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Bigger school budget sought

The Pasco County School District is proposing a $583-million budget for the coming academic year that includes spending increases for teacher training days, a new mentor teaching program and instructional materials.

Although the budget is growing by about 7 percent, roughly $36-million, taxpayers should not see the school portion of their tax bills increase much. Some could even see their share dip a bit.

District administrators are recommending a millage rate of 8.939 to fund the budget, 0.086 mills less than was levied last year. Most of that rate _ 6.197 mills _ was set by the Legislature and voters. The School Board only has authority over the rest, 2.742 mills.

Legislative caps on school tax levies mean the board can't increase its portion of the tax rate, even in a tough budget year, said Chuck Rushe, the district's chief financial officer.

"We're at the max," Rushe said Thursday. "We don't have the authority" to go higher.

A mill is $1 in tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. Under the proposal, the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $670.43 in school taxes, after a $25,000 homestead exemption. That same homeowner would have paid $676.88 in school taxes last year.

The budget is growing because county tax rolls have increased by $1.3-billion.

The proposed budget is broken down into several accounts. At $323-million, the general fund is the biggest. It pays for teachers, classroom supplies, building maintenance and other day-to-day district expenses. That fund is growing by $24-million over last year. Most of the increase, though, will be spent on the new teachers and materials needed to open a new elementary school in Wesley Chapel, and to educate the 2,600 new students expected to move into Pasco this year.

Teaching alone accounts for 62 cents of every dollar the district spends, according to the budget. The district also is facing a $2.2-million increase in insurance costs, primarily for property, casualty and workers' compensation premiums.

The district's capital projects fund is growing by $6.6-million over last year. That fund, which totals $99-million, will pay for the construction of two new elementary schools and $13-million in renovations to Gulf and Pasco middle schools. That fund also will pay for $8-million in debt borrowed to cover previous school construction projects. Also included in that fund are $3.7-million for equipment and computers, $2.7-million for new buses and $3.3-million for other renovation projects.

The School Board will hold its first public hearing on the proposed budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the board's meeting room at 7227 Land O'Lakes Blvd.

_ Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is