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Hillsborough Schools superintendent recommends board votes on a special property tax

Chamberlin High School in Tampa, Florida
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In addition to employee pay raises, Hillsborough's tax aims to expand visual arts and other extracurricular programs, such as physical education and the arts beginning in kindergarten, as well as purchasing new equipment for those programs.

The referendum pitched by Addison Davis comes as the district sees a projected $89 million deficit for the period ending in June.

At a Hillsborough County School Board workshop Tuesday, superintendent Addison Davis proposed that the board ask voters to consider a special property tax.

The money raised would be used primarily for increasing employee pay.

The tax would be $1 for every $1,000 in assessed home value, meaning about $126 million a year in additional funds.

The referendum pitched by Davis comes as the district sees a projected $89 million dollar deficit for the period ending in June.

In addition to employee pay raises, Hillsborough's tax aims to expand extracurricular programs, such as physical education and the arts, beginning in kindergarten, as well as purchasing new equipment for those programs.

Davis pointed out that the fundraising burden to make such services available to all grades in an effective way falls mainly on parents and teachers.

“Every student in our schools deserves to have these types of opportunities,” Davis said. “We’re fighting to be able to make sure that this happens."

Additionally, the tax might create more resources to contribute to the district’s workforce development programs.

“We want to make sure we offer a pathway, a program (like) aeronautics, whether we offer medical science, whether we offer (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), that we do have everything the learner needs…so that it is a vibrant program that we continue to move forward with.”

In a presentation during Tuesday's workshop, board members were told that, because of inflation, Hillsborough County ranked 45th among Florida’s 67 districts in state and local per-pupil funding at just over $11,000 a year.

District 3 board member Jessica Vaughn called the statistics “alarming.”

But despite this, she said that the final say on the referendum should be up to constituents.

“Even if we vote to put this on the ballot, ultimately the voters will decide,” she said. “All we’re really asking is for voters to decide whether this is important to them or not.”

Although four of seven board members — including Vaughn — expressed support for the referendum, three raised concerns, particularly due to the fact that rising housing costs would make the new tax grow as well.

District 6 school board member Karen Perez had some hesitation, arguing that a half-cent sales surtax approved by voters in 2018 doesn’t seem to be achieving the goals it set out to.

“That tax was for renovating existing schools and that was to include transformation schools,” she said. “But I have to be honest, those schools still look pathetic. The A/C replacements have been happening, the new school construction has been happening, but our transformation network leaves a lot to be desired.”

She adds that staff cuts continue to happen, affecting students.

Other board members argue that without these funding sources, the district would have to make more cuts or find more money from the state.

And Davis said that the referendum will make the spending language very clear for voters to understand what the money would be used for.

“It’s very clear what this money is in the ballot language. We have to spend this money on what the ballot language is adopted and approved upon, if we don’t, we’ll be in violation,” said Davis.

He added that the district may create a website to share with the public exactly what the tax dollars would be spent on.

The board will vote at its next regular meeting on April 19 on whether to move forward with the ballot measure. If approved, it would go on the November ballot.

I am WUSF’s Rush Family Radio News Intern for spring 2022.