Facing an onslaught of new students, and growing debt, the Hillsborough county school board is debating how to come up with a plan to stay afloat financially. This morning at school board workshop, the board discussed a new full, in depth summary of what the district is facing in capitol costs over the next 5 years, in the hopes that they can give answers to concerned citizens, who may soon be voting on a proposed 1/2 cent sales tax increase to fund operation of the schools. Chief facilities officer Cathy Valdez, who prepared the 59-page document of statistics, said the School district has a total shortfall of $419,000. The districts total debt since 1992 is almost 1 and a half billion dollars. Board member Jack Lamb lamented the numbers.

ACT-Lamb “the new debt less principal payment, thats after paying principal for 12 years..imagine what we could do if we were building not paying interest.�

There are numerous renovations, as well as construction of 5 middle, 7 elementary and 1 high school needed by 2010, which the board has no money to fund. The 5 year work plan estimated that by 2015, Hillsborough county will need 4 more elementary, 4 middle, and 1 new high school beyond the 13 elementary and 2 middle schools that are already in construction. School Board member Candy Olsen said the two biggest problems facing the district are low teacher pay and construction of new schools—Olsen said she believes the district needs to buy more land now, even if it means spending less on maintenance for ageing schools.

ACT-Olsen “I'm real concerned we don’t address new school sites. We have no high school sites. I know there is attention but we have to buy more land. It’s not getting any cheaper. I was appalled what we paid for SPOTO. We need 2 more in South County, cost and availability, the same for middle school. We need places for those kids to go to school..�

Olsen suggested the board could ask the legislature if they cold impose a ½ cent sales tax for construction and teachers, as an alternative to a sales tax for operations. The school districts lobbyist, Connie Milito, said that would be legal and she thinks the legislature would consider it.

Several board members mentioned that the full cost which will be needed for school maintenance is not included in the budget for the next 5 years, and asked why? Schools chief of staff Jim Hamilton and superintendent Mary Ellen Elia responded.

ACT-Hamilton “one of the things we found is that if it wasn’t budget driven, so we try to build a budget..there are contingencies..and then the issue is you find that, and when you see the changes you will see the reason why..�

Hamilton also pointed out a potential problem in coping with the class size amendment. While class sizes are calculated in October, which is the time of the year when the most students are enrolled. But the state legislature calculates the districts need based on an n average of the 2nd and 3rd quarter, which means they will get about 5% less funding from the state than needed.

ACT-Hamilton “were gonna show ourselves as under using facilities, because in reality we have to meet class size requirements..�

Last week dozens of parents came to a meeting and protested a proposal to include about 275 Apollo Beach students in the proposed attendance boundary for Lennard High School, a new school slated to open in August in Ruskin. Board member Carol Kurdell said that the school board when discussing any of these issues, especially proposals for changing school boundaries, they need to stay calm.

ACt-Kurdell “when we get into the business meeting part of it, that’s a business meeting, but if were really struggling, we need to pull it off…that’s a safety net we have to do so we don’t become politicized, we have hung together because we address the county as aw hole, so I caution us don’t make it a political issues, make it about fact and what were facing..we as a board are gonna have to hang tough �

Board member Carolyn Bricklemeyer agreed, and raised the issue of the sales tax again, which the board has concluded it will not decide whether to put on the ballot, until after the state legislative session ends in may.

ACT-brick “were not just going to be looking at boundaries wee gonna be changing boundaries, these are not easy decisions, but we really do need to make certain not to have to look at a single area. This is one of the 5 recommendations we have control over. If we don’t do this how can we expect..if we can get the impact fees, its still not gonna meet the needs, we are gonna have to face it as a board we need to come to grips and decide sales tax or not..�

The school board is holding a special meeting tonight at 5pm to discuss boundary changes for Lennard High School. Their next regular meeting will be on Tuesday, March 14th at 5PM

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