LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board will debate a tax rate increase tonight to stave off more budget cuts.
The district's proposed $1.4 billion budget for 2009-10 calls for a new tax rate of $8.35 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, up from last year's rate of $8.06.
The owner of a home with a taxable value of $150,000 after exemptions would pay $1,253 — up $44 from last year.
Board members say the hike is needed to offset a projected $19 million shortfall that remained even after they sliced next year's budget by $37.5 million.
"The bottom line comes down to having to furlough people between six to 11 days vs. one to three days," said board member Carol Cook.
With property values down by 11 percent, the proposed hike still will bring in $45.6 million less than last year.
In the past two years, Pinellas has been forced to repeatedly trim its budget because of a sour economy, dwindling enrollment and historic cuts in state education spending.
The recommended budget is shored up by $37.7 million in federal stimulus money. It cuts $11.5 million from transportation.
It includes no money for teacher raises.
The teachers union says a small "step" increase in pay would cost about $4 million. Marshall Ogletree, the union's executive director, says the district can find that money by trimming elsewhere and dipping into reserves.
"Have they looked at every item?" he said. "I'm not convinced they have."
Among other cuts, the district closed six schools and consolidated four others to reduce next year's costs. Cook said reducing reserves is not a good idea, noting the stimulus funds will dry up in two years and the state's revenue picture remains cloudy.
The school tax rate is mostly set by the state. Continuing a nine-year trend, the state is again forcing districts to pay a greater share of education funding next year.
The district, however, is also taking advantage of power granted by the Legislature this spring to temporarily raise rates by $25 for every $100,000 of a property's assessed taxable value.
That increase requires approval from five of seven board members.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.