Hillsborough School Board Prepares For Another Property Tax Battle

TAMPA -- Hillsborough School District Superintendent Van Ayres begins his campaign for a tax increase at a School Board workshop.

Ayres told the board Tuesday that the district faces a "desperate" situation in which neighboring counites can pay more in salaries for teachers, bus drivers and other staffers. That's because most of them have signed up for a one-mill local option property tax. (Pinellas County has a half-mill local option tax.) Ayres says Hillsborough salaries for new teachers are three percent less than Pasco, nine percent less than Pinellas, and 17 percent less than Manatee County. There are similar gaps for bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and administrators.

Ayres says passing the tax would allow Hillsborough to "compete for the best" teachers, staff and administrators.

A similar referendum narrowly failed in 2022. Opponents said the school district hadn't done enough to right-size employment and budgets. Ayres says the proposal includes a citizen oversight committee, and a detailed spending plan as well as an agreement with teacher and staff unions. The school district would also have to get the property tax renewed every four years. Ayres says the district has been working hard to "right-size" by trimming down staff and teacher positions. The tax would increase the property tax bill for the average home by $350 per year. About $150 million would go to public schools, and more than $26 million to charter schools based on enrollment.

The board is set to take a vote on the referendum April 2nd. It would go on the November ballot and requires 50 percent plus one to pass.

This comes amid reports that the Hillsborough County Commission is planning to drop schools from any renewal of the Community Investment sales tax, which is up for renewal after 30 years. The CIT and proposed property tax have separate uses. The CIT money can only go to capital improvements, including new school construction, remodeling, roofing, and air conditioners. Money from the property tax could only go to operational expenses, most of which would be salaries. Ayers says the CIT has been essential to helping the school district pay for building needs. He hopes to make the case to commissioners for continuing to include schools in the tax.

Photo: Canva

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