The Hillsborough County School Board narrowly agreed on Tuesday to ask voters this summer for a new property tax.

If the measure is approved in the Aug. 23 primary, homeowners will pay $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value, joining 21 other Florida school districts that have looked to their communities to supplement school credits. State.

Superintendent Addison Davis estimated that the levy would raise $126 million annually, of which $106 million would stay in the district and the rest would go to independently operated charter schools.

School Principal Addison Davis [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Davis said the national teacher shortage is the most compelling argument for asking taxpayers the question. “We have thousands of students who don’t have stability with qualified teachers,” he said.

The referendum will come four years after a sales tax measure passed with 56% of the vote. But that was before the pandemic, the war in Eastern Europe and, above all, the double-digit increases in rents and house prices.

The campaign for the sales tax also benefited from a specificity. School district leaders were able to identify capital purchases—primarily for air conditioners—that would occur for each school. To win this year’s referendum, supporters will have to convince voters that the district can do a better job overall if it raises employee wages and expands arts, choices and education to the career.

It also comes at a time of transition in how the district handles money. After years of operating deficits that prompted stern warnings from the state Department of Education, Davis and his chief financial officer say they have found a way to end the year in balance and perhaps with a modest surplus. .

Their formula, they said, combines tight controls on hiring with careful accounting to avoid draining the state-funded budget for expenses that could be paid for with federal grants and capital funds. For example: $12 million in bonuses for teachers in very poor schools can go toward a federal COVID-19 relief fund.

But despite the progress they’ve made, Davis insisted the district needed to keep pace with Pinellas, Orange, Sarasota and other districts that receive similar taxes. In neighboring Pasco County, a motion asking voters for an identical property tax increase passed unanimously on Tuesday.

Dissenting votes in Hillsborough came from Melissa Snively, Stacy Hahn and Karen Perez, each for slightly different reasons.

School Board Member Melissa Snively
School Board Member Melissa Snively [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Snively, who represents Conservative East Hillsborough and has yet to say whether she will stand for re-election, said there was no appetite among her constituents for a tax hike. She also said Davis’ team didn’t go far enough to prove they had fixed the district’s budget issues.

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She said that during the 2018 campaign to raise the sales tax, Superintendent Jeff Eakins spent so much time “on a road show” that classroom instruction suffered. Davis said he wouldn’t have that problem. “I will never be overwhelmed,” he said.

Hahn, who is running for re-election, said renters and landlords are already reeling from escalating housing costs.

Stacy Hahn, School Board Member
Stacy Hahn, School Board Member [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“Now is not the time to go to our families and say, ‘We need you to carry this burden,'” Hahn said. “I don’t want our families to feel guilty for choosing to pay their rent and their mortgages and put food on the table rather than support this referendum, this tax increase.”

Perez, also up for re-election, made similar arguments about economic hardship at a board workshop a week ago.

On Tuesday, she added that district leaders were slow to give her clear information on finances. She called a document she received from administrators a “silence report.”

School Board Member Karen Perez
School Board Member Karen Perez [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Perez suggested increases in property values ​​alone will bring in most of the $126 million the tax would generate. Romaneir Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, said it was not yet possible to know if this was true because the state can adjust payments despite rising values.

Board member Lynn Gray strongly supported the referendum, which said the district had a responsibility to pay living wages as the region’s largest employer, although she also noted that “from the point From a taxpayer perspective, the timing probably couldn’t be worse.”

Board chair Nadia Combs, who mentioned her own daughter lost two teachers this year, and Jessica Vaughn, who said voters have the right to decide whether they can afford higher housing costs and if they had confidence in the leaders of the district, were also in favor.

Henry School Board Member
Henry “Shake” Washington School Board Member [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Regarding the upcoming campaign, board member Henry “Shake” Washington said, “We just have to do the right thing and convince people that we’re transparent and we want to do what’s right.” it takes for people.”

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