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Pinellas School Board approves $1.6 billion budget with lower tax rate

Some residents could still pay more due to the county’s rising property values.

Pinellas County school officials gave final, unanimous approval to a $1.6 billion budget Tuesday, locking in a lower tax rate.

The rate for the coming year will be $6.58 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value — about 2 percent lower than last year, when the rate was $6.73.

For a home assessed at $200,000, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, this year’s school tax would be $1,152, or about $3.15 a day.

Though the new rate is lower, some residents could pay more in taxes because of climbing property values. The school district will collect an additional $27.3 million compared to last year.

The general fund makes up about 63 percent of the budget at $978 million. The second-largest piece is the capital outlay fund, which totals $344 million and covers school construction projects. Third is the district’s $154 million health insurance fund.

When officials gave preliminary approval to the budget July 31, budget manager Lou Ann Jourdan said the district plans to continue its practice of spending at least 63 percent of its budget on instruction and classroom needs. At the same time, she said, reserves are expected to reach 7 percent, which is more than double what the state requires.

During Tuesday night’s public hearing on the budget, several speakers called on board members to approve higher salaries for district employees, especially teachers. Chairwoman Rene Flowers and vice chairwoman Carol Cook responded, saying the board heard their concerns but could not discuss the issue in detail because the district is in the midst of contract negotiations with the teachers union.

“We are listening and we hear you,” Cook said. “We are asking the Legislature for more money. ... Please understand we are working to fulfill your request."