It’s not official until the final vote Sept. 14, but the Pasco School Board has set its tentative tax rate for the current fiscal year and can’t raise it any higher.
Property owners would pay $6.279 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, down 28.6 cents per $1,000. That rate includes funding for general operations, as well as a discretionary millage and capital improvement revenue.
District officials have noted that if the Legislature had allowed the district to leave its rate unchanged, it could have generated an additional $8.2 million because of increased property values. They further noted that the district has yet to return to the tax rate it had in place before the recession of a decade ago.
To get to a balanced budget, board members have suggested they will not be able to provide employee raises.
Chief finance officer Olga Swinson detailed that the district received $13.7 million in new funding for the year, but much of that was tied up in specific programs. For instance, $2.3 million was to go to implement new safe school requirements, and $1.7 million was for mental health services. The fixed costs of items such as retirement contributions and student funding going to charter schools take up about $6.3 million more.
All said, the money left for discretionary uses totaled just over $200,000, Swinson noted. That amount did not include cash rolling forward from the just-ended fiscal year, which employees have asked go toward pay.
Board members and district leaders have said they will continue to look for ways to increase salaries.
STUDENT ASSIGNMENT: Pasco County families could face tougher penalties for lying about their addresses to get into preferred public schools.
But before formally considering changes to its student assignment policy — aimed at reducing the need to redraw attendance zones — School Board members also looked to protect students properly in school through choice programs.
The staff proposal detailed several reasons why students might be required to leave their current school and attend their zoned school. Those included the use of fraudulent documents — the targeted infraction — as well as the scenario of a school being unable to meet state class size requirements.
Board members called the latter provision unfair.
"Poor planning on our part doesn’t crucify a student on their part," said board member Steve Luikart.
He and others noted that the district’s controlled open enrollment plan, which is based on a 2016 state law, protects students from such changes.
They suggested removing the line from the student assignment policy proposal, to avoid confusion. They distinguished it from another that would allow the district to reassign a student who used choice to enter a school for a specific program, but then did not take courses in that program.
"If they drop out of the program or get kicked out of the program, that’s different," board member Colleen Beaudoin said.
District officials said they wanted to give the board options if it faced a situation such as a major state fine because of class-size violations. But they deleted the line in time for formal board action Tuesday.
Board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said the change would not alleviate the district of its state class size requirements. If it does not remove students because of crowding, she said, the board might have to redraw attendance boundaries instead.
The end result would be the same dismay, Armstrong said, just with different students.
"As in all zoning issues, there is no way to make everybody happy," she said.
AMENDMENT 8: The 10 candidates for three Pasco County School Board seats range from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. They disagree on subjects from campus security to student assignment.
On one issue, all arrive at the same conclusion, if for different reasons.
They don’t support proposed Amendment 8 to the Florida constitution, a three-pronged initiative that would establish school board term limits, codify civics education in public schools, and pave the way for a state authorizer of charter and other schools.
"Amendment 8 is just plain bad," said Brian Staver, a candidate for the District 1 seat representing east Pasco.
Staver, a Democratic Party activist, said he backed the need for civics education. But he saw no real value in term limits and vigorously opposed the section that would give lawmakers more leeway to establish public schools outside the purview of school boards.
The dampening of board oversight of all public schools in their counties was the key issue that led most candidates to oppose the amendment — even if they back publicly funded charter schools and other "choice" options.
"I am a firm believer in term limits," said District 5 candidate Megan Harding, adding she also believes funding should follow students to charter schools. "But I believe in local control. So I don’t like the fact that the state would take away local control."
District 3 incumbent Cynthia Armstrong, a real estate agent, said the Constitution Revision Commission did a disservice to voters by bundling three issues under the "education" umbrella.
"All of the amendments would be worthy of being put before the voters if they were put out there separately," Armstrong said.
Wrapped together, she said, voters could be forced to accept things they reject, or vote against ideas they support.
Several candidates said they viewed the proposal as misleading, or worse, as the League of Women Voters has contended in its lawsuit aiming to keep the measure off the November ballot.
Amendment 8 "really is meant to confuse," said District 5 candidate Mike Aday, an active union teacher who called himself 50-50 on term limits and firmly against the local control provision, which he another others noted does not mention charter school authorization despite beginning as a proposal with for that goal.
Aday said the civics piece is just to distract from the most controversial piece. He teaches middle school social studies and said the state already uses the 2010 Sandra Day O’Connor Act to require students take civics in middle school and pass a state civics exam without it being in the constitution.
In the end, the consensus among the candidates was that the good did not outweigh the bad of the ballot measure.
"I don’t support it, not as a whole," said District 3 candidate Heide Janshon.
The other candidates running for Pasco School Board are Allen Altman and Kenny Mathis in District 1, Meghan Hamer in District 3, and Kassie Hutchinson and Tara O’Conner in District 5.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.