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5 things to know as Hillsborough turns to voters for a new school tax

The measure would raise $177 million in the first year, mainly to help the school district keep pace on pay.
 
Proponents of a tax to support Hillsborough County Public Schools hold a news conference on March 28, 2024, to rally support for a special property tax for schools. Pictured from left are Nikki Rivera of Families for Strong Public Schools; Shonda McGloun, an IDEA charter school parent; Ed Narain, chairperson-elect of the Tampa Bay Chamber; and Anna Corman, interim CEO of the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
Proponents of a tax to support Hillsborough County Public Schools hold a news conference on March 28, 2024, to rally support for a special property tax for schools. Pictured from left are Nikki Rivera of Families for Strong Public Schools; Shonda McGloun, an IDEA charter school parent; Ed Narain, chairperson-elect of the Tampa Bay Chamber; and Anna Corman, interim CEO of the Hillsborough Education Foundation. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times ]
Published April 3

By a 5-2 vote late Tuesday, the Hillsborough County School Board approved a resolution to ask voters in November for an increase in property taxes to support school operating expenses. As the campaign gets ready to launch, here are five things to know about the proposal:

What the tax will be used for

The district wants to give annual raises to its 23,000 employees, which includes everybody but the superintendent. Teachers and administrators would get $6,000 a year in the form of a yearly supplement that voters can renew in four years. Support workers, including bus drivers and cafeteria employees, would get $3,000 a year. Unlike Hillsborough’s 2018 sales tax increase for schools, which went toward air conditioners and other capital purchases, this tax can help with payroll.

Why it’s being proposed

Hillsborough officials say they need to catch up with other school districts on pay as they compete for teachers during a nationwide shortage. Similar taxes exist in Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota and Orange counties, as well as Miami-Dade and Broward. Those districts say they need the local option tax to augment state-approved funds that have not kept up with costs. Without that extra help, Hillsborough lags behind neighboring districts with starting teacher salaries that are thousands of dollars higher. At last count, Hillsborough had 473 teacher vacancies.

How it affects homeowners

Using the median home price of $306,000 as an example, after your homestead exemption is deducted, it works out to about 75 cents a day. Earlier estimates used the $375,000 average price for a Hillsborough home, and the change caused some confusion before the school board vote on Tuesday. The tax would be $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value.

No matter which example is used, the district estimates the tax will raise $177 million in its first year.

How well it’s supported

If things are anything like 2022, when a similar tax was narrowly defeated in Hillsborough, opinion is divided. Last time around, the school board vote to move forward was 4-3 — highly unusual in a state where boards typically vote unanimously to pursue local option taxes. Board members voting yes this time were careful to say they did not really want a tax, but were OK with allowing voters to decide. They expressed that sentiment 16 times during Tuesday’s meeting, saying they are sensitive to families’ concerns about the high cost of living.

It’s a dynamic that supporters will have to keep in mind when the campaign begins.

Next steps

Technically, the school district cannot campaign because that would be a case of government spending your money to chase more of your money. Political action committees are typically formed, and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association plans to establish one called Hillsborough Students Deserve Better. In the next week or so, the union’s leaders plan to meet with a variety of organizations.

“We want to take a comprehensive look at everyone, and even talk to those who are against it,” said union president Rob Kriete. A coalition of civic groups already is urging voters to support the tax. Superintendent Van Ayres has spoken to business leaders while fine-tuning his messaging about the district’s needs.

“We can educate, not advocate,” said district spokesperson Tanya Arja.