Saying that they urgently need the additional funding to maintain competitive salaries for schoolteachers, bus drivers and other support staff, the Pasco County School District has placed a property tax referendum on the Aug. 23 ballot.
What You Need To Know
- The Pasco County School District is asking voters to approve raising their property taxes up to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value
- If approved, the measure would raise up to $44 million annually for the four years it would be in effect
- Pasco’s current pay rates rank below neighboring counties like Hernando and Pinellas, both of which already have implemented property tax proposals
“We’re losing teachers. We don’t have enough bus drivers,” says Erin Lloyd, a health care advisor who has three children attending public schools in the district. “They just can’t afford to work here.”
An ongoing bus driver shortage in Pasco earlier this year forced the district to change starting times for several schools.
Lloyd’s 12-year-old son Kieran says that his school bus during the past school year was “always coming in late.”
“Sometimes people would use backpacks as pillows,” he says, with waits sometimes lasting an hour and a half.
Pasco County school officials say that they have no other choice than to put the referendum on the ballot.
“We are an extremely conservative county,” says Kevin Shibley, the Assistant Superintendent for Administration with the Pasco County School District said. “We would not be coming to the voters if we didn’t really feel like this was needed to help us be competitive.”
Shibley maintains the district has “tried to overturn every rock” before it concluded that it had to ask the voters to raise their property taxes to continue to provide a “world class education” for all of its students. The average salary for Pasco school teachers trail behind Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Hernando counties.
Critics contend that with property values rising to their highest level in years, however, there’s no reason that the district has to raise taxes to pay teachers and support staff fairly.
“We love teachers,” said Jim Stanley, a longtime critic of Pasco County Superintendent Kurt Browning. “We support teachers, we want to see them get the raise that they deserve…and we want to see them do it with the funds that they have.”
Stanley notes the Pasco School district’s budget is growing. The proposed 2022-2023 budget released last week shows a vast increase over the previous year due to escalating property values, with the general fund up over 15%, which is the pot of money that funds school salaries.
“It’s really a bad time to ask taxpayers to cough up more and tighten their belts when we’re all faced with the higher costs of gas. Higher cost of insurance. For taxes, for food, for all the rent,” Stanley said. “I think it’s really just a bad time to do it.”
School district officials counter that much of those funds are already earmarked for specific uses before it ever reaches the district. Shibley says that there is more than $14 million available in the new budget for discretionary salary increases, which would break down to a 3 average percent for all employees.
“We have funds to do increases,” he said. “We’re planning on doing a salary increase for our employees this year, but 3% will not get us to a competitive level with our surrounding districts.”
The Pasco school tax referendum is taking place simultaneously as Hillsborough County’s property tax measure for schools. Officials with both school districts are making similar arguments that they need the additional funding to stay competitive with the other local districts that have already passed millage referendums to help pay for schools. Those include Hernando, Pinellas and Manatee.