LAND O'LAKES — In setting its 2010-11 budget, the Pasco School Board raised its local property tax rate by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value with the Florida Legislature's permission.
To keep the rate hike in place for the next two budget years, the board will need the approval of Pasco County voters.
As part of its plan to cope with dwindling property values and shrinking tax revenue, the Florida Legislature told school districts they could increase their tax rates for general operations if a supermajority — four out of five — of School Board members agreed. As a compromise with their antitax colleagues, the Tallahassee proponents of such a move agreed to give voters a say on whether the boards could reimpose the tax in subsequent years.
That's not to say that voters will be setting the tax rate. Rather, they'll simply be deciding whether the School Board may consider the so-called "critical needs" tax again.
Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino recommended that the School Board adopt the tax increase this year as a way to generate about $5.6 million at a time when the district faced a budget shortfall of nearly $28 million.
The additional tax income would help Pasco forestall undesired cuts, Fiorentino said, such as layoffs.
With the United School Employees of Pasco cheering them on, four of the five board members agreed.
"Since the Legislature is not adequately funding education, they're passing it to the local level again," said board member Frank Parker, an accountant. "That 0.25 mills was already calculated into the state budget numbers. So effectively we had no option seeing as we were already $28 million short."
The state has decreased its funding per student over the past few years, and its share of funding for public education has shrunk while the local effort has increased.
Only board member Kathryn Starkey opposed the tax, as well as placing the question of whether to extend it before the voters. She said lawmakers should be properly funding public education and not passing the buck to school boards.
"I just don't believe in raising taxes in a recession," Starkey added. "We need to tighten our belts more and do all we can to not raise taxes."
The referendum requires a simple majority to pass. It would affect the 2011-12 and 2012-13 budget years for the school district.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.