Kathryn Starkey shouldn't let her political ambitions cloud her judgment on what is best for Pasco's public schools.
Tuesday evening, Starkey, a six-year School Board member, cast the lone dissenting vote against a quarter-mill property tax increase to help plug a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. It might spare her the political wrath of being portrayed as a Republican-in-name-only during her ongoing GOP campaign for the District 45 state House of Representatives, but it did little to serve the public.
A year ago the Legislature gave financially strapped school districts the ability to raise property taxes 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value with a supermajority vote of the board. More than 40 school districts tapped the extra tax money, but Pasco chose not to do so. This week, the Pasco School Board, except for Starkey, agreed that maintaining that position for another year would be ill-advised.
The new tax is still subject to public hearings and two budget votes, and approval from voters is required in November to extend it beyond this year. But failing to authorize the tax now would add $5.6 million to a budget deficit attributed mostly to declining revenue from a property tax roll that has lost a third of its value in just three years. That's not even counting the implications of added staffing to meet class-size requirements, the loss in 2011 of federal stimulus dollars that helped save 400 jobs in the Pasco district, and potential midyear reductions if state revenues do not met projections.
Even with new tax revenue, the board is debating budget-cutting ideas that include layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts and higher health insurance premiums for employees, since 85 percent of the district budget is tied to personnel costs.
The Legislature ducked its responsibility to properly fund education by dumping the decision back on local school boards. Starkey, in saying it was time to send a message to Tallahassee, proved to be just as irresponsible with her vote. Political cowardice is not a flattering attribute for an elected leader.