TRINITY — Pasco School Board member Cynthia Armstrong refuses to accept that the County Commission's plan to cut school impact fees in half is a done deal.
During a budget town hall meeting Wednesday night, Armstrong told the crowd of nearly 500 that cutting that fee on new homes could cost the school district more than $2 million a year — money it can ill afford to lose. That revenue helps repay the bonds used to build schools. Without that money, she said, the board might have to tap into general operating funds to cover the debt payment.
That would mean less money for school employees and programs, Armstrong noted.
She urged anyone who cares about the schools to pack the County Commission chambers April 19 "so commissioners see we are serious abut having quality schools in Pasco County."
Some audience members complained that they could not attend a 1:30 p.m. government meeting at the West Pasco Government Center. Armstrong challenged them to make signs and stand with her on key street corners April 18 picketing the proposed fee cut.
Armstrong also tried to tap into the passion that many arts-education supporters demonstrated with a major e-mail campaign asking the School Board not to cut music, art and drama programs.
"Everyone who has sent me an e-mail on arts and music education, send an e-mail to the commission," Armstrong said.
Republican activist Gary Willner rose from the crowd to second Armstrong's message. It might be impossible to affect the outcome of budget discussions in Tallahassee, Willner said, but residents can make a difference on local issues like this one.
Home builders have made their voices heard, he said, so others who disagree must be louder and more vigilant.
"If they don't hear from the people, they're going to think their decision is fine," said Willner, calling on everyone to speak against cutting the school impact fees.
Commissioners on Tuesday agreed in principle to cut the fees, along with other impact fees placed on new homes, with the hope of jump-starting housing construction. They refused to negotiate alternatives with district officials. Before the change can take effect, though, the commission must have a public hearing and a final vote.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.