At the August 24th school board meeting, Hillsborough School Board members decided to ask voters to approve a half-cent, 10-year local sales tax increase on the November 6th ballot. The vote, opposed by April Griffin and Melissa Snively, was 5-2 and will pit schools against a local group advocating for a one penny sales tax for transportation. From the Tampa Bay Times:
But board member Cindy Stuart put forth a forceful argument that the issue should not be education vs. transportation. It’s about what the school district is willing to do to get the money it needs to fix its aging buildings, she told her colleagues.
“Now lead. Now radon. … What’s next?” Stuart said, referring to some of the district’s infrastructure problems. “We have old buildings. What is next?”
She urged the board to place the referendum before voters in November, and, if that fails, again in March 2019. At worst, Stuart said, the vote fails and the district remains as it is.
“I am not sure what we are waiting for,” she said. “Let the voters decide whether they want to pay for air conditioning.”
Board members and stakeholders pledged to support the referendum. Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, Executive Director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association noted that although Hillsborough’s schools are historic and beautiful, they need repairs and maintenance. School board members who voted against putting the referendum on the November ballot still support the measure:
Both Griffin and Snively said they would back the referendum, even though they opposed holding it in November. Snively said she simply believed the district needed to take more time to get its house in order, to convince voters it can be trusted with more tax dollars.
“They’re starting to open up to the possibility,” she said after the session. “At the end of the day, Ms. Stuart is right. It’s about the students. It kills me we don’t have our house in order, and our students are the ones who are suffering.”
Superintendent Jeff Eakins took no stance on the timing of the referendum, though he did urge caution to ensure it does better than simply getting on the ballot. He did tell the board that he has worked diligently to get the “house in order,” both financially and academically.
The district has reduced 1,900 positions since 2015, he said, while also renegotiating contracts, selling surplus real estate and taking other steps to increase efficiency while building up reserves and driving down debt.
Yet revenue has not kept up with what Eakins called the 3B’s — $1 billion in outstanding mortgages, $1 billion in deferred maintenance and $1 billion in capacity for growth.
“We don’t have the revenue coming in to tackle the issues,” Eakins said.
That’s why the list of projects for the anticipated $131 million in annual sales tax income is clear, he said.