LAND O’LAKES — Pasco County voters will get a chance to vote in November whether to increase their property tax rate in support of raises for teachers and school staff.
The School Board on Tuesday unanimously authorized a resolution calling for a referendum that would boost the local tax rate by up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value. If approved, officials project the measure would raise up to $37 million annually for each of the four years it would be in effect.
The revenue would be directed toward salaries. Pasco’s current pay rates are below those of surrounding school districts, including Pinellas and Hernando, which have a local-option property tax in place.
“Our primary job is to have good schools. You can’t have good schools without good teachers and good support staff,” said board member Colleen Beaudoin, who made the motion to hold the vote.
Board members came to the meeting inclined toward holding the ballot initiative. They said as much during an April 5 workshop where they instructed staff to come back with a proposal to consider.
Their primary concern centered on how much to ask for.
Board members said they wanted to position any question they set for success, knowing residents are feeling the pinch of high inflation and the district also wants to ask for a 10-year extension of the Penny for Pasco sales tax that pays for construction and capital projects.
The handful of people who spoke to the board Tuesday about the agenda item reflected those competing concerns.
United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace, who has advocated a referendum for nearly four years, said it’s imperative for the district to hold the vote to attempt to keep faculty and staff from leaving. Parent Marta McLain argued against the measure, saying the district should discontinue “meaningless programs” and save money for raises rather than pursuing the “same old tired solution” of increasing taxes.
The board discussion hinged on those disparate views.
Board member Alison Crumbley spoke of educators who are leaving the district for jobs in neighboring counties that pay better.
“We are nearing a crisis,” Crumbley said in support of the motion. “What are our families going to do if we don’t have the teachers to teach them?”
Vice chairperson Megan Harding, a former teacher, also argued on behalf of better pay. At the same time, she acknowledged the need to review spending line by line, to weed out ineffective and inefficient programs.
“The county has asked our community in the past for funding for jails, parks, and other things. I would hope that the community would value the education system the same,” Harding said, referring to a 2018 referendum that voters supported.
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Pasco is not the only district seeking a property tax increase from voters this year.
Among others, the Hillsborough County School Board approved an August referendum on Tuesday. The Duval County School Board did the same in March.
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