The Pasco County School Board is asking voters to approve an increased property tax to pay higher salaries for teachers and student support staff, thereby reducing employee turnover and facilitating recruitment.
Pasco County Schools have a record of responsible financial stewardship, educational innovation and climbing academic achievement. In the most recent accreditation report by accrediting agency Cognia, the district earned the highest possible rating on 29 of 31 standards. The graduation rate increased for the sixth straight year, rising to an all-time high of 91 percent in 2021. The Fitch Rating organization described the district’s finances as “well managed and stable … benefiting from conservative budgeting.”
In short, our district is more than competitive with area districts in terms of student achievement, and we have an enviable fiscal record. However, we cannot afford competitive salaries for all the employees who have earned this record of achievement.
Voters approved the Penny for Pasco sales tax in 2004, and the district has kept its promise to use the proceeds for new and remodeled schools, and for technology infrastructure. That wise investment by our community has helped Pasco schools keep up with record-setting growth.
Pasco’s salaries haven’t kept up with surrounding counties. Employees received no raises between 2008 and 2013, and we’ve never recovered. As a result, we struggle to recruit and retain teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other student support staff. Fewer bus drivers resulted in persistently late buses and mid-year route changes. We also have an over-reliance on substitute teachers and chronic vacancies. These consequences make teaching and learning a challenge.
Pinellas and Hernando have an advantage because their voters have approved referendums to enhance salaries. Hillsborough already pays teachers more and is planning a referendum to further enhance salaries. Our teachers and support staff are leaving Pasco for higher pay in these counties, and students will suffer if it continues.
Pasco cannot rely solely on state funding to provide sufficient funds to pay employees. For instance, this year Pasco’s base student allocation decreased by $178 per student. That means less money to pay staff.
Years ago, the Legislature provided a mechanism for voters to agree to provide more revenue for their local schools. Voters in many Florida districts have already approved such initiatives, including six school districts in 2020.
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A 1 mil property tax increase will enable Pasco to pay teachers an additional $4,000 and non-instructional employees an additional $1,700 on average. It would be in effect for four years and only would apply to property owners. The average homeowner would see an annual increase of about $300, or only 82 cents per day.
A stable workforce and adequate staffing have a positive impact on student achievement and benefit the entire community. Our goal is to have the best pay in Tampa Bay, and we need Pasco County voters to vote yes on Nov. 8 to lift up Pasco Schools.
Beth Brown, retired area superintendent; Linda Cobbe, retired public information officer; and Rick Kurtz, retired director of Food and Nutrition Services, are leading Lift Up Pasco!, the committee that is promoting the property tax referendum.