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School Board standing pat on taxes

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County property owners won't see their school tax rate rise this year, according to the latest proposal delivered to School Board members late Wednesday.

But they won't see it shrink, either.

The proposed rate of $7.208 per $1,000 of taxable property value remains the same as last year because of a lower-than-expected increase in taxable value. That prompted the state to push the district's "required local effort" higher than projected in the spring.

Back in April, the Department of Education estimated that Pasco's school tax rate for operations would be $4.872 per $1,000 of value. After getting the certified tax rolls, the number rose to $4.969 per $1,000.

Otherwise, property owners would be seeing a small decrease. The district's "basic discretionary effort" is slated to go down, as is the voter-approved debt service millage rate.

School Board members have indicated they will hold the local capital improvement tax rate steady at $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable value, to avoid losing $7-million on top of a $37-million decrease in state funding for school construction.

The capital budget is proposed at $246.5-million, focusing on three priorities — dealing with growth, caring for older buildings and acquiring land for expansion.

"I was pleased that the projects identified in the capital budget are addressing the most serious needs," board member Allen Altman said.

Those include $14.9-million to replace Sanders Elementary, $15.6-million for additions at Pasco High and $7.5-million for additions at Pasco Middle. The plan also contains funding for two new elementary schools (Watergrass and Connerton) and two new high schools (Hudson and Holiday).

Other big projects include complete rehabilitation of the classrooms at Hudson and Cox elementary schools, a new cafeteria at Schrader Elementary, a new roof at River Ridge Middle, and air-conditioning improvements at Zephyrhills High and Calusa Elementary.

Another priority is finding property in the Odessa area for a new elementary school to relieve crowding at Oakstead and Longleaf elementary schools. District officials are negotiating on three separate sites in hopes of landing one.

"We've got high numbers, but things have definitely leveled off," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said. "So if we can get things going pretty soon, maybe we can handle it."

The district also is continuing to set money aside for a new computer system, something that should improve its business operations significantly.

"The state of the art has changed. We need to get up to speed," board Vice Chairman Frank Parker said.

Board members are scheduled to review the entire budget at a workshop Tuesday, where they expect to discuss priorities not just of the construction budget, but also of the operational side.

Altman said he has asked for additional information on driver's education, appropriate funding for restructuring at Hudson and Cox, and the possibility of offering the International Baccalaureate program at an east Pasco high school, among other issues. Other board members were scheduled to meet with superintendent Heather Fiorentino this week and next to discuss their priorities, as well.

"When we get back together, they're supposed to have information and details about all this stuff," Altman said.

Parker said the board would like to have a lower tax rate, but it must deal with reality.

"We're growing. We're not staying the same. So it's difficult to stay where we were," he said. With the state contributing less than the local districts for the first time in decades, "it's a rough go."

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.

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Want to learn more?

The Pasco School Board will have a budget workshop at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. July 29. The meetings take place at 7205 Land O'Lakes Boulevard, Building 3.

School Board standing pat on taxes 07/17/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2008 3:11pm]

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