Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hillsborough school tax vote: What you need to know

WHAT THE BALLOT INITIATIVE WOULD DO:

The question, found on the fourth and final page, asks if a one-half cent sales surtax can be authorized for 10 years by the Hillsborough County School Board beginning Jan. 1, 2019, to fund air conditioning replacement and repairs, capital improvements and construction of other schools, building enhancements for school security and other maintenance needs. The surtax would be added to the current 7 percent sales tax and is estimated to raise $138 million annually and $276 million the first two calendar years. Revenues would be distributed to the School Board. Expenditures would be governed by a resolution the School Board approved on Aug. 24.

In other words, the sales tax would go up by a half a cent on each dollar spent. It would apply only to items that already are taxed, and no additional taxes would be charged on any item costing more than $5,000.

According to state law, the money can be used only for capital items such as roofs, security equipment and air conditioners. It cannot be spent on operating expenses, such as salaries.

WHAT’S AT STAKE:

Many Hillsborough school buildings are in poor condition. The average school is nearly 50 years old, but the problem is not just with the older buildings. Air conditioners that were expected to last 20 to 25 years in new suburban schools are failing after 10 years. Roofs are leaking, which is a problem not just for students and teachers, but because the state relies on public schools to be used as hurricane shelters. Because of strong population growth in South County developments that were green-lighted before the recession hit, there is also a need to start building new schools.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

Proponents include the teachers' union, which is providing much of the grassroots support; PTAs and other organizations, including the Alliance for Public Schools. The school district itself is not supposed to get involved in any kind of political campaign. But, as happened in other districts, leaders are disseminating large volumes of information about the schools' needs. District leaders also prepared a spending schedule that includes improvements totaling at least $500,000 for every school.

WHO OPPOSES IT?

There has been little public opposition to the tax, despite skepticism that exists about the district's leadership and spending record. A website called Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower, populated by critics of the district, took a stand against the tax. But that site was taken down in recent weeks because of a separate issue. Teachers, who were vocal critics during a year-long pay dispute, joined ranks with the district on this issue and, again, are providing grassroots, door-to-door support.

WHAT YOU NEED TO READ:

Click here to read the Tampa Bay Times voter guide, which will give you a breakdown of many of the 2018 races.

Follow @marlenesokol for updates and reactions as the results come in.

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