carol Cook.
"Each time we vote on it, we're more and more committed," she said. "This time we're saying, 'Go forward and add this into the budget.' In September, when we take the final vote, school already will have started. To say in September, 'We're not going to do this,' that just won't work."
Cook and other board members accused state lawmakers of abdicating their responsibility to quality education in Florida by asking local school districts to implement a tax that will require homeowners to pay an extra $25 for every $100,000 of a property's assessed taxable value.
"I'm supposed to take it on faith that the legislators will turn around (next year) and do the right thing," Cook said. "They have not done that so far. I cannot have faith when time after time it's been proven to me that I can't trust that they will do the right thing for our children."
Board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea said the Legislature has put local school boards in a "terrible position."
Without the $14 million the Pinellas school district would receive from the tax increase, teachers likely would face six to 10 days without pay, O'Shea said. But she added that the additional tax assessment could be a problem for many school employees, especially those who rent their homes.
"This cuts both ways," she said. "This will get passed off to them in the form of a rent increase, and they will pay a huge burden."
The Legislature gave school boards the authority to increase property taxes at the end of the spring session, stipulating that the additional revenue be used either for operating needs or capital outlay needs such as construction and technology.