The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Times have endorsed the Hillsborough school referendum on the ballot on November 6th. On Thursday, the Chamber voted to support Hillsborough’s schools. In a statement, they acknowledged the alignment between a strong education system and a healthy economy:
“This tax would help to provide our students with a suitable and productive learning environment, as part of a long-term sustainable plan for the Hillsborough County School District,” says a statement from the business organization.
“In alignment with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s guiding principle on workforce development, our business community is committed to partnering with stakeholders and policy makers to advocate for adequate resources to help recruit, develop, and retain talent in Hillsborough County. This initiative requires support from multiple funding sources and elected officials, and to help satisfy those critical funding needs the Chamber supports the education referendum.”
The Tampa Bay Times highlighted the state legislature’s failure to properly fund public schools for years. The chronic lack of sufficient funding has led to deferred maintenance and crowded schools.
Broken air conditioners, leaky roofs, lead in the drinking water – the schools are crumbling, and there is not nearly enough money to repair them or build new ones. As the state abdicates its responsibility to adequately fund public education, the only viable option is for Hillsborough voters to step up and approve a half-penny sales tax increase so kids can learn and teachers can teach in decent learning environments.
They felt that the district rushed the issue and the vote to put the referendum on the ballot. However, they acknowledged the desperate need for funds in order to fill the gap left by chronic under-funding from the state.
But the flawed process should not detract from the core issue at hand – the district’s undeniable inability to repair and maintain its schools without a significant new revenue source. This is another state responsibility that has fallen to local government. Nineteen of Florida’s 67 counties already levy an additional half-cent sales tax for school capital needs, while others – including Pinellas – have committed additional property taxes for school operations. Voters have wisely embraced public education as a priority even if their elected state leaders have not.
The Times noted the guardrails that will govern the funds should voters pass the referendum in November. They respect the governance process and trust the district’s plan for repairs and deferred maintenance.
The 10-year tax is targeted to fill an immediate funding gap as the district pays down existing debt. That buys time for critical repairs until the district can free up tens of millions of dollars now going to mortgage payments. Fittingly, 85 percent of this tax would go for deferred maintenance – not new schools. Strict rules would limit the ability of privately run charter schools to tap the fund. And an independent oversight committee would meet publicly to ensure the money is spent as promised. That panel would be chaired by Betty Castor, the widely respected former legislator, state education commissioner and University of South Florida president. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister would serve as vice-chair.