Pinellas Schools move forward with possible quarter mill tax increase
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06/16/09 Seán Kinane
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The seven members of the Pinellas School Board greet new administrators during a meeting in which they approved the 'intent to levy" an additional 0.25 mill tax.


photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

The Pinellas County School Board today took the first step toward a small tax increase to improve its budget shortfall.

Some members reluctantly supported the tax, but they blame the state Legislature for creating the situation.

“The Legislature and Governor did not do their job. We have a chance to do ours.” Like the six other members of the Pinellas School Board, Linda Lerner approved an “intent to levy” a zero-point-two-five mill increase in property tax to help patch a major hole in the district’s budget.

School Board member Carol Cook questions whether members of the Florida Legislature violated their oaths of office by not upholding the state’s constitution, which she quoted.

“I believe our Legislators have chosen not to honor and do their job in supporting the constitution of the state of Florida. For the first time, funding has changed, where locally we are raising 60% of the money and the state is offering 40.”

During the recent session the legislature gave local school boards the authority to levy an additional quarter-mill this year and next. But to keep the additional tax past the 2010-2011 school year, voters would have to approve it on a referendum. The increase needed a super-majority to pass, and all seven board members supported it … at least at this stage. School Board Chair Peggy O’Shea predicts that after federal stimulus money runs out in two years, Florida school districts will be in even worse shape.

The tax would raise an additional $14 million to help close an $18 million budget gap. That’s after the district has already found nearly forty million dollars in cuts, according to Superintendent Julie Janssen.

If the tax increase passes, Pinellas won’t receive all of the funds because of an equalization or compression component added by the Legislature. It will require the county to share some of the funds with other parts of the state. The Pinellas School District expects to make up some of its budget shortfall by requiring workers to take unpaid leaves or furloughs. Douglas Forth, assistant superintendent for budget and resource allocation, hopes that if the quarter mill increase passes, teachers who would have had to take six unpaid days will only need two.

Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, applauded when the School Board agreed to move forward to consider the quarter mill increase. Black says the PCTA is “very pleased, especially that it was a seven - zero vote.”

“In these times when their proposal has been a six to ten day furlough, we know that the employees just could not survive that.”

But Black does not think that furloughs will be necessary. “Actually, we believe that the shortfall would be less. So, no, we’re going to continue to get the furlough off the table for all employees.”

Assistant superintendent Douglas Forth says even if this tax passes, property taxes will still go down for Pinellas residents.

The first public hearing on the potential millage increase will be at the School Board meeting on July 28th. The final public hearing and vote will be on September 15th.

Pinellas School Board members

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