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Pasco moves school tax referendum to August

Board members said they don’t want confusion with the Penny for Pasco sales tax question on the November ballot.
A vote on a special property tax to fund better pay for Pasco County school employees is set for Aug. 23, instead of November as initially planned. If approved, the School Board could increase the tax rate up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value.
A vote on a special property tax to fund better pay for Pasco County school employees is set for Aug. 23, instead of November as initially planned. If approved, the School Board could increase the tax rate up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value. [ ALLISON ROSS | Times ]
Published May 3|Updated May 3

LAND O’LAKES — Pasco County voters will have about three months fewer to decide whether they support a property tax increase to boost public school employees’ salaries.

On Tuesday, the School Board unanimously decided to hold the referendum in August rather than November, which was the original plan.

Related: Pasco School Board calls for November property tax referendum

Board members did not discuss the decision before their vote. Afterward, they explained their intention to avoid confusion with a separate November ballot initiative to extend the Penny for Pasco sales tax.

The sales tax revenue goes toward capital projects such as school renovations. It also is shared with the county and municipal governments.

“We wanted to make sure we were not imposing on that initiative,” board chairperson Cynthia Armstrong said.

During public comment at the meeting, some residents called such reasoning disingenuous. Voters can tell the difference between a sales tax and a property tax, they said.

Parent Erin Pike noted that primary election dates historically have yielded lower turnouts than have the general elections. She further observed that the Democrats have a gubernatorial primary in August while the Republicans do not.

“You will not be getting the voice of Pasco voters,” Pike said, calling the switch a “shameless ploy” aimed at manipulating the outcome. “Let the public tell you what they really want.”

Board vice chairperson Megan Harding did not accept that argument. She suggested that Pasco residents who care about taxes and schools will research the issues and participate.

“People are going to show up to vote,” Harding said.

Parent Chelsi Stahr said she supports teachers and school staff, and believes they deserve better pay. But she questioned whether a new tax is needed, contending the district could find money within existing revenue to offer raises.

She and others foreshadowed arguments against the referendum, stating the district spends more per student than do nearby larger districts, when considering the entire budget.

Harding made an impassioned speech supporting the need for the referendum, saying many in the community should better understand the budget. She detailed how the money the district gets per student for general operations is lower than in nearby counties, for instance, and that state data shows administrative spending is lower in Pasco than the state average by more than $100 per student.

Beth Brown, the retired administrator leading the referendum campaign, said she had no preference for when the vote takes place.

“It doesn’t really change our message or what we are doing,” Brown said. “Voting for this referendum will just make the system stronger.”

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The vote is now set for Aug. 23. If approved, the board could increase the tax rate up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value.

In other business, the School Board approved the purchase of new math textbooks, with the caveat that one title must be approved by the state before it is ordered. The board discussed revising the student dress code to make it less focused on girls’ clothing, and also looked into participating in a state-authorized program to improve the teaching of African American history.

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