Guest Column
Why the Tampa Bay Partnership favors Hillsborough and Pasco school tax referendums | Column
Without the boost of the educational referendums, Tampa Bay’s schools and communities risk falling even further behind.
Sanders Memorial Elementary School first grade teacher Julie Forsting takes notes on Florida's new "parental rights" laws during a presentation in Pasco County on the first day back to work on Aug. 3, 2022.
Sanders Memorial Elementary School first grade teacher Julie Forsting takes notes on Florida's new "parental rights" laws during a presentation in Pasco County on the first day back to work on Aug. 3, 2022. [ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times ]
Published Aug. 9

Now, more than ever, it is time to invest in education. The Tampa Bay Partnership is a coalition of business leaders and non-profit organizations representing nearly 80,000 jobs across eight counties that addresses the region’s most pressing challenges. We believe passing the Hillsborough and Pasco educational referendums are essential to help fill gaps in funding.

Bemetra Simmons
Bemetra Simmons [ Provided ]

For the past five years, the partnership, in collaboration with Community Foundation Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast, has released an annual Regional Competitiveness Report, which compares the Tampa Bay regions performance against 19 peer communities across the country. Over a lifetime, a quality education influences a child’s success in life. A well-paying or highly skilled job is more likely to provide economic stability, which uplifts the local and regional economy.

The Tampa Bay area is already behind the curve in many educational performance indicators. For example, Tampa Bay ranks last in both kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading level compared to Orlando, Jacksonville and South Florida. Just over half of Tampa Bay children are prepared, and 52.36% of third-graders have passable reading comprehension.

Our high school graduation rates are lower than 10 of our comparison communities, and Tampa Bay is second-to-last in educational attainment rates, with 30.18% of students attaining a bachelor’s degree.

Without the Hillsborough and Pasco educational referendums, we risk falling even further behind.

Quality public education requires quality educators, administrators and support staff. Unfortunately, schools are experiencing an exodus of employees. Over 1,800 vacancies were created in Hillsborough County Public Schools last year; 700 teaching positions and 600 staff roles remain unfilled. Pasco faces a teacher shortage of 300, and a lack of bus drivers has caused the county to eliminate rides for middle and high school students living within 2 miles of campus.

Many facets impact retention, but salary is key. The cost of living has increased dramatically, and wages have not kept pace with inflation.

Employees are willing to extend their commute to work at schools with better salaries. This has larger implications. Will we lose top talent from Florida altogether? Can we maintain critical volume if these roles do not support a living wage? What happens to our children without enough resources?

It is a concerning prospect. One that is partially addressed by these referendums.

For Hillsborough County Public Schools, three-quarters of the proceeds from the referendum, about $146 million annually, will be applied towards compensation. Currently, the district ranks 45th among Florida’s 67 districts in per pupil funding despite being the third largest in the state.

In Pasco, the referendum will generate $37 million annually to increase wages.

The opportunities that stem from a solid educational foundation create a better quality of life. A well-paying job increases the ability to afford healthy food, healthcare, housing and transportation options. Healthier, more prosperous citizens create stronger communities.

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Education is also a crucial indicator of civic quality, which shapes new economic development. Just like local parents care deeply about which schools their children attend, when businesses consider relocating their employees, a well-performing school district is attractive. Conversely, an under-funded, poorly performing school system may be a deal-breaker.

We need to secure better compensation for academic employees because their quality influences the long-term quality of life for the children in Tampa Bay. And to ensure our well-educated, highly skilled students have enough jobs to choose from, we must continue to attract new employers to the region.

For these reasons, the Tampa Bay Partnership supports the passing of Hillsborough and Pasco educational referendums on Aug. 23.

Bemetra Simmons is president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of nearly 40 regional business and non-profit leaders working together to improve to improve Tampa Bay residents’ personal and economic well-being.


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