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Hillsborough School Board to talk taxes at special meeting

The district has been considering a sales tax referendum to help cover $1 billion in needed capital projects.
Hillsborugh County school superintendent Jeff Eakins speaks to a room full of teachers, administration and press during his annual back-to-school press conference Monday at Valrico Elementary [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Hillsborugh County school superintendent Jeff Eakins speaks to a room full of teachers, administration and press during his annual back-to-school press conference Monday at Valrico Elementary [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published Aug. 21, 2018

Hillsborough County School Board members have scheduled a discussion on whether to hold a sales tax referendum as part of a special meeting Friday morning.

But the board is unlikely to act quickly, despite the inclusion on the agenda of a resolution requesting a vote on Nov. 6.

"Board members just want to know where we are in the process," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

She noted that superintendent Jeff Eakins suggested the possibility of a referendum in June, amid concerns that the district is millions of dollars short of what it needs to build new schools and make improvements such as air conditioning repairs.

Related coverage: With classes set to start, Hillsborough unsure if school air conditioning systems will hold up 

But new law requires an independent audit of school districts seeking a discretionary sales tax increase. And while the district has requested one, Arja said, it has not received any result.

The timing is too short, as well, to get any ballot measure prepared and approved for November.

It's more likely, Arja said, that the board will consider a referendum for March or later. Board members have said they might also consider a property tax measure to help cover operational costs, such as teacher salaries.

They have suggested, though, that they want to see improved relations with the community as a way to generate support. Concerns over lead in the water supply at some schools, among other issues, have created a cycle of skepticism in among some parents and other residents.

Arja said Eakins has spent time visiting civic and parent groups to explain the district's financial situation and capital needs, as a precursor to any ballot initiative. He plans to update the board on Friday.

Also Friday, the board intends to consider resolutions opposing two proposed constitutional amendments.

The first, Amendment 5, would require a supermajority vote of the Legislature to approve tax increases. Several agencies have raised concerns that the proposal would unnecessarily hinder government entities such as schools from fully funding needs and services.

The second, Amendment 8, packages three education issues — school board term limits, civics education, and state authorization of public schools. The board resolution opposes the idea of decreasing local control of the schools. A Leon County judge removed the initiative from the ballot on Monday, but that ruling is set for an appeal.