By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Voters in August are set to cast their ballots for or against an increase in the ad valorem tax for Hillsborough County public schools, and officials want you to learn more about why they need the money — and how they plan to spend it.
In all, eight “community conversations” are scheduled through Aug. 2, including two virtual meetings set for Monday, Aug. 1, at noon and 5:30 p.m.
The remaining six public meetings are set for in-person meetings at county high schools, including July 20 at Sumner High in Balm/Riverview and July 27 at Riverview High School.
Rounding out the list are live meetings July 11 at Middleton High, July 13 at Armwood High, July 25 at Alonso High and Aug. 2 at Gaither High. All six high school meetings are set to run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Leading the charge for the millage referendum on the Aug. 23 Primary Election Day ballot is Addison Davis, superintendent of Hillsborough schools, who stresses that the increase will aid in efforts to recruit and retain high quality teachers; protect art, music and physical education classes; and expand workforce education programs.
A 1-mil increase would increase school funding by approximately $146 million annually for a four-year period that begins July 1, 2023, and ends on June 30, 2027.
The increase for a homeowner, based on a home market value of $246,808, is $18.48 per month, according to school officials.
In documents to support the millage increase, school officials note that “21 counties have approved a millage referendum and surrounding school districts have secured additional revenue sources that provide a competitive advantage in recruiting staff away from Hillsborough County.”
Further challenges include inflation that has “significantly outpaced” increases in education funding over the past 15 years, a 10 percent increase in the cost of living in Tampa since 2019, and teaching salaries that are dwarfed by those offered in private industries. Meanwhile “increased student enrollment is creating demand for additional teachers and support staff when it is already challenging to fill vacancies.”
The referendum materials created by school district officials include as well a breakdown of how the $146 million would be spent, noting that roughly 16 percent would be shared with charter schools, proportionate to their enrollment.
“Assuming a 96 percent collection rate and subtracting the charter share, this would provide the district with about $116 million annually,” school officials say. “Eighty percent of the district share of funds would be used to increase compensation for instructional positions, bus drivers and transportation assistants, classroom assistants and other non-instructional support staff.”
Instructional positions include teachers, counselors, media specialists and more.
The additional funding would “enhance the average instructional salary by $4,000 and the average non-instructional salary by $2,000.”
Further noted is that “20 percent of the district’s share would be used to protect and expand art, music, PE and workforce education.” Broken down, that would include the additional of 45 art teachers, 67 music teacher and 37 PE teachers at the elementary school level. Funds would repair and replace art supplies and equipment, music instruments, band uniforms, physical education equipment and audio/visual equipment. Health courses would be expanded in middle schools as well.
Dedicated funds would also expand workforce education programs, including for A/C refrigeration, HVAC, plumbing, building construction, electricity, nursing, physical therapy and more.
To cast a vote, voters must be registered by July 25. Early voting is Aug. 8-21.
For more, visit www.HillsboroughSchools.org and search for referendum. Visit the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections at www.votehillsborough.gov/.