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Pasco voters reject extension of property tax for school operations

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County voters soundly rejected the School Board's request to extend a local property tax for school operations.

The tax of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value was projected to generate $5.5 million this year, enough to pay for 105 teaching positions. The board had asked voters for permission to continue the tax through 2012-13.

But a majority of voters took that option off the table Tuesday.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said she was not surprised with the result, given the poor economy. Still, she said, it will make running the district that much more difficult.

"But we'll deal with it the best we can," she said. "We've been dealing with a bad economy for the past three years."

The tax did have some support.

Lauren Levy of Land O'Lakes, for one, said she voted for the tax proposal.

"Anything to raise money to make the school system better," said Levy, who has two children in the school system. "I do not mind paying."

But the majority did not back the tax.

Retiree Donald Keene of Land O'Lakes wanted nothing to do with higher tax rates.

"I live on Social Security. We haven't had an increase in two years. But every time you turn around, there are more fees," Keene said. "I'm just against more taxes for anything."

To cope with dwindling property values and shrinking tax revenue, the Legislature allowed local school boards to impose the tax this year with a supermajority vote. But the districts needed voters' permission if they wanted to continue the tax for the next two years.

With the tax no longer at the board's disposal, Fiorentino and the board will have to look for alternative funding sources or more places to cut spending.

One idea is to eliminate some teaching jobs by requiring middle and high school instructors to teach six periods a day instead of five. Budget officials have estimated that move, which would require negotiations, could save $12 million.

Board members also have considered employee furloughs, as well as pay cuts and early retirement buyouts. District officials also plan to talk with lawmakers to find other solutions.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614.

Pasco voters reject extension of property tax for school operations 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:45pm]
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