Voters can bless a temporary cash infusion to the Pasco public school district on Nov. 2, or they can add to the bleak financial outlook that calls for a budget deficit of more than $40 million for local public schools beginning next fall.
Voters should give the Pasco School Board the tools it needs and vote ''yes'' on the referendum to give the board authority to levy a quarter-mil property tax for two additional years.
This year, the tax is expected to raise $5.6 million, but that figure could fall in the future if property values continue to decline. Pasco's property tax roll dropped 11 percent in 2010, the third consecutive year of double-digit declines.
This is not a cure-all. Even with an extension of a 25 cents per $1,000 property tax, worst-case scenarios could include familiar alternatives: Laying off hundreds of teachers and requiring others to teach more periods each day at the middle and high schools; salary and benefit cuts; curtailing extracurricular activities; eliminating non-essential classes such as driver's education; and cutting non-mandatory busing among other considerations.
Over the past three years, the district has cut $56 million from its budget, but still faces a $46.7 million deficit for 2011-12, mostly due to the loss of $32 million in federal stimulus money that saved 400 jobs and other one-time revenue (money normally earmarked for textbooks, supplies, capital and reserves) used to balance the current budget.
"There will be a major percentage (cut) across the board or a major layoff, or both,'' Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. "You cannot have $100 million missing out of your budget and think it's not going to impact everyone including the children.''
Voters shouldn't make a dismal situation worse. In 2009, the Legislature gave cash-strapped districts the ability to raise additional money through a quarter-mil property tax, or 25 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. More than 40 districts tapped the money then, and Pasco's School Board chose to do so this year, Now the district is asking voters — as required by the Legislature — to give it the authority to do likewise over the next two years.
A "yes'' vote on the referendum does not guarantee the tax will be implemented particularly with three new members joining the Pasco School Board after the Nov. 2 election. However, it is wise to give those board members the flexibility needed to try to balance the 2011-12 budget. The Times recommends a "yes'' vote on the question "Shall the school board have the authority by an annual super majority vote at a public board meeting to continue to levy 0.25 mills for critical operating needs pursuant to (state law) for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 fiscal years?''