Question of tax increases divide Hillsborough County School Board candidates

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Hillsborough County District 7 candidates (from left): Jen Flebotte, Karen Bendorf, Lynn Gray, and Johnny Bush speak in Ybor // Chris Young, 3/15/24

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Candidates for the Hillsborough County School Board District 7 spot spoke in Ybor City Friday during a political forum. The candidates made clear their positions on education in a county that has more D and F schools than any district in Florida.

Candidates present were Jen Flebotte, Johnny Bush, Karen Bendorf and incumbent Lynn Gray.

They faced questions from the community at the nonpartisan political forum Tampa Tiger Bay Club.

A large portion of the discussion centered on financing public education. More specifically, a millage rate increase. The issue divided the panelists.

Jen Flebotte spoke against the tax increase.

“It’s not justifiable at all. You have to look at this as a business, not as a school system, we have to look at it as a business. If we were balancing this businesses budget, would we ask everybody else to take on the tax? No, we would fix it ourselves.”

However, incumbent Lynn Gray Said it’s necessary.

“From the amount of homeschooling, and lure of the vouchers, we are looking at probably the gradual defunding of public education”

Johnny Bush supported the proposed tax increase.

“Folks If we do not look to pay our teachers and be competitive, that’s going to be an issue. “

But Karen Bendorf agreed with Flebotte, saying it’s unjustifiable.

“We do have a large budget, we do need to see what’s in it, and I am a teacher. And teachers, sure, would love a raise. But we would love some other things more.”

Another issue on the table was a recent bill awaiting Governor DeSantis’s signature. The bill would allow chaplains to offer counseling in public schools. All candidates were hesitant to support the meaure, if implemented.

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